The Gosport soldier who survived the war but was killed by flu

William Dean and his wife Harriet.
William Dean and his wife Harriet.
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The two people pictured were sent to me by Christine Edwards of Gosport. The soldier, William Dean, would have been her grandfather.

He lived at 41, Norman Road, Gosport, with his wife Harriet and son Jack. I have improved the pictures with my computer and Harriet has come up looking a beautiful woman and William a handsome soldier.

Sadly William's life was cut short, not in action but by the flu pandemic that spread like wildfire across Europe at the end of the First World War.

After four years of war he died when it was all over and peace had returned, but not to the Dean household.

Christine sent me parts of letters William sent to his beloved Harriet saying how he longed to be home with her again. I have had to abridge them .

On November 4, 1918, William wrote: 'In answer to your letters received today dated 28th, 29th, 30th, 31st, and 1st you say our boy (Jack) gets more like me every day. I have scarcely been at home and have only seen him three times since he was born.

‘I am longing for this lot to finish so that I can be with you. I hope it will not be long. News is exceptionally good again…

‘With heaps of love xxxxxxxx'

November 11, 1918: ‘Now my love, all is practically over now so will close. Hoping this finds you both in the best of health. xxx'

November  14, 1918: ‘I have had no letters and feeling somewhat  anxious… you must let me know all the news and what sort of time you had in Gosport and Portsmouth. I expect when you get this I will be in Germany. I’d much rather come the other way, but still, I would like to see the place. xxx.'

William never did get to visit Germany because on November 22, 1918, he wrote: ‘All the chaps are ill with this influenza and colds and there is only me and the CSM. The CQMS is in bed so there is his work I have to look after. I hope I shall be alright. It is bitter cold weather. xxx.’

November 24, 1918: ‘I told you about the influenza. I felt it coming on and had  two half-days in bed so almost alright again. I shall be quite alright in a couple of days. xxx.’ 

This was William’s last letter. His flu turned into pneumonia and he died aged 32 on December 1, 1918. He is buried in Premont British Cemetery south-east of Cambrai.

A final letter about William was sent by his brother Jack to his sister-in-law, William’s wife, from Stockport on December  17, 1918:

It reads: “My Dear sister, Once again I am in Dear Old Blighty. I must say it was a very great shock to me when I learned of the sad news of my Dear brother’s death. It seems implausible for me to realise it.

‘I was bent on seeing him ere long. It is a great pity after these long years of anxious waiting such a thing could happen at the last minute.

‘With love and sympathy from you Ever Loving Jack.’

The following is a letter from William’s pal, T Harrison QMS RE, to his wife explaining his death.

‘Dear Mrs Dean, I received a letter today from Captain Spaul asking me to supply information as to the death of your husband.

‘We were at Bohain on a farm and billeted in a room together. Half the company were sick at the time and I had taken to my bed. Your poor husband looked after me while I was ill and a good nurse he was as nothing was to much for him.

‘The doctor told him to leave my room and another sergeant who was ill shared with me. He refused and I am sure his self-sacrifice cost him his life. As I got better he became ill. He was in bed for four to five days and I tried to do for him what he did for me but I am sure not so well.

‘About six in the evening he asked to be taken to hospital and we took him in a lorry as he was so weak. It came as a great shock to us all when we heard of his death and no one felt it more than I as I felt responsible for his death. I am sure his unselfishness and devotion to me cost him his life and being such chums I could hardly believe it.’

n To end the debate about the cars parked in High Street, Old Portsmouth, in 1936, I asked Ian Heath if he knew how cars were delivered before transporters.

He says: ‘The Lagonda factory was at Staines. Cars could be driven to the customer, collected from the factory, or transported on a railway goods truck. If the cars were bodied by a separate firm, arrangements had to be made with that particular concern. I suspect these cars were £1,500-£2,000 each which implies USG had a well-heeled clientele. 

‘USG might have been agents for Lagonda, but to have four cars delivered for four different owners, in Portsmouth? I think not. As these were vehicles for the seriously well-off, any request from the buyer would be accommodated. ‘