Alfred Herbert Dean

Alfred Dean was born in 1895, the youngest son of Charles Dean, a Weston farm labourer, and his wife Sarah.  The Deans had lived in the village and worked on the land for at least four generations.

Charles Dean died in 1899; at least two of his sons had by this time followed him into farm work, and a daughter had entered into domestic service in Reading, to help Sarah raise the family alone.

The 1911 census shows Alfred Dean, age 16, living at home at Weston, with his occupation given as ‘farm labourer’.

In the first months of the war, he enlisted at Reading for service as a Rifleman with the 1st Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC), regimental number 11781.  Another Weston man, Albert Butler, also joined the KRRC (2nd Battalion) at Reading, with regimental number 11761, so perhaps he and Alfred were friends who joined up together.

Three of Alfred’s brothers were also called up, including John, who served with the 3rd Battalion Royal Berks.

Alfred left for France on 29th November 1914.  The 1st KRRC were a regular battalion who had been despatched as part of the original British Expeditionary Force in August, and at the point Alfred joined them they had already taken part in many of the early engagements, including the retreat from Mons and Le Cateau, and in late October 1914 they had suffered heavy casualties when the Germans broke through the British line at the First Battle of Ypres.

Alfred was wounded at the battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915 and spent six months in hospital before returning to his unit.  In May 1916 he returned home to Weston on leave and it was noted that despite his experiences, he was fit and well (Newbury Weekly News).

When Alfred rejoined his Battalion in June they were in the Carency sector, near Vimy Ridge, consolidating the line during a relatively quiet period.  However, with the opening of the Somme offensive the Battalion were soon ordered south, reaching their reserve positions at Mametz on 22nd July.  On the 24th they moved up to take part in 99th Brigade’s attack on Delville Wood, which resulted in heavy casualties, and not long afterwards were withdrawn to billets in the rear area around Amiens to train and take on replacements.

On 25th August they returned to the front line, this time holding the southern part of the sector at Hébuterne, about nine miles from Albert, near the northernmost limit of the Somme battle area.  They were to remain here, with intervals of rest in billets and camp, until October. 

The line was static here, no advance having been made by the British since the opening of the offensive on 1st July.  Much of the Battalion’s time was spent in repairing and extending the badly damaged trench system, and carrying up wire and other supplies from the Royal Engineer stores, all the while trying to cope with the deteriorating weather conditions which were making life in the trenches increasingly uncomfortable.

In comparison to parts of the line further south, the Hébuterne sector was relatively quiet at this time; however, the everyday hazards of trench warfare - enemy shelling and sniping, rifle grenades and so on – still inflicted casualties here as elsewhere, and on 25th September a trench raid was carried out which was not successful in reaching the German lines and resulted in further losses to the Battalion.  

Alfred was fatally wounded at some point during this period and died of his wounds on Thursday 5th October 1916, at the age of 21.

He was buried not far behind the trenches his Battalion held at what was then known as 10th Brigade Cemetery, since renamed Sucrerie Military Cemetery, near the small village of Colincamps; the roadway alongside the cemetery acted as a main route to and from the British front line for many of the men who are now laid to rest there.