Australian Embassy

Corporal Alexander Kerr, 2nd/20th Battalion

Alexander Kerr, "Kerry" to my grandmother and "Big Jock" to surviving POWs, was born in Scotland in 1917 and came to Australia in 1933 hoping to become a police officer. He had served in the Scot's Guards (including a Buckingham Palace duty) and was well over 6' (around 6'3" or 4") which unfortunately did not sit well with the Japanese during his capture. He enlisted in late 1940 aged 33. Given his previous military experience he was assigned to one of the North Africa-bound divisions (9th?) but was selected as one of the cadre staff of the newly raised 8th Division. At the time of capture he was serving in Don Company, 2/20th Battalion (side note is that my wife's great uncle died at Bullecourt in the first 20th Bn in WWI).

Alex finished up in Naoetsu because of a young bloke in the battalion named George Sheridan. George Sheridan lived down the road from my grandparents in Wentworthville, NSW and his mother was my grandmother's close friend. His mother asked Alex to look after George when they both joined the battalion around the same time. When the Japanese selected the youngest and fittest for slave labour duties in Japan my grandfather volunteered to go with George who was one of those chosen. I often wonder how things may have turned out if George was not selected. It is interesting that George died in early 1943 and my grandfather soon after. Many of the POW I have spoken with said that often when one of those in a close bond died the other seemed to lose much of his will (or reason) to live. Naoetsu was an extremely harsh camp (many of the stories of brutality continue to make me angry) and my grandfather struggled manfully to survive for much of late 1942 and 43 but eventually died of amoebic dysentery after being made to continue working despite his weak condition. One POW diary I have read notes him crawling around the kitchen floor looking for food scraps because he was too weak to walk but the guards would not allow him to lie in his bed and recover some strength during "working hours".

My grandmother loves him to this day and talks of him as a loving Scotsman, a good friend to one and all who cared deeply for others. He was the unofficial Regimental Aid Post Corporal for his company and took many a young soldier under his wing while they prepared to meet the Japanese in Malaya and afterwards in the POW camps (I have spoken with many POW who remember him clearly). He loved to gamble and we have a book from his time in Changi in which he recorded his gambling wins for the day he would return to Australia and could claim his winnings.

Alex left beyond a wife, Isobel Kerr, and three children Alexander Jr (who died in the 50's), Nettie Kerr (still alive) and my father William Johnston Kerr. I like to think that he would be proud that his grandson was an Army officer.

(Australian War Section, Plot A, Row C)

Written by Alexander Kerr's grandson, Lieutenant Colonel Darren Kerr (Australian Army), with photograph supplied by his granddaughter, Mrs Michelle George (April 2001).