Corporal Noble Dewey

 The First Man to Fall

It is unfortunate that a man has the ignominy to be remembered as the first man to fall in a regiment but it was a sad fact of the War, there was always a first casualty. Although men from Cambridge had been serving in other regiments and some had become casualties, the first man to die in action from the Cambridgeshire Regiment was of considerable local interest and thus given widespread coverage in the local press.

On 4th March 1915 the Cambridgeshires had been in France for about three weeks and were in the line near Dickebusch. They had been sent up to the front to gain experience of the general conditions and were in reserve trenches. Whilst he was getting into a trench Corporal Noble Dewey, or Nobbie as he was known, was shot in the back and through the lungs by an enemy sniper. Gravely wounded, he was evacuated to the church in Dickebusch, which was being used as the hospital, and although conscious and talking with Major Saint, his Company Commander who had visited him, he died a few hours later.

Corporal Dewey was from Cambridge and was 29 years old. He was a pre-war soldier and had been in the Cambridgeshire Regiment for about three years. He lived with his mother and siblings at number 6 Searle Street, Chesterton. He was member of the Town and County Cycling Club and was the trainer of the champion cyclist Reg Player, and was said to be an extremely proficient trainer and was well liked within the Regiment.

The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel C.E.F. Copeman had the unenviable task of writing to Corporal Dewey’s mother:

1st Cambs Regt.

B.E.F.

March 4th 1915.

Dear Madam,

You will probably have heard before this of the death of your son, and I take the earliest opportunity of assuring you of my deep sympathy with you in your loss, the first that the Regiment has so far sustained. It will, I trust, be some consolation to you to know that he died doing his duty gallantly, that he apparently suffered little or no pain, and was most plucky and cheerful to the end.

His platoon commander tells me he was the best NCO that he had, and I know that he was one of the most useful men in the Battalion. It was indeed grievous that he should have lost his life so soon.

Believe me, with true sympathy.

C.E.F. Copeman

O.C. 1st Camb Regt.

Corporal Dewey’s last letter home was written on March 1st, just a few days before he died:

Dear Mother,

Just a line to let you know that I am still well. We had another fine Sunday. We have changed our billets and moved about ten miles up country and billeted in another farm. We are in sound of the guns. I suppose I shall be there in a few days. Many thanks for the sweets, they are very scarce about here. It is still very cold, but we have got plenty of straw, so we sleep warm. You ought to see us in our skin coats. We look like a lot of teddy bears. Tell Les, I haven’t forgotten him. his turn will come for a line. I haven’t run across the boys yet since we left [soldiers recently billeted at No 6 Searle Street].Which way they have taken I don’t know. Hope you have got the photos, as there are one or two I forgot. We are getting plenty of food of a sort, but when you are hungry anything will do. Hope you are all well. About the only thing I want is some soap, as they charge too much out here.

From your love - Nob

Corporal Dewey was buried by a party from the Regiment led by Pte F.E. Phillips and is now buried in Dickebusch New Military Cemetery, grave A.1.

Dewey's British War Medal

In August of 2010 one of Corporal Dewey’s medals turned up on eBay. It was his British War Medal and it was in a sorry state. The seller stated that it was a metal detector find and it certainly looked as though it could have been. It was missing its suspender bar, heavily stained and with some nasty edge knocks. However, luckily, the naming on the rim was still legible and fairly clear providing no doubt it was Noble’s medal. He of course would have never worn it. It would have been issued to his next of kin in the early 1920s along with his 1914-15 Star, Victory Medal and Memorial Plaque. How it became separated is not known, as are the locations of the other medals, but it has now been cleaned, had a new suspender fitted and come home to Cambridge.

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Cambs Regt Cpl Dewey

Dewey after arriving in France, Feb 1915.

Nobbie's grave at Dickebusch Cemetery.

His British War Medal as found in 2010.

His British War Medal after restoration.

This site went live on the 14th February 2015 to mark  100 years since the 1/1st Cambs went off to war.

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM

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