On 17th November 1916, Captain Charles Henry Dwyer was shot and killed by a German sniper early in morning while carrying out a difficult reconnaissance. He was 21 years old, and was serving with the 10th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment.
Merchant mariner Arthur Cecil Johnson, of Barston, also died on 17th November 1916 aboard the cargo vessel, S.S. Serbistan, which went missing at sea.
Charles Henry Dwyer was born on 3rd June 1895 and was baptised on 29th June at Hoylake, Cheshire. He was the eldest of the two sons of surgeon, Dr Henry Hamilton Dwyer and his wife, Amy Catherine (née King), who had married at Ougthrington, Cheshire on 7th June 1894. The couple’s second son, John Hamilton Dwyer, was born at Hoylake on 23rd June 1897. He became an electrical salesman, and died in Eastbourne in 1975, aged 77.
Sometime between 1911 and 1916, the Dwyer family moved from Cheshire to The Mount, Lapworth. On the outbreak of war, Charles received a commission in the Worcestershire Regiment, and went to the Front in July 1915. He was Mentioned in Despatches.
Captain Charles Henry Dwyer has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. He is commemorated locally on Lapworth and Hockley Heath memorials, and is also commemorated on the Rolls of Honour at Shrewsbury School, Jesus College Cambridge, and St Hildeburgh’s, Hoylake.
Arthur Cecil Johnson was born in Dudleston, Shropshire in 1890 and was the only son of Liverpool-born schoolmaster James Johnson and his Flintshire-born wife, Eda Juliana C. (née Griffiths), who had married in Ellesmere, Shropshire in 1888. They had a second child, Eda Blanche Johnson, who was born in Dudleston on 28th July 1891. She became a schoolteacher and never married. She died at Barston in 1978.
By 1901, the family had moved to Barston, Warwickshire where they were living in the Schoolhouse. James was recorded as schoolteacher at the elementary school. James and Eda were still in Barston in 1911 with their daughter, Eda Blanche, but Arthur had left home and we haven’t been able to find him on the census. It seems possible that he had joined the mercantile marine and was at sea on census night. Unless merchant vessels were moored in British waters on census night, the crew was not listed on census records.
There is no central record of merchant seaman between 1857-1919, so it is difficult to trace individual careers unless the vessel is known. General Register Office death indexes show that A. C. Johnson died in 1916, aged 26, aboard the steam ship Serbistan. The Swansea-registered vessel was built in Sunderland in 1896 as the Harpenden. Under the command of Captain John Griffiths, the Strick Line ship left Brest, France for Cardiff on the afternoon of 16th November 1916 with another vessel, Bayhowel. The two ships remained together throughout the night until, at 4am, in heavy sea and sleet, the Serbistan forged ahead. Two hours later, the Captain of the Bayhowel sighted the Runnelstone Light and passed through the wreckage of what appeared to be deck fittings.
Arthur Cecil Johnson does not appear to be listed on the Commonwealth War Graves website, nor is he mentioned in the list of merchant seaman who were awarded medals for their war service. However, he is included on the war memorial at St Swithin’s Church, Barston, indicating that the villagers thought of him as a war casualty.
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Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
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