Acting Corporal Edward Dwyer, East Surrey Regiment – a Victoria Cross hero

Edward Dwyer’s Victoria Cross (VC) citation reads:-

‘No 1052 Private Edward Dwyer, 1st Battalion, The East Surrey Regiment.

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty at ‘Hill 60’ on the 20th April 1915. When his trench was heavily attacked by German grenade throwers he climbed onto the parapet, and, although subject to a hail of bombs at close quarters succeeded in dispersing the enemy by the effective use of his hand grenades.

Private Dwyer displayed great gallantry earlier on this day in leaving his trench under heavy shell fire to bandage his wounded comrade.’

London Gazette, 1915.

Edward Dwyer was born in Fulham, London, on 25 November 1895. His mother was Sally Dwyer of 30 Lintaine Road, Fulham. He worked for a short period of time as a grocer’s assistant before joining the Army Special Reserve in 1912 and then the regular army with the East Surrey Regiment. He was described as ‘Honest, sober, hardworking’ when joining the Army.

Edward Dwyer’s pre-First World War service was in Ireland with his battalion. Copies of his service records held by Surrey History Centre (ESR/25/DWYE) provide a glimpse into garrison life, including records of several minor infringements by Dwyer of military discipline – in 1913, for example, Edward received five days’ ‘C B’ (‘confined to barracks’) for attempting to sell a pair of boots!

On the outbreak of war in August 1914, Private Edward Dwyer’s battalion (1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment) formed part of the British Expeditionary Force. The 1st Battalion East Surreys was part of 14 Infantry Brigade, 5th Division (commanded by Brigadier S.P. Rolt), 2nd Corps. The Brigade formed part of the right flank at the Battle of Le Cateau where companies of the 1st East Surreys fought to delay the outflanking movement of the German 4th Corps, 1st Army. The 2nd Corps stood and fought a delaying action ‘rather than turn our backs on the enemy in daylight’ (the words of General Smith-Dorrien, Corps Commander) and this enabled the British Expeditionary Force to continue to retreat  and reorganise after the battles of Mons and Le Cateau.

As described in the citation above, it was during the Second Battle of Ypres that Edward Dwyer was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Hill 60 on 20 April 1915. He was a Battalion Signaller at the time.

In May 1915, Dwyer was granted leave and returned to England, where he received his VC from the King (he was also awarded the Russian Cross of St George). His leave was extended for recruiting purposes and there is a unique audio recording on the Regal record label of him describing his experiences during the retreat from Mons and life at the front. It includes a recording of Dwyer singing marching songs – apparently used to assist with recruiting, although his description of the ardours of the retreat may not have provided encouragement to potential recruits!

It was also during this period that Edward married a nurse, Maude Barrett-Freeman, from Balham.

The records relating to Dwyer held by Surrey History Centre include a letter dated 30 May 1915 written by Edward to Lieutenant H.F. Stoneham, one of his early Platoon Commanders, who was convalescing following injury, describing to and updating this officer on life and events with the Battalion.

Edward eventually returned to the front and service with his Battalion, having been promoted to Acting Corporal on 27 July 1916.

He was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme at Guillemont on 3 September 1916. Edward is buried at Flatiron Cemetery at Mametz.

Surrey History Centre holds papers relating to Dwyer (reference ESR/25/DWYE/). These include photocopies (undated) of service papers from The National Archives, a letter from Dwyer to Lieutenant H.F. Stoneham, following the receipt of his Victoria Cross, describing his service and the fate of officers of the battalion, and a photograph of Dwyer.

The audio recording of Dwyer is held by the Imperial War Museum and forms track 40 of La Grande Guerre 1914-1918: Volume 2 (https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80030019)

 

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