James Dyer was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, on 5th July 1890, the son of Patrick and Bridget Dyer. He was educated at the local school and when he grew up; he decided to make the sea his profession. By this time, the family home was at 49, Circus Road, Liverpool.
He engaged as a trimmer in the Engineering Department on board the Lusitania at Liverpool on 12th April 1915 at a monthly wage of £6-0s-0d and received an advance of this wage of £1-0s-0d at the time. His previous ship had been the S.S.
He reported for duty at 8 a.m. on 17th April before the liner left Princes Landing Stage for the last time.
Three weeks later in the afternoon of 7th May, he had just come off watch and was washing, when he felt the blow of the torpedo, which threw him across the room. Shortly afterwards, whilst trying to get up top, he felt the force of another explosion and naturally assumed that it was a second torpedo!
After this, he encountered total chaos, but managed to get up on deck and found that the ship was listing heavily to starboard and the next thing he knew, he had been thrown into the sea as she sank. Many others were also swimming in the sea all around him and he made for the nearest piece of wreckage. Nearby were two children and getting them to hold on to him, he managed to swim back to the wreckage and make them cling on to it as well.
The two children were Americans and after what seemed to be hours floating in the sea, all three were rescued and landed at Queenstown where the children were re-united with their joyful father who was so grateful that he gave Trimmer Dyer a sum of money as a reward.
When Dyer eventually got back to Liverpool, a large crowd was waiting to meet him and other crew survivors. They were all picked up and carried down the road on the shoulders of work mates who were delighted to see them return home safe and sound. Not long afterwards, Trimmer Dyer was officially discharged from the Lusitania’s final voyage and paid the balance of wages owing to him, which amounted to £5-14s-4d., (£5.71½p). This was in respect of his sea service from 17th April to 8th May 1915, 24 hours after the liner had foundered.
Undaunted by his experiences, he continued to serve in the engine room of trans-Atlantic liners during and after the Great War, one of his ships being the
Mauretania - the Lusitania's sister ship.
In 1919, he married Annie Mangan and they had five children, James, Delilah Mary, Patrick and Teresa.
When he finally left the sea, he found work in Liverpool docks, and worked there until his retirement. He also made occasional extra cash by prize fighting in the boxing ring, under the name of ‘Gunner’ Dyer, but this was not always lucrative, as he discovered that if he won a bout he got paid, but if he lost, he got nothing!
He finally lost the greatest fight of all, on 19th March 1959 at his home, 160, Mardale Road, Huyton, Liverpool and was buried in Yew Tree Cemetery, Liverpool, in Plot IE, Grave 81. There is nothing on the grave to indicate his connection with the
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, A. Hanna, PRO BT 100/345, PRO BT 350.