Monday, 16 February 2015

The Kerr boys go to War.... James Cross Kerr, Francis Robertson Kerr, John Kerr, Thomas Neilson Kerr Andrew Yuill Kerr

James Francis Kerr had six living sons at the start of the war. As a local cab proprietor operating a horse drawn and mechanical taxi service the business employed  men well versed with horses and or mechanical forms of transport. When World War I loomed, James found he had men with the skills needed by the war effort. One by one 5 of his sons enlisted and more than likely other staff went as  well.
Army Services Corp badge

1915 recruiting poster

The wartime enlistees had a choice over the regiment they joined.  At least three sons chose to join the part of the Army so vital to enabling the war effort - the ASC. The Army Service Corps or as it later became known in 1918 the Royal Army Service Corps. 

The Long, Long Trail website describes the situation faced by the army...
“Soldiers can not fight without food, equipment and ammunition. In the Great War, the vast majority of this tonnage, supplying a vast army on many fronts, was supplied from Britain. Using horsed and motor vehicles, railways and waterways, the ASC performed prodigious feats of logistics and were one of the great strengths of organisation by which the war was won.”
“At peak, the ASC numbered an incredible 10,547 officers and 315,334 men. In addition were tens of thousands of Indian, Egyptian, Chinese and other native labourers, carriers and stores men, under orders of the ASC.”
The ASC was organised into Companies, each fulfilling a specific role. Some were under orders of or attached to the Divisions of the army; the rest were under direct orders of the higher formations of Corps, Army or the GHQ of the army in each theatre of war.

  • Base Depots
  • Horse Transport Companies
  • Mechanical Traqnsport Companies
  • The Army Remounts Service (Companies involved in the provision of horses)
  • The ASC Labour Companies

Men of the Army Service Corps are most difficult to research due to the structure of the organisation and the location of assistance etc. Records contain minimal information and I suspect the records of all these Kerr men (possibly stored together) are in the “burnt collection”  a victim of the London Blitz in WW2.   Medal records are slowly surfacing which contain the vital information that some were indeed in the ASC. This is coupled by the fact that there is no memorial to the Army Service Corps. 

These are the stories of 4 of James’ sons who joined Great Britain’s war effort.
James Cross Kerr 1876-1937
Francis Robertson Kerr 1886 -1954
John Kerr 1889-
Thomas Neilson Kerr 1895-1954
Andrew Yuill Kerr’s story will be in a later blog and David Montgomery Kerr’s contribution is listed at the end of this blog.

James Cross Kerr was my great grandfather. James had a different mother to the other boys being the first born and son of James Kerr and Jessie Cross who died when the children were young. He is 5’7 ½” with dark brown hair, olive skinned and grey eyes.  Presuming he enlisted in 1915 he would have been around 39 years old upon enlistment. At this stage he was married to Mary Ann and had three boys James, Francis and Alfred. He had been part of his father’s business since he was 11 years old.

No enlistment  records have been found but I have this great photo of him in his uniform, one document that seems to give a few more snippets of information plus a couple of notes written by my father.

The receipt for Attestation below seems to show that James transferred from the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders service number 202.595

to the Army Service Corps Park Royal Horse Transport Section and received a new number T/391942. His transfer came about in February 1918. 

James transferred to the Park Royal Horse Transport in 1918
My Dad  lived with his Grandfather in Sydney until he was 5 and his memory of his grandfather’s war service was that he “served in WW1 but may have put age back. Worked with horses, served in Argyll and Southern (sic) Highlanders.” ” saw service in Turkey and France- was discharged unfit perhaps malaria.” “Malaria in WWI -pension for a while Dr said it played a part in his death.”

The service in Turkey might be incorrect if indeed he was in the 8th. He could indeed have tried to reduce his age so that he wouldn’t be turned down as a volunteer.

Dad’s preliminary research drew a blank on service records and he concluded that the records must have been in the “burnt collection” where records were destroyed during the Blitz in WW2.  Few details can be accurately confirmed.

An inquiry about the uniform shown in the photo below which was made at the Australian War Memorial replied that” the bandolier and spurs suggest service in a mounted unit and the shape of the cap badge suggest the Army Services Corps.”

James Cross Kerr and wife Mary Ann. The uniform seems to indicate the Army Services Corps
So the attestation paper above seems to be relating to our James Kerr as he was being transferred to Army Services Corp Park Royal  Horse Transport in England. In a medal record he is referred to as a driver. Perhaps the malaria caused him to return from the Front in February 1918 and be put to effective use working with the horses.

James returned from the war and to his three growing boys. After the war they prepared to immigrate to Australia. Mary Ann his wife returned to Scotland with her son Francis but James Cross, James and Alfred remained living and working in North Sydney.  James Snr and his son developed a delivery business which involved a horse and cart delivering fruit and vegetables. Never far from his beloved horse past.

Francis Robertson Kerr was to become  a  5’5” 27 year old motor lorry driver when he enlisted at Grove Park in January 1915. He was in the Motor Transport part of the vital  Army Services Corp. Probably due to his age he was appointed as a L/Corporal three days later. He reverted to Private of his own request in May 1915 which was the time he heading for France as part of Britain’s Expeditionary Force.

Frank's papers might be victims of the "burnt collection"
Some details of his 1917 service remain. From January 1917 he was in hospital for three months. From late April he was engaged as No 1 Lorry Driver on an Ammunition Column and transferred to troop supply. By July 1917 he was back in hospital until October 1917. On 18/11/1917 he was returned to England and hospitalised. 

His total service was 3 years and 15 days when he was discharged after being in Birmingham War Hospital.-no longer physically able for war service  27/11/1918. His Commanding Officer described him as sober, very reliable and intelligent and suitable to car driving in his discharge papers. Frank returned to Glasgow held the no 2 taxi licence and remained driving until his death. Somehow he acquired the nickname ”Raving” I’d like to know more about that!

John Kerr Service number 12602 was a 25 year old carriage driver when he enlisted. Married  in 1906 to Annie Mc  Phee, he had three children Peter, Margaret, and John and another on the way when he signed up  on 19/8/14 with the Highland Light Infantry. He joined the 3rd Battalion at Hamilton and after  remaining in a home depot (probably in England) until October 1915  moved with the British Expeditionary Force to France. 

His papers describe him as 5’3 ½ “ fresh faced man with brown eyes and black hair.  He was considered fit for the army on enlistment but a 16 year old injury where he fractured his left thigh ended his time in France. Since joining, a slight limp coupled with army conditions meant his thigh pain became much worse. The Medical Board of the army service deemed that to have aggravated the old injury.  He was discharged due to lameness on 13/4/1916 after service of 1 year 255 days.  The Army paid him a pension but felt that the condition would improve. Sadly during his time away his son Francis was born and died.

John's medical discharge papers
Thomas Neilson Kerr
No records can be found for Tommy as he was known. The only hint of information is Dad’s reference to him serving in the Dardanelles, Turkey. There are many Thomas Kerrs  from Scotland, a couple of whom had M/ service numbers indicating service in the Army Services Corp.
Really we have no conclusive evidence that he followed any of the paths of his brothers. Thomas returned from the war and several years later immigrated to Sydney with his mother Agnes Kerr and war widowed sister Agnes Park. He returned to Glasgow with his mother, married and worked as a labourer. He and Isabella remained childless. 
Andrew’s story of his time in the ASC will be related in the next blog.

David Kerr, the second son, did not go to war.  As a 30 year old with 4 children he still did his bit. His daughter, Mary Brian recalls her memories of Glasgow during the war.
“August 4, 1914 the beginning of the Great War I saw sailors going on ships, Greenoak and Gourock were where they set off from. The war lasted four years and it was a very different time. There were food shortages and blackouts and in Glasgow.  There were lots of refugees from countries overtaken by the Germans. My brothers and I had to go and wait in the various queues for meat, margarine etc, before we went to school. Mother would come later and take the place so that we could go to school.
My father had the first Fiat car which came to Glasgow and he used to go to various convalescent hospital to take soldiers for a trip. There were so many New Zealand and Australian lads and they usually came to our house for tea.” 

The patriarch, James Francis Kerr died during the war in May 1917. He had gone through some tough times with financial trouble and bankruptcy proceedings in 1913. The advent of the motorised travel in the early 1900s had decreased the business for horse-drawn carriages and perhaps diminished the need for his beloved horses... By all accounts he retired to become a racehorse breeder/trainer. 

With the outbreak of war his sons -his workers- had signed up to serve from mid 1914.They took with them the skills they had learnt in the family business. Some were drivers and others worked with horses which were still a very much-needed commodity in the Western Front. He would have been one very proud man even though he didn't live to see the end of the war and their safe return. Perhaps he evened training horses for the War effort before his death.

Monday, 9 February 2015

John (Jack) Robert Gadsby 1898-1977 "Gassed or Shell Shock?"

When the Gadsby family moved to Australia in 1912 it was to enjoy better weather than that of London. In the back of Selina Gadsby's mind was keeping her boys out of the War in Europe. By 1916 three of her sons were in Theatres of War with third son John Robert (Jack) an 18 year old store man enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 10/1/1916.  His service number was 5691.

He was to be part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). During his service he spent time in Alexandria, England, France and Belgium as part of the 19th Battalion. After leaving Australia for Alexandria in May 1916 he had proceeded to France (Etaples) in Dec 1916 via 4th Training Battalion in Codford England.

Early on he was treated briefly for scabies, a contagious skin infection caused by mites. From France he moved with his Battalion to Belgium. Whilst there, in early October 1917, he was wounded in action and treated for a gunshot wound to the right hand. It became septic and required more treatment.

A gun shot wound but the worst was yet to come
He rejoined his Battalion on 20/11/1917 but a week later was suffering from "debility". Dr Google describes Debility as weakness of the muscles- the body has lost its strength. There are various other symptoms that accompany the condition.  

Then word "neurasthenia" is also added to his record. Various websites describe this as physical and mental exhaustion with the symptoms as fever and physical and psychological manifestations. The vague descriptions makes me think it perhaps describes a combat stress reaction which was known as shell shock resulting from the traumas of war. 

Thomas Gadsby seeking information about Jack.
Living family members recall that Jack was gassed during the war. Perhaps this illness was brought on by gas poisoning where damage to lungs may mean lack of energy. Jack's records don't specifically say that he was gassed and treated as a gas casualty. 

Gas caused a low number of fatalities but there were many, many victims of the use of gas, the use of which progressed throughout the War. The Germans were the heaviest users of gas in the Western Front with the most popular gases being Chlorine, Phosphene and Mustard. The French and British were also users. with poisonous gases inserted into a high percentage of manufactured shells. Because the use of gas was deemed to be horrible and disgusting,  "gas" was officially not spoken about. Therefore casualties may have been disguised on medical records.

 "After the Armistice the use of Gas poison was outlawed in 1925."


A frail Jack and his mother, Selina upon his return in 1918

His records show him being treated for debility and neurasthenia at various war hospitals: Bologna Belgium, Weymouth England, and Brighton England before being sent back to Australia. All up he served a total of 693 days, returning home in September 1918. He was discharged as a consequence of medical unfitness. Upon his return he received the Returned from Active Service Badge.

"He became a very committed communist"

Whatever the injury/illness was that he suffered, it affected him and he didn't work a lot.  Like many gas victims the debilitation made it hard to seek or maintain regular employment.  Having been through the war and as a result of how it affected him, he became a very committed communist. He and his sister Catherine fought for social justice for people who were homeless during the Depression.

He eventually died of old age in 1977 at age 79.