Paul Dwyer shot a “moose” in Ayr, Scotland. But he photographed the stuffed, mounted animal while hunting for answers, not big game.
The “possibly long-forgotten” head — which was labelled moose, but Dwyer figures is a caribou — was presented to the Royal Burgh of Ayr in 1916 by the Newfoundland Regiment.
The soldiers trained in the Scottish county during the First World War before fighting in Gallipoli and France.
“I did have my picture taken with the moose head to show others that it actually existed,” Dwyer writes in an email. The moose/caribou — currently in storage — was just one nugget the retired educator unearthed during a trek that recently took he and wife Kerry across Scotland, Ireland and England.
The Dwyers, who live in Gander but spent most of their working lives in Paradise, were on a couple of missions. One was visiting where his Irish ancestors originated. It’s a place he sought for personal fulfillment and also because he wants his family and future generations to know their heritage.
Another objective of the trip was to trace some of the Newfoundland Regiment’s steps during the First World War. Dwyer was especially interested in learning more about soldiers with connections to Bell Island, where he was born and where his family settled in the early 1800s. He plans on writing a book about the Bell Islanders who fought in the Great War.
An important stop in his quest for answers about the Dwyer family was The Parish of Mothel in County Waterford, Ireland. He had traced his ancestors there during years of research.
At Mothel, he looked up Irish writer-historian Michael Coady and they spent three hours talking about Newfoundland and Irish emigration.
Coady gave Dwyer a number of things. Among them: a cemetery list that included the name Thomas Dwire, quite possibly a relative.
“(Coady) indicated that our name Dwyer/Dwire would certainly have been O’Dwyer (O’Duibhuir) pronounced (O’Deer).”
The stop at Mothel was extremely rewarding. “I know that my great, great, grandfather looked up many times and saw the Comeragh Mountains. I, too, have now seen them,” Dwyer writes.
Another place he visited in Ireland was Passage East, a fishing village where many boarded ships to North America in the early 1800s.
“Unfortunately, there is nothing there today indicating what an important place it was to thousands of people as they boarded ships for a new beginning,” Dwyer says. “It’s as if it never happened. That was a disappointment, for sure.”
Following the regiment’s footsteps took Dwyer to sites in Scotland and England, where the Blue Puttees trained, and to battlegrounds in France, like Monchy-le-Preux and Beaumont-Hamel.
“After seeing Beaumont Hamel and visiting the graves of many Newfoundlanders, I have been so richly inspired that I want to tell their story and the stories of their families on Bell Island, who never saw their sons again and didn't even have a picture of their headstone or where they were buried. In a sense I feel like I am bringing them home to their relatives and to Bell Island. It's been my pleasure to get to know all of them.”
Dwyer spent two days in France, and wishes he had more time to find the graves of other Bell Islander soldiers buried there.
His trip concluded in England. There he visited Salisbury Plain, which is in the same field as Stonehenge. The Regiment camped and trained there.
Dwyer also took a train to Birmingham to see the grave of Private Walter Thomas, fulfilling a promise he made while conducting his research.
The soldier, born in St. John's but worked on Bell Island, was wounded at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1, 1916, and died two weeks later.
The European adventure had quite a finish. The Dwyers got to watch their son complete the World Triathlon Championships through the streets of London.
Michael Dwyer, an air traffic operations specialist in Gander and former town councillor in Appleton, placed 433 out of 1,325 male competitors. “Needless to say we are quite proud of him and his accomplishments as we have always been. Parents never give up supporting their children,” Dwyer says.
And, as is obvious from his efforts to learn about his roots and Bell Island’s soldiers, he hasn’t given up supporting those who came before him either.
“I've worked on both of these projects for years now and it is relentless,” Dwyer writes. “I am passionate about both.”
Dwyer says his trip was a month of discovery.
If only more of us would, or could, take such journeys. The puzzle of our past wouldn’t be missing so many pieces, and we’d probably even find a few more “moose” heads.