Sunday, November 04, 2018


Private John Dwyer

War poet Wilfred Owen died on this day one hundred years ago.

Below are some couplets in memory of my uncle, John Dwyer, a Private in the Civil Service Rifles, who died on the Somme, in the attack on High Wood, on 15 November 1916.

When he was 9 years of age, John won a book prize, presented to him by Padraig Pearse, at the Mayo Feis in 1903.


A day in September
A day to remember

From a prize at the Feis
To a tangled wire mesh

A new killing machine
For the first time was seen

Tanks were brought into play
Though not fit for the fray

General Barter had warned
His advice had been scorned

The big guns were silent
All over the salient

Then the tanks were let loose
Though they weren't fit for use

Infantry on their own
As the first tanks broke down

Other tanks went on fire
As the death toll climbed higher

Each tank that got lost
Had a high human cost

The attack on High Wood
Had a high cost in blood

As the soft bullets ripped
John's guts were unzipped

The remains of John Dwyer
Were lost in the mire.

Just a name on a wall
An imperial scrawl

Every death on the Somme
Resonated at home

A memorial card
Shrapnel's bitter-sweet shard

Bloody gentlemen all
In their rise and their fall


The corps commander overruled General Barter and insisted in deploying the tanks. This effectively resulted in depriving the infantry of artillery cover as the tanks proved more than useless in the event. In the subsequent witch-hunt General Barter was summarily relieved of his command. The General had earlier described the orders under which he was operating as "damned silly orders" which he, nevertheless, loyally carried out. The Official History eventually acknowledged this "tactical blunder". But by the time this vindication was published in 1938, Barter had been dead for seven years.

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