Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War

Both Charles Edward and his father William made their living at sea but that didn't apply to William's father Edward who was described in the 1841 census as a policeman. This would make Edward one of the first members of the Police Force in Portsmouth following their establishment under the 1835 Municipal Corporation Act. As he was 42 years of age in 1835 he may have previously served as a watchman or as a member of the Dockyard Police. No succeeding member of his family followed his choice of employment.
The 1841 census also tells us that Edward was living at Pucknall's Court on East Street, by the Camber, one of the poorer areas of Portsmouth town. With him were his wife Elizabeth and four children, Sarah, William, Eliza and George, aged 14, 8, 4 and 2 respectively. William probably elected to go to sea as soon as he was old enough as he does not appear in the census of 1851. He was certainly employed as a seaman in 1861 when the census that year places him in the household of his sister Eliza at 2 Lombard Street along with his brothers George and Henry. Their father Edward had probably died in the mid 1850s.
William was again at sea when the 1871 and 1881 censuses were called but we know he would have stayed with relatives or as a lodger when ashore as he did not get married until 1887. His wife was Hannah Ann Butcher who had previously been married to William Butcher, before then she had been Hannah Ann Gibbs. William Butcher had died in 1881 leaving Hannah with perhaps six children, most of whom were over 16 by the time their mother re-married.
The 1891 census lists William and Hannah Sawyer at 22 Oyser Street with Hannah's son William plus Henry (b. 1879), Charles (b. 1880) and Ethel (b. 1885). In 1901 the family were living at 19 Lombard Street with William still working as a merchant seaman and Charles Edward as a Dockside Labourer. In 1911 William had retired and Charles Edward was a mariner whilst the family had moved to 83 St. Thomas's Street.
Charles Edward would have been a member of the Royal Naval Reserve at the outbreak of the Great War and was called up to serve on HM Trawlers which were engaged on a variety of tasks but were very often used as minesweepers. In September 1917 he was serving aboard the trawler "James Seckar" which was patrolling to the west of the Bay of Biscay when it was torpedoed by UC-63, all 16 members of her crew being killed.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) list Trimmer Charles Edward Sawyer (6827TS), Royal Naval Reserve, HM Trawler "James Seckar", died 25/09/1917. Commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial (Panel 28).
Charles Sawyer is also commemorated on the Anglican Cathedral WW1 Memorial Cross and the Cenotaph. He is not listed in "The National Roll of the Great War", Section X.
See the History of the Police in Portsmouth by Terry Swetman.
The truth about Charles Edward's parentage is blurred as he seems to have been born before William Butcher died and yet William Sawyer seems to have accepted him as his own son, the evidence being that in the 1891 census William Butcher's son William is described as a 'step-son' whereas Charles Edward is recorded as a 'son'.
Tim Backhouse
October 2014