Case study

WW1 Australian VC recipient John James Dwyer

The story of Australian First World War Victoria Cross recipient John James Dwyer.

John James Dwyer
Credit: Australian War Memorial 044843

66 men from Australia received the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry, during the First World War. As part of the Centenary Commemorations the people of the United Kingdom marked their gratitude to those courageous men by presenting a bronze memorial plaque to their home country engraved with their names. The plaque is now displayed at the Australian War Memorial. This archive tells their stories.

Name: John James Dwyer

DOB: 9 March 1890

Place of Birth: Port Cygnet, Tasmania, Australia

Date of Action: 26 September 1917

Place of Action: Polygon Wood, Belgium

Rank: Sergeant

Regiment: 4th Machine Gun Company, Australian Imperial Force

John Dwyer was born on 9 March 1890 in Tasmania, Australia. He enlisted in early 1915 in the Australian Imperial Force and served in Gallipoli with the 15th Battalion, before transferring to the Western Front with the 4th Machine Gun Company in 1916.

Sergeant Dwyer was awarded the Victoria Cross for most conspicuous bravery when in attack on 26 September 1917 during the Battle of Polygon Wood in Belgium. His citation explains in detail:

Sergeant Dwyer, in charge of a Vickers machine gun, went forward with the first wave of the brigade. On reaching the final objective, this non-commissioned officer rushed his gun forward in advance of the captured position in order to obtain a commanding spot. Whilst advancing, he noticed an enemy machine gun firing on the troops on our right flank, and causing casualties. Unhesitatingly, he rushed his gun forward to within 30 yards of the enemy gun, and fired point blank at it, putting it out of action, and killing the gun crew. He then seized the gun and, totally ignoring the snipers from the rear of the enemy position carried it back across the shell swept ground to our front line, and established both it and his Vickers gun on the right flank of our brigade. Sergeant Dwyer commanded these guns with great coolness, and, when the enemy counter attacked our positions, he rendered great assistance in repulsing them. On the following day, when the position was heavily shelled, this non-commissioned officer took up successive positions. On one occasion, his Vickers gun was blown up by shell fire, but he conducted his gun team back to Headquarters through the enemy barrage, secured one of the reserve guns, and rushed it back to our position in the shortest possible time. During the whole of the attack, his contempt of danger, cheerfulness, and courage, raised the spirits of all who were in his sector of the line.

Back in Tasmania, he became active in local politics and eventually became Deputy Premier of Tasmania. He died in 1962.

Published 20 June 2016