b. 05/03/1883 Edinburgh, Scotland. d. 12/09/1958 Hampstead, London.
Allan Ebenezer Ker (1883-1958) was born at 16 Findhorn Place, Edinburgh, Midlothan, Scotland on the 5 March 1883. His parents were Robert Darling and Johanna Ker (nee Johnston). He attended Edinburgh Academy from 1890-1903 after which he attended Edinburgh University. He then took up a position as an apprentice solicitor in his father’s law firm. In 1908 Allan Ker joined the Queen’s Edinburgh Mounted Rifles, but towards the end of 1914 he travelled to Aberdeen to settle the affairs of his late cousin who had been killed in the Great War. Allan’s heart was set on joining the Scots Greys, but whilst in Aberdeen, he was persuaded by friends of his late cousin to join their regiment – the famous Gordon Highlanders. During the First World War, he served as a Lieutenant with the 3rd. Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders; but at the time of his action, he was attached to the 61st. Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps.
Allan Ker travelled to France in October 1915 to serve in the Great War, and by the middle of 1916 he had been posted to Salonica in the Mediterranean, where he fought in the battle of Muchovo. Later that year, he contracted Malaria and was evacuated back to the UK.
Following a promotion to First Lieutenant, Allan Ker returned to the Western Front in 1917, where he saw first hand the bloody battles of Passchendale, Arras and Cambrai before finally finding himself in the battle of St Quentin.
On the 21st March 1918, near St. Quentin in France, the enemy had penetrated the British lines, and the flank of the 61st. was exposed. Lieutenant Ker had one Vickers gun, but managed to hold up the attack and to inflict many casualties. He then sent word back to his Battalion Headquarters that he was going to remain at his post, along with a Sergeant and several men who had been badly wounded, and fight on until a counter-attack could be launched to rescue them. Just as the Vickers gun was, finally, destroyed, his party were attacked from behind with bombs, machine guns and bayonets, but Lieutenant Ker and his men managed to repulse these attacks with their revolvers. The wounded were collected into a small shelter, and it was decided to defend them to the last and to hold the enemy for as long as possible. In one of many hand-to-hand encounters, a German rifle and bayonet were secured, along with some ammunition, and these were used with good effect.
His citation concluded: “Although Lieutenant Ker was very exhausted from want of food and gas poisoning, and from the supreme exertions he had made during ten hours of the most severe bombardment, fighting and attending to the wounded, he refused to surrender until all his ammunition was exhausted and his position was rushed by a large number of the enemy. His behaviour throughout the day was absolutely cool and fearless, and by his determination he was materially instrumental in holding up for three hours more than five hundred of the enemy.”
Allan was a prisoner until December 1918 when he was finally repatriated and only then learned of his award and his new-found fame. He was gazetted for the VC on 4th September 1919 and presented with the medal by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 26th November 1919. After the war, he became a practising solicitor. Using his skills as a solicitor, the Army attached him next to the Advocate General’s department before promotion to Captain and attachment to the War Office as a staff officer.
In November 1920 the body of an unknown soldier was dug from the trenches of Flanders and laid to rest in Westminster Abbey. A Guard of Honour was provided for the unknown soldier, made up of a hundred recipients of the Victoria Cross, and Allan Ker was chosen to be one of them – perhaps as high an honour as the decoration which he now bore. Finally he was demobilised in 1922, although donning his old uniform once more in 1926 to unveil the Machine Gun Corps Memorial at Hyde Park Corner.
In 1940, however, Allan Ker was recalled for the second World War and served on the Directorate of the Chief of the Imperial Staff at the War Office. He attended the Potsdam Conference and was awarded a Knight of the Order of Military Merit of Brazil for his services. Anthony Powell later used him as the inspiration for the character of Colonel Finn in his novels The Soldier’s Art (1966) and The Military Philosophers (1968).
He died in New End Hospital, Hampstead, North London, on the 12th September 1958, and he is buried in West Hampstead Cemetery. His medal group including VC, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, George V Silver Jubilee Medal 1935, George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 were purchased at auction at Buckland, Dix & Wood, London, in 1991 by Michael Ashcroft. They are displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: WEST HAMPSTEAD CEMETERY, LONDON.
SECTION Q/4, GRAVE 7
Kevin Brazier – Ker’s VC Grave and Cemetery Plan for West Hampstead Cemetery.
Thomas Stewart – Image of his VC Stone in Findhorn Place, Edinburgh, Scotland.