b. 11/01/1887 Fox River, Nova Scotia, Canada. d. 19/02/1963 Port Moody, BC, Canada.
John Chipman Kerr (1887-1963) was born on 11th January 1887 at Fox River, Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, Canada. His father, Robert Kerr, was a lumberman born in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. His mother was Elizabeth nee Green, and they married on 30th July 1868 at Amhurst, Cumberland. John was one of eight children.
John was educated at Fox River School, Cumberland and St John Commercial School. He left home in 1906 to work in the Kootenay area of British Columbia as a lumberman. In 1912, he moved to Spirit Riverr, 300 miles north of Edmonton, Alberta. He bought a 65 hectare homestead and farmed it with his brother, Roland, until war broke out. They left the homestead with a note on the door, “War is hell, but what is homesteading?” and then walked 50 miles to the railhead. They enlisted in 66th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force on 25th September 1915 at Edmonton, Alberta. John was known as Chip to his comrades. His embarkation to the Western Front was delayed by a hernia operation in March 1915.
The 66th Battalion embarked at Halifax, Nova Scotia on 1st May 1916 aboard RMS Olympic and disembarked in England on 6th May. John joined a draft to 49th Battalion on 4th June and went to France to join the Battalion on the 8th. He was soon in Belgium and in action at Sanctuary Wood near Ypres.
On 16th September 1916 at Courcelette, France, during a bombing attack, Private Kerr was acting as bayonet man and noting that bombs were running short, he ran along the parados under heavy fire until he was in close contact with the enemy when he opened fire at point-blank range, inflicting heavy losses. The enemy, thinking that they were surrounded, surrendered – 62 prisoners were taken and 250 yards of enemy trench captured. Earlier, Private Kerr’s fingers had been blown off, but he did not have his wound dressed until he and two other men had escorted the prisoners back under fire and reported for duty.
The wounds to his hand saw him evacuated to Britain on 21st September aboard HS Asturias. He was treated at Lewisham Military Hospital from 23rd September. He transferred to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital at Bromley on 30th November until discharged on 8th December and reported to the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre at Hastings the next day. The VC was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 5th February 1917.
Following Medical Boards at Hastings, on 5th and 10th March, he joined the Alberta Regiment Depot at Hastings. On 24th March, he became orderly to GOC Canadian Troops London Area, but this appointment only lasted until 31st March when he was posted to 224th Battalion (Forestry). He was appointed Acting Corporal from May to September, when he was posted to Officer Training Corps at Bexhill on Sea until 27th December 1917. A Medical Board at Smith’s Lawn, Sunningdale on 10th January 1918 concluded he had deformities of the left foot and right forefinger; the former mainly due to a pre-war accident. In February 1918, he left for Canada from Liverpool aboard SS Missanabie, arriving in New Brunswick on 17th March.
John had married Clarissa Gertrude Bridger on 7th November 1917 at St John The Evangelist, Fitzroy Square, London. They had four sons and a daughter, including Leslie Walter, who died in World War II as a Sergeant Pilot in the RCAF. On his return to Canada, he was met by a crowd of 10,000 near the Canadian Pacific Railway depot. He was presented with $700 in gold. John was discharged on 20th April 1918 as no longer fit for war service. He returned to his Spirit River homestead, but sold it six years later and then worked in the oil fields at Turner Valley near Calgary, Alberta. He returned to Spirit River, where he worked as a forest ranger patrolling the Peace River and ran the government ferry at Dunvegan, Alberta.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, he re-enlisted in the Army and transferred to the RCAF in the hope of going overseas. However, he remained in Canada as a Service Policeman and Sergeant-of-the-Guard at Sea Island, British Columbia. He retired to Port Moody, British Columbia and took up salmon fishing. He died at his home on 19th February 1963. He was buried in the Veteran’s Division of the Mountain View Cemetery, Vancouver, British Columbia with his son Leslie.
In addition to his VC, he was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. His widow presented his medals to the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa in 1975, where they remain. He also received the unofficial French Medaille Commemorative des Batailles de la Somme 1914-18 & 1940.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM, OTTAWA, CANADA.
BURIAL PLACE: MOUNTAIN VIEW CEMETERY, VANCOUVER, CANADA.
ABRAY SECTION, BLOCK 5, PLOT 8, LOT 12
Canadian War Museum – Images of the Kerr VC Medal Group.
Bill Mullen – Image of the Kerr VC Grave in Vancouver, Canada.
Brian Drummond – Image of Kerr VC’s name on the Freemason’s Memorial, London.