Private John Chipman Kerr

It was nearly a century ago that Private John Chipman “Chip” Kerr was awarded the Victoria Cross for outstanding bravery during the Battle of the Somme while serving with the 49th Infantry Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force in the First World War.  Here is his citation:

Private John Kerr Courcellete, France 16 September, 1916 “Who at Courcellete, France, on the 16th day of September 1916 during a bombing attack, while acting as first bayonet man, he knew that bombs were running short and while the enemy were resisting vigorously – although one of his fingers had been blown off at the second joint by a German bomb – jumped out of his trench and ran along the parados a considerable distance and into close contact with the enemy, firing at point-blank range and killing and wounding many of them, whereupon, the enemy believing themselves to be cut off, desisted from the fight and surrendered and 62 prisoners were taken. The action of this man at this juncture undoubtedly resulted in the taking of 256 yards of enemy trench, thereby making it possible for his Battalion to occupy and hold the ground gained in the general attack. Private Kerr then, with two other men escorted the prisoners across open ground, and under heavy fire, to a support trench, and returned and reported himself for duty to his Company Commander before his wound had been dressed. The conduct of this man on several other occasions has been brought to notice and this recommendation is supported by the common consent and voice of all ranks in his company.”

(London Gazette, no.29802, 26 October 1916)

The Morning Leader out of Saskatchewan puplished a much more detailed account of Kerr’s brave deeds, which you can read here.

Only 94 Canadians received the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest award for bravery.  Only one of those heroes was from Spirit River.  In 1912, he and his brother Roland (killed in action, 1917) travelled here on the Edson Trail, interested in lumber.  Between the wars, Chip Kerr brought home the wife he met overseas, Gertrude Bridger.  They raised four boys and a girl here, far from the perils of world struggles.  Chip was a homesteader, a fire ranger, and he ran the Dunvegan Ferry.

Then the Second World War came along and Chip Kerr joined the army once again, later transferring to the Royal Canadian Air Force (his son also served as a pilot; he was killed during the war).  Mr. Kerr was stationed in B.C., where he stayed when the war was over.

Only six recipients of the Victoria Cross have peaks in the Victoria Cross Range named for them.  In 1951, Mount Kerr received its name.  Take the tramway up the Whistlers near Jasper to get a good look at this 6400 foot mountain and consider it a history lesson.

Port Moody, Mr. Kerr’s final home, honoured him by dedicating a park in his name in 2006.

Spirit River’s tribute to Chip Kerr is a collection of information, photographs and other items in the Spirit River and District Museum.  The Kerr family have interesting histories in Chepi Sepe, recalling their homesteading days in detail, and especially their adventures at Dunvegan and in Spirit River. To access those stories online, click http://www.ourroots.ca/e/toc.aspx?id=9067

The name Chip Kerr is a well-remembered part of the fabric of our community.  It gives us a face to put to the sacrifices so many made for freedom, including many from Spirit River.

If you can tell the story of a person from our area who went to war, Town Spirit wants to help you share it.  Please email townspirit@hotmail.com.

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One Response to Private John Chipman Kerr

  1. In approximately 1941 my father, Douglas Ralph Russell was living in Fairview.

    He was taking a movie film on reels contained in cannisters to Spirit River with his friend Harry Bubel.. The most direct route was by crossing Peace River which they managed to do on the outbound journey. Before they could return ‘Chip’ had rung ahead to Spirit River that he could not row across the Peace River as it had frozen. My Dad and his friend decided to catch a train back which would have meant a 20 hour journey. Just before they boarded ‘Chip’ rang the station to say that he had walked across the Peace River and my Dad and his friend could return to Fairview that way which saved them about 16 hours.

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