Rifleman David Kerr


David Kerr was born on 14 June 1885 in Springwell Street, Ballymena, County Antrim, the second of six children of shoemaker David Kerr and his wife Agnes (nee McNeill). By the time of the 1911 Census he was living at 2 Greenmount Terrace, Ballymena, with his father and five siblings. By 1915 he was working as managing clerk for solicitor James Clarke of Ballymena.

Kerr enlisted in the North Irish Horse at the beginning of November 1915 (regimental number unknown at present). (Note: the Silver War Badge rolls give his enlistment date as 16 December 1914.)

Kerr trained at the regimental reserve depot at Antrim until November 1916, when he was one of around 100 North Irish Horsemen who volunteered to transfer to the Royal Irish Rifles (No.40885). The formal transfer took place on 7 December, the same day they embarked for France, where they joined the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, on the Somme front.

On 31 July 1917 Kerr's battalion took part in the Battle of Pilckem Ridge on the first day of Third Ypres (Passchendaele). The battalion war diary for the day listed 30 other ranks killed, 145 wounded and 18 missing. Kerr was one of the wounded, in the head and shoulder. He was evacuated to the 1st Australian General Hospital at Rouen, where he was reported as having multiple injuries and being seriously ill.

A series of communications to his family through August informed them of his progress. They first heard that he was dangerously ill in a casualty clearing station, and then received a field postcard from him stating that he was in hospital. Days later they received a letter from a Presbyterian chaplain that Kerr had had his right arm amputated. On 31 August the Ballymena Observer reported that:

Mr. David Kerr ... has received information from one of the nursing staff of the hospital in which his son, Lance-Corporal David Kerr, Royal Irish Rifles, is being treated for serious wounds, to the effect that his left arm has been amputated. It was only a few days ago since Lance-Corporal Kerr had his right arm amputated.

Fortunately this last communication was incorrect. Although his right arm had been amputated, he had only lost two fingers of his left hand.

On 31 January 1918 Kerr was discharged due to his wounds (paragraph 392 xvi King's Regulations).

Kerr returned to Ballymena, where he lived at Greenmount Terrace and worked as a clerk. On 28 May 1938 he married Margaret Patton at Cloughwater Presbyterian Church. He died at Waveney Hospital, Ballymena, on 15 March 1958. The Ballymena Observer carried the following obituary:

Local veterans of the First World War and all his other friends were grieved to hear of the death of Mr. David Kerr, of 13 Meadow Street, Ballymena, which took place in the Waveney Hospital last Saturday morning after a long and painful illness.

A well-known figure in the town, "Davy," as he was popularly known lost his right arm and two fingers of his left hand in the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. It was in 1915 when he was a clerk in the office of the late Mr. James Clarke, solicitor, that he joined the North Irish Horse. Later he was transferred to the 1st Batt. the Royal Irish Rifles, and it was with that regiment he was serving when he was so seriously wounded.

Despite his disablement his outlook on life was always cheerful. An out-of-doors man, he was fond of long country walks, was a keen angler, but his chief hobby was the breeding of canaries. He was an ardent supporter of Ballymena United F.C. and rarely missed a home match.

Some months ago the lingering effects of war wounds undermined his health and he was eventually removed to hospital about eight weeks before he died.

A constant worshipper every Sunday in High Kirk Presbyterian Church, he was also a member of Harmony Masonic Lodge 428. Surviving him are his wife, two brothers, Mr. Thomas H. Kerr, Belfast, and Mr. James Kerr, Greenmount Terrace, Ballymena, and a sister, Mrs. Walter Warwick, of Raceview.

The funeral, which was private, was to Ballymena Cemetery on Monday, the Rev. S. D. McCaughey, M.A., officiating.


Kerr's brother James Kerr also served in the North Irish Horse during the war.