John Henry Stephen Dimmer VC
John (known as Jack) was born at 37, Gloster Road, Lambeth on 9 October 1883. He was one of four sons born to railwaymen and former Royal Navy serviceman, John Dimmer and his wife, Ellen. By 1908 the family was living at Herbert Cottages, Herbert Road, Wimbledon. They later moved to 55a, Griffiths Road, by which stage Jack's father seems to have died.
Jack was educated at Merton Church School until 1896, when he secured a Surrey County Council scholarship to attend the new Rutlish Science School, on Kingston Road, Merton Park. Here he studied a wide range of subjects from English grammar and mathematics, to French, German, shorthand, drawing, history and woodwork. The school also placed emphasis on “drill,” which may have had some bearing on Dimmer’s enthusiasm for the military.
At the age of sixteen, Jack considered a career in civil engineering, before starting work at the surveying offices of H R Parson on Queen Victoria Street, London. He wanted to join the army but was initially rejected due to his small stature. Despite this initial setback, Jack’s enthusiasm for the military was undiminished. In 1901, having requested a half-day holiday from work, he joined the 1st Cadet Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps ( Barnet Militia. ) By the age of seventeen, he had been promoted to the rank of sergeant.
Having completed his cadet’s training, Jack returned to Wimbledon and for a brief period, he worked in the surveying offices of auctioneers, Messrs Ogden, Sons & Olley on Wimbledon Broadway. Unable to settle, by July 1902 he enlisted in the army regulars and was posted to Cork with the 7th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps. He was then promoted to the rank of Lance-corporal.
In 1902, Dimmer was posted to South Africa with the 4th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifles and promoted to Corporal for his reconnaissance work in the Orange River Colony. He now spent several months with the Mounted Infantry at Salisbury Plain and was again complimented for the quality of his military draughtsmanship. His skill was such that in 1905, he was appointed to instruct the non-commissioned officers. In December his work as an infantry scout and signaller secured him a further promotion to Lance-sergeant.
In January 1906, Dimmer sought to learn more about the military methods used in Belgium and France. He paid his own fare to visit the battlefields of Waterloo, before travelling to Cologne, where he studied German army tactics. On his return to England Jack joined the school for signalling, qualifying as an assistant instructor and later, instructor to army cadets at Aldershot.
In November he began studying engineering, tactics, topography, military law and organisation, with a view to securing a captaincy. Having successfully qualified with a 1st class army certificate, ( averaging a 75% score in all subjects,) Dimmer was recommended for a commission. Rather mysteriously, he was now employed on Intelligence work in an unspecified country. His mission is said to have been a risky one and he was ultimately forced to flee the country concerned.
In 1908 Lord Methuen, Commanding officer of the British forces, interviewed Jack and recommended him for an officer’s commission. Initially the request was refused, largely due to resistance amongst the upper ranks. However at the insistence of Secretary of State for War, Lord Haldane, the military authorities were forced to relent. Known as the most aristocratic regiment in the British army, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps was traditionally commanded by the sons of gentlemen. Now a 2nd Lieutenant in the 7th Battalion, Dimmer was the first “ranker officer” in the regiment’s history.
Between 1908 and 1914, Dimmer served with the West African Regiment, carrying out special duties on behalf of the Colonial Office. War was declared shortly after his return on leave. Jack immediately rejoined the 2nd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps and left for France with the British Expeditionary Force. Life on the western front was dangerous from the outset and Dimmer’s family were anxious to hear that his duties “principally consisted of galloping between the guns and the lines of defence, which was a very risky business.”
On 10 November 1914, Dimmer’s unit entered the line at Klein Zillebeke in Belgium. By this stage he was in command of a Vickers machine-gun section. The region had seen heavy fighting for over a month and the No Man’s Land between the opposing armies was littered with shell holes and unburied bodies. On 12 November, Jack performed the act of valour for which he was later awarded the Victoria Cross.
The following notice was printed in the London Gazette, an official Government publication:
Lieutenant J.H.S. Dimmer - King’s Royal Rifle Corps – 1914 Belgium
On November 12th 1914, the 2nd Battalion was holding a section of trenches at Klein Zillebeke. Lieutenant Dimmer was in charge of the machine gun section. About noon there was a very heavy artillery bombardment followed by an attack in mass by the Prussian Guard supported by violent machine gun fire. Almost all of the machine gun section were hit, and Lieutenant Dimmer continued firing one gun single-handed. Twice he had to leave his emplacement to remedy stoppages, which he did successfully but each time he was wounded. He was wounded a third time by shrapnel but continued firing his gun and inflicting enormous casualties on the serried German masses who continued to advance within 50 yards of our trenches. Then they suddenly broke and ran, but Lieutenant Dimmer was wounded again by the German artillery covering the retreat. However he insisted, in spite of his wounds, in reporting personally to brigade headquarters.”
London Gazette, 19th November, 1914
Despite numerous wounds, Dimmer miraculously survived. It was whilst recuperating at Lady Rosslyn’s Hospital, Boulogne, that he learned of his award. He was later evacuated to England to recuperate and was sent to Southend. During this time the town was bombed by German Zeppelins, prompting locals to attack German-owned shops. It is a mark of Dimmer’s authority that he was able to control the situation and persuade the hostile crowd to disperse.
By January 1915, Jack had been promoted to the rank of Captain. On 1 January he was awarded the Military Cross for his actions in the latter part of 1914.
The people of Wimbledon were immensely proud of “their V.C.” and the local Corporation recommended that Dimmer should be granted the Freedom of the Borough. He wrote back with typical modesty:
I...note that the Town Council desire to confer upon me the Freedom of the Borough. Whilst appreciating the great honour, I beg to decline the same. Too much publicity has been given to my name already and has caused me a great deal of worry and annoyance. To accept the Freedom would only bring further publicity and such is not in accordance with the conditions of the service.
Shortly after receiving the Victoria Cross, Jack was promoted to the rank of Brigadier-Major in the 92nd Infantry Brigade and received further commendations for his bravery. In 1916, having relinquished his Staff appointment, he joined the 3rd Battalion in Salonika, where he became Brigade Machine gunner to the 10th Division. Despite contracting malaria, Jack refused to return home and opted to join the Salonika Flying Corps, where he qualified as an Observer. After this, his health deteriorated and he was sent back to England.
In February 1917, Jack rejoined the 2nd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifles but was again invalided, following a bout of septic poisoning. Once recovered, he was appointed to command the 2/4th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment.
On 19 January 1918, Jack married Dora Bayley-Parker in Moseley, Birmingham. Her family owned the famous Axminster Carpet Company. The couple now bought a house in Wilton Grove, Merton Park.
On 21 March 1918, Dimmer led his battalion into action near Marteville, not far from St. Quentin. The Germans were mounting a last ditch offensive and it was important to halt their advance. Dimmer was determined to lead the attack on horseback, in order to give confidence to his men. Despite the repeated pleas of his fellow officers, he refused to dismount prior to the main charge. A clear target on his white horse, he was shot in the head whilst issuing orders to his troops. He was 34 years old and had been married just 3 months.
Jack was subsequently awarded a posthumous mention in despatches for his gallantry. The German’s buried him where he fell, however his body was later recovered by British forces and interred at the Vadencourt British Cemetery, France. His widow later married Leonard Canning, 4th Baron Garvagh.
Following Jack's death, Wimbledon council planned to erect a plaque in his memory. A committee was established and there were discussions on how to proceed but no further action was taken. In 1985, at a special ceremony attended by Dimmer’s surviving nieces and nephews, a plaque was unveiled at Merton Civic Centre, where it can still be seen today. Jack is also commemorated on the King’s Royal Rifle Corps Memorial at Winchester Cathedral and the Kingston Vale War Memorial. His medals are held by the Royal Green Jackets Museum.