A hero is someone who courageously puts him/herself on the line to help others. Heroes are often ordinary people who take extraordinary actions in times of crisis. Real Canadian Hero is a biography of Corporal John Chipman Kerr V.C. and the tribute of a son, E. Rodney Kerr.
This is not a book review but rather a glimpse through the window provided by the author.
“At dawn, April 15th (1915), Chip and Rollie walked to Grand Prairie, covering the 50 miles in 15 hours.” So began the journey of the Kerr brothers, John Chipman and Charles Roland, from the recruitment centre into The Great War, serving with the 49th Infantry Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force.
“They joined the first division in France in September of 1915.” The war in the trenches of the Western Front, from the artillery fire, to the rats and stench, was gruesome in every respect. “As steady rain filled the trenches with muddy water, the men were forced to fight not only the enemy, but also ‘trench feet’, colds, influenza, and lice.”
“In late August of 1916, Chip and Rollie moved from the muddy fields of Flanders to the Somme where the regiment took over a section of the front line directly in front of the village of Courcelette.” The author details the build up of the offensive on pages 80 and 81.
This was the last great Allied effort to achieve a breakthrough and came on 15 September 1916 in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette with two Canadian divisions, including Chip and Rollie, in the initial advance.
On 16 September during the latter stages of the battle, the Canadian infantry was roused from their dugouts to go over the top with bayonet fixed. “Chip immediately volunteered as lead Bayonet man to charge the trench.” The account on pages 83 and 84 have a few more details of the attack than those of the following citation.
“For most conspicuous bravery. During a bombing attack he was acting as bayonet man, and, knowing 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 on them at point-blank range, and inflicted heavy loss. The enemy, thinking they were surrounded, surrendered. Sixty-two prisoners were taken and 250 yards of enemy trench captured. Before carrying out this very plucky act one of Private Kerr’s fingers had been blown off by a bomb. Later, with two other men, he escorted back the prisoners under fire, and then returned to report himself for duty before having his wound dressed.” (London Gazette, no.29802, 26 October 1916)
On Feb. 5, 1917, John Chipman Kerr received his VC from King George V at Buckingham Palace for his bravery at the Somme.
Later that year brother Rollie was killed in action in France. It was one of many tragedies Chip endured in his lifetime.
After WWII, Chip retired and the Kerr’s moved to Port Moody, BC, where they became active members of the community.
In 1951, Mount Kerr, a 2,560 metre (8,399 feet) mountain located north-west of Jasper, Alberta, was named after him. It is a part of the Victoria Cross Range, where six of the seventeen peaks are named after Canadian recipients of the Victoria Cross. It seems appropriate that they are comprised mainly of grit stone.
On Feb. 19, 1963, he died in Port Moody at age 76 and was buried in Mountain View Cemetery, Vancouver. Chip is remembered in Port Moody at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 119 by the Chip Kerr Memorial Auditorium, and by Chip Kerr Park. He’s also honoured on the Port Greville Cenotaph near his hometown of Fox River, N.S.
In 1975 his widow Gertrude, donated his VC to the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario, and later it was loaned to the Museum of Alberta in Edmonton.