By Emily Monks-Leeson
As part of the First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients series, today we remember the life and military service of Canadian Victoria Cross recipient John Chipman “Chip” Kerr of Fox River, Nova Scotia.
Prior to the war, Kerr worked as a lumberjack near Kootenay, British Columbia, and homesteaded in Spirit River, Alberta, with his brother, Charles Roland “Rollie” Kerr. When war was declared in 1914, the Kerr brothers, Chip and Rollie, went to Edmonton to enlist, leaving a note tacked to the door of their cabin that declared: “War is Hell, but what is homesteading?”
Account of the operations of the 49th Canadian Infantry Battalion from September 15–18, 1916. (MIKAN 1883261)
On September 16, 1916, Kerr was serving with the 49th Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) near Courcelette, France, not far from where Leo Clarke of the 2nd Battalion (Eastern Ontario Regiment) won the Victoria Cross the week before. Kerr’s actions on that day would earn him his own Victoria Cross. During a grenade attack carried out by his battalion, Kerr was the first bayonet man in a bombing party advancing on German positions. Recognizing that his unit’s bombs were running out, Kerr ran along the back ridge of the trench under heavy fire until he was close enough to the German troops to fire on them at point-blank range. Thinking they were surrounded, the German troops surrendered. Kerr’s citation in the London Gazette provides the details:
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, October 26, 1916)
Chip Kerr survived the war, while his brother Rollie, also serving in the 49th Battalion, was killed in late December 1917. Kerr rejoined the army at the beginning of the Second World War, transferring to the Royal Canadian Air Force with the rank of Sergeant. He died in Port Moody, British Columbia, on February 19, 1963.
Mount Kerr, a 2,600-metre peak in Jasper National Park, is named after him, as is Chip Kerr Park in Port Moody, British Columbia.
Library and Archives Canada holds the CEF service file for Private John Chipman Kerr and his brother, Private Charles Roland Kerr.
Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.