John James Dwyer VC

b. 09/03/1890 Port Cygnet, Australia. d. 17/01/1962 Bruny Island, Australia.

John James Dwyer (1890-1962) was born on 9th March 1890 at Lovett, Port Cygnet, Tasmania. He was known to his family as Jack. His father, Charles Aaron Dwyer, known as Red Charlie, was a farmer of Alonnah, Bruny Island, Tasmania. He married Mary Anna Scanlon in 1884. They had eleven children in all, with John having five brothers and five sisters.

John J Dwyer VC

John was educated at Mills Reef State School, Alonnah, Bruny Island, Tasmania until 1910. He worked as a cane cutter in Queensland until 1913, then worked on the Mount Lyell Company’s Lake Margaret Hydro-Electric Scheme. He returned to Tasmania where he worked as a labourer and axeman at Queenstown. On 4th February 1915 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Queenstown, Tasmania. He trained at Claremont, Tasmania and embarked at Melbourne on HMAT A20 Hororata with 5th Reinforcement Group for 15th Battalion on 15th April. He arrived at Alexandria and moved to Camp Heliopolis. From 2nd August, he was on operations with 15th Battalion on Gallipoli.

He was then treated for a bout of influenza, and was evacuated to Mudros in September 1915. From there, he was returned to Camp Heliopolis on 29th December. On 1st January 1916 he was appointed Driver and posted to 4th Machine Gun Company on 9th March at Serapeum, Egypt. On 1st June, he embarked on HMT Haverford at Alexandria and arrived at Marseilles, France on 10th June. He was then involved in operations at Pozieres and Guedecourt on the Somme. John was promoted to Lance Corporal on 31st December, and was further promoted in April 1917 to Temporary Corporal, then Corporal, and then Temporary Sergeant. On 9th June he was hit in the left shoulder near Messines and evacuated through 3/2nd West Lancashire Field Ambulance and No 53 Casualty Clearing Station to 26th General Hospital, Etaples and reverted to Corporal.

He rejoined his unit on 22nd August and was promoted to Sergeant a week later. On 26th September 1917 at Zonnebeke, Belgium, Sergeant Dwyer, in charge of a Vickers machine-gun during an advance, rushed his gun forward to within 30 yards of an enemy machine-gun, fired point blank at it and killed the crew. He then seized the gun and carried it back across shell-swept ground to the Australian front line. On the following day, when the position was being heavily shelled, and his Vickers gun was blown up, he took his team through the enemy barrage and fetched a reserve gun which he put into use in the shortest possible time.

He was granted leave to England in January 1918, and was presented with his VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 23rd January. He was appointed Temporary Regimental Sergeant Major on 9th April and and on 20th May he was commissioned. He attended the Corps Gas School in June 1918 and returned to England on 31st July. Having been promoted to Lieutenant, he was sent back to Australia with nine other Australian VCs to support recruitment drives. On 15th December 1918 he was transferred to the Reserve of Officers in 6th Military District.

John married Myrtle Mary Ivy Dillon on 24th September 1919 at St Brendan’s Catholic Church, Alonnah, Tasmania. They went on to have six children – Iris Patricia, Molly Lois, Noreen Mary, John James, Kathleen Mary, and Margaret. On leaving the Army, John established an orchard on Bruny Island, Tasmania under the Soldier Settlement Scheme. He then worked for his father-in-law at his sawmill near Alonnah. From 1924, John was on the Council of the Bruny Municipality for three and a half years and was appointed JP at the same time. He then moved to New Norfolk and established his own saw mill at Moogara. He then stood for the Tasmanian Legislative Assembly as a Labor Member of Parliament for 30 years, being Speaker 1941-1948, Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries 1948-1961 and Deputy Premier August 1958 – May 1959. He sold his sawmill in 1949 and moved to Glenorchy. He was forced to retire due to ill health on 19th September 1961.

John, who was known in later life as “Old Silver” died at Bruny Island on 17th January 1962. He was given a state funeral with over 2,000 attending, including three VC recipients. He was buried in Cornelian Bay Cemetery, Hobart, Tasmania. In addition to his VC, he was also awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. His son presented the medals to the Australian War Memorial on 27th September 1982.





Steve Lee – Image of John Dwyer VC Medal Group at Australian War Memorial, Canberra.