Charles and Ernest Dyos: Two early volunteers

Charles and Ernest Dyos were brothers from a large family who lived in White Hart Yard off Guildford Street in Chertsey. Both Charles and Ernest had sampled life beyond Surrey before joining the Army in the first few months of the Great War. For different reasons, their experiences of the Western Front were destined to be brief.

Ernest Dyos. Image courtesy of Marc Dyos.

The Dyos family was originally from Laleham just across the Thames from Chertsey where Charles Dyos Senior worked as a gardener. He and his first wife Mary had two sons, Charles born in 1888 and Ernest born in 1892. Mary died in 1894 when Ernest was only two years old. Charles Senior married for a second time in 1898 to Elizabeth and their union produced five children, Elizabeth, John, Edward, George, and Mildred.

By 1911 the nine members of the Dyos family were living in a four-room cottage at 5 White Hart Yard in the centre of Chertsey. These small dwellings could be accessed from Guildford Street where the entrance to the Sainsbury Centre now stands.

Guildford Street with Morton’s boot shop on the right. The entrance to White Hart Yard was on the left near the cart in the distance. Image courtesy of Chertsey Museum.

Ernest was employed as an assistant in Morton’s boot shop at 129 Guildford Street, only a short walk from White Hart Yard. He was a keen footballer but like many shop workers at the time, was only available on early closing day. He played for Chertsey Wednesday Football Club for several seasons between about 1910 and 1913.

Chertsey Wednesday Football Club team photo 1912-13 featuring Ernest Dyos (middle row, second from the left). Image courtesy of Chertsey Museum.

Having proved himself at Morton’s, Ernest left Surrey for Devon to take up a position at the firm’s boot shop in Tiverton. Given the cramped conditions at home, Ernest might have welcomed the chance of some space. Perhaps more likely, he possessed a youthful sense of adventure. Only a few weeks after the outbreak of war, Ernest travelled to Exeter and enlisted in the 8th Battalion, Devonshire Regiment.

The 8th Battalion was raised in August 1914 from a nucleus of officers and non-commissioned officers from the 1st Battalion. The ‘Devons’ had become Ernest’s local regiment, but recruits came from all over the country. The battalion spent some time in training at Aldershot and Farnham which enabled Ernest to visit his father and stepmother. In a postcard picturing Piccadilly Circus dated 4 April 1915, he confirmed his safe but noisy return to barracks, saying:

Dear Dad and Mum. Got back all right last night about 11. I think I would have been alright if I had got back today, as there is nothing doing today. Had to get in bed in the dark, and I made a good old row, what with forms and ginger beer bottles on the table. I suppose we shall get our 4 days soon now. Ern.

It is unclear whether Ernest received any further leave or saw his family again. He was posted to France that summer, landing in Le Havre on 26 July 1915. The 8th Battalion joined 20 Brigade in the 7th Division on 4 August, exactly one year after Britain had entered the war. Less than two months later, Ernest and the 8th Battalion were at the forefront of the British attack on the first day of the Battle of Loos on 25 September 1915. Despite German shelling and the first, unsuccessful, British use of poison gas which blew back on them, the 8th Battalion captured a German position. Yet, by the end of that day, Ernest was missing.

The Surrey Herald reported on 22 October 1915 that two Chertsey soldiers were missing, Lance Corporal Ernest Dyos of the Devonshire Regiment and Private Herbert Wells of the East Surrey Regiment. In a remarkable coincidence, Herbert Wells replaced Ernest Dyos at Morton’s boot shop when Ernest moved to Tiverton.

Surrey Herald 22 October 1915. Image by Jim Knight.

Eventually, Ernest’s parents received official notification that he was presumed to have been killed with his date of death recorded as 25 September 1915. He was 23. In her later years, Ernest’s younger sister Mildred recalled a soldier bringing news of Ernest’s death. She thought the family was told that Ernest had died underground but as an infantryman he was unlikely to have been involved in mining or planting hidden explosives. Only eight years old at the time, Mildred might have been mistaken. Alternatively, news of Ernest’s death could have been conveyed in a way that spared the family any hope of recovering his body.

As well as being remembered in Chertsey, Ernest Dyos is named on the Loos Memorial (Panel 35-37) and in the Books of Remembrance at Exeter Cathedral. At some point during his short military career, Ernest was promoted to Lance Corporal. The precise date is unknown because Ernest’s service records, along with millions of others from the Great War, were destroyed by fire or water in September 1940. This followed a bombing raid which struck the War Office repository in Arnside Street in London.

Loos Memorial. Image by Andy Bailey. Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Ernest’s older brother Charles was a labourer who left Chertsey for a period of 14 months. He travelled on the passenger and cargo ship SS Mongolia to Halifax, Nova Scotia in May 1913 which was approximately the same time as Ernest moved to Devon. The reason why Charles went to Canada is unclear. He might have been seeking work or visiting relatives in the United States, but he returned to England a year later. He sailed from Montreal on the Dominion Line liner SS Canada to Liverpool, and arrived back in Chertsey in July 1914, the month before Britain entered the war.

SS Mongolia. Image credit: S. R. Gaiger / Hulton Archive Editorial / Getty Images / Universal Images Group. Rights managed / For education use only.

Perhaps spurred on by news of Ernest joining up in Devon, Charles enlisted in October 1914 in the East Surrey Regiment at Kingston upon Thames. His enlistment papers described him as 5’8” with hazel eyes, brown hair, and a ‘fresh’ complexion. Charles was promoted to Lance Corporal in February 1915 and Acting Sergeant in November. He was posted to France on 31 December 1915, by which time Charles would have known of Ernest’s death. Only 17 months into the war, Ernest and 34 other men later named on the Chertsey Town War Memorial had already lost their lives.

Charles was in France for little over a month, being sent back to England in early February 1916. This was probably due to sickness. The war diaries of his battalion record that the 8th East Surrey Regiment was subjected to numerous poison gas attacks in the early part of 1916.

Approval for discharge form for Charles Dyos dated 15 November 1916. Image courtesy of Marc Dyos.

Seven months later, Charles was transferred to a training role, still as Acting Sergeant, but was discharged in December 1916 because he was considered ‘no longer physically fit for war service’. Charles was awarded the Silver War Badge, which was given to those honourably discharged when unfit to serve. He also received three campaign medals, the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, and the Allied Victory Medal. These campaign medals were usually issued together and became known as ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’ after popular newspaper cartoon characters of the time. Charles only just qualified for the 1914-15 Star as it was awarded to those who served in any theatre of war outside the United Kingdom between 5 August 1914 and 31 December 1915, and he landed in France on the last day of 1915.

Back in civilian life, Charles became a nurse and spent time working at Holloway Sanatorium in Virginia Water, at the Manor House in Yateley, and at Southgate where he was employed by Sir Thomas Lipton, the tea merchant, philanthropist, and yachtsman. Charles married Alice Isabel Hayes, known as Isabel, in 1925 and gained a stepdaughter Marie. Charles and Isabel had a son together, Charles Graham Hayes Dyos, who was only five when he died in 1932. Charles himself passed away four years later in 1936 at the age of 48 and was interred in Streatham Park Cemetery.

Funeral card for Charles Dyos. Image courtesy of Marc Dyos.

Acknowledgements and postscript

This blog was inspired by, and is largely based upon, the family history research conducted by Marc Dyos into the lives of his great-uncles Charles and Ernest. Thank you to Marc for sharing his research so generously, and also for recording this video ‘Marc Dyos remembers his great-uncles Charles and Ernest Dyos’.

Marc Dyos at the Chertsey Town War Memorial, July 2021. Image by Ian Lacey.

The three younger half-brothers of Charles and Ernest joined the Army. John was called up in 1918, was still in England at the time of the Armistice and served until the early 1920s. Edward (Marc’s grandfather) joined the Royal Engineers in 1919 aged 16. Both Edward and youngest brother George served in the Second World War.

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