January 18, 2022

WW1 Photo Mystery Solved

Well, I did solve it but it had already been solved, let me explain. I got back from holiday on Saturday and in the pile of post waiting for me was the Locallink magazine for February 2013. Browsing through it on Sunday I noticed a short article entitled “Faces From The Past” which showed a photograph of three soldiers from World War 1.


The picture had been found inside a book and Tang Hall Local History Group were trying to identify the soldiers hoping that they were local York men. The rear of the photo had a surname and initials scribbled on: AR – AP – TA Dean.

The same story had been covered by the York Press earlier in January (although they didn’t include the surname) but there was no information as to whether the men had been identified. Waiting for the rugby to start and having not much to do, I decided to have a root about and see what I could turn up.

From the photograph and same surname it was reasonable to assume they were brothers, though the cap badges showed they were in different regiments. The chap on the left couldn’t be more than 20 years old so I started on Find My Past with a search of the 1911 census for Dean in Yorkshire (initial A) with a date of birth 10 years either side of 1891.

Arthur Reginald Dean, living in Ilkley with his parents and born around 1895 caught my eye, so I looked at the transcription and sure enough he had a number siblings including Arnold Percy (aged 20 in 1911 and actually called Arnold Piercy) and Tom Allan (aged 14). Well that didn’t take long!

Next I moved to Ancestry to see if I could find some record of their military service.  Unfortunately about 60% of World War 1 service records were destroyed in an air raid during the second world war, so I only had about a 40% chance of finding their service records. What does survive in much greater quantity are the medal cards from WW1 and as pretty much everyone who served got a medal of some sort, that is where I started.

What I eventually turned up was quite an interesting set of service histories – these brothers were no ordinary soldiers.

Arnold Piercy Dean

Arnold is the eldest of the three brothers shown and the only military record I could find for him is his medal card:

Arnold Piercy Dean Medal Card WW1

This shows he served in France from 15 April 1915 with the West Yorkshire Regiment but doesn’t indicate when he actually joined up. He served with the 4th Reserve who were based in York, this was a regular army unit (source: http://www.1914-1918.net/westyorks.htm) so he may have joined up before the war started. He obviously survived the war as the card shows he applied for his medals in December 1920 (he married in 1919 and died in 1953).

The most interesting thing is he was commissioned from the ranks and I found the notice in the London Gazette which shows he was commissioned on 23 November 1916. His medal card shows he was a Lieutenant with the 5th West Yorkshire Regiment.

Arnold is in the middle of the picture above and wears the rank of a Lance Corporal, so it was probably taken at some time in early 1915 before the brothers went to France with their various regiments.

Arthur Reginald Dean

Arthur Reginald Dean is shown on the right of the picture above, his cap badge is that of The West Riding Regiment. Again I could find no service record for Arthur but his medal card is still informative.

Arthur Reginald Dean Medal Card

Arthur was initially a private in the West Riding Regiment and as such went to France on 15 July 1915. His medal card shows that he too was commissioned from the ranks but unfortunately he did not survive the war being killed in action on 4th July 1917.

So like his brother Arnold; Arthur was no ordinary soldier. It is an irony of the war that those who did not survive are better documented than those that did and so a little digging produces the details of Arthur’s war grave at the Croisilles Britsh Cemetery, Pas de calais, France.


A slightly different date for his death but that is not uncommon for these record, but it also reveals he had been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. A bit more digging reveals his citation:


It is likely he was commissioned as a result of his winning the DCM but also because of his general character. I have not been able to find the details of his commission in the London Gazette.

Tom Allan Dean

The youngest of the three brothers and pictured on the left of the photo is Tom Allen Dean who was only 17 when war broke out in 1914. Again, I can find no service record so I only have his medal card to gain information from.


Hi card shows he served with the Royal Field Artillery and this is confirmed by the cap badge he is wearing in the photograph. He served in France from 17 April 1915 which is almost the same date as his elder brother Arnold.

He is credited with two regimental numbers which suggests he was transferred to/from a Territorial force later in the war. Without a service record I don’t know much more about him although he too survived the war, living until 1969.


I could probably find out more about the soldiers with a trip to the National Archives in Kew, London to look at the references given on their medal cards and also see if they are mentioned in their regiments’ war diaries. However, the original question has been answered and I’m told by the Tang Hall Local History group that the picture is to be returned to the family’s descendants.


  1. Paul swann says

    A great article.Where can I get a copy of the photo as Tom is my great grandfather on my mother’s side Maiden name Helen Dean.
    Any more info would be great.kind regards Paul Swann (Ulverston).

  2. Try contacting York Press or Tang Hall local history group

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