Memorable Manitobans: Royce Coleman Dyer (1889-1918)
Butcher, war hero.
Born at Sutton, Quebec on 2 February 1889, son of Leon and Mae Dyer, he attended school at the prestigious Stanstead Academy. Before the First World War, he moved to Transcona and worked as a butcher. On 21 September 1914, he attested with the 8th Battalion (90th Winnipeg Rifles) at Valcartier, Quebec. He fought at the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915 and was gassed during the Battle of Mount Sorrel in June 1916. In October 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, he was awarded the Military Medal (MM) for “Bravery in the Field” and was awarded a second MM in December 1916. In June 1917, he was invalided to England with broken ribs.
While in England, he volunteered to join a “Special Mission” for the British War Office and was promoted to Sergeant. He was attached to the Slavo-British Allied Legion (SBAL), which was part of the Northern Russian Expedition (June 1918-October 1919). The 6000-man Northern Russian Expedition force was created to support anti-Communist forces in northern Russia and the SBAL, under the command of General Edmund Ironside, was tasked with training Russian, Finnish and Estonian volunteers to fight against the Bolshevik Army. In a June 1918 letter home, Dyer wrote that, “I am leaving for an unknown country … I felt I must still fight for my flag and you at home … I am still brave enough though still war torn after my 4 years of service, but never shall I give up.”
Dyer was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) in an action at the town of Onega. He received a commission in the Imperial Army and was promoted to Lieutenant and, later, Captain. He was put in charge of a battalion of ex-prisoners, which became known as Dyer’s Battalion. He was successful in training the men to British standards, but contracted pneumonia in December 1918 and died. The officers put in charge of the Battalion could not maintain discipline and, in 1919, the men inspired by Bolshevik agitators mutinied and killed their officers.
He is buried in the Archangel Allied Cemetery in Russia. He is memorialized on the Transcona War Memorial (Memorial Park Circle Cenotaph)
Dyer’s Battalion - The Untold Story of the Russian Revolution, Part 1, Esprit de Corps, September 2016.
Dyer’s Battalion - The Untold Story of the Russian Revolution, Part 2, Esprit de Corps, October 2016.
“Original First Hero Turns Up in Siberia,” Winnipeg Tribune, 15 November 1918.
“War Veteran Dies While in Siberia,” Winnipeg Tribune, 25 June 1919.
“British Forces Near Archangel in Great Peril: The Revolt of Dyer’s Brigade,” Vancouver Daily Province, 26 July 1919.
Attestation papers, Canadian Expeditionary Force, Library and Archives Canada.
Royce Coleman dyer, Canadian Virtual War Memorial.
This page was prepared by Ian Stewart.
Page revised: 10 August 2020