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John Donaldson Kerr

WW1 - The Ypres Salient Battlefields, Belgium

274570 Sergeant

343rd Road Construction Company, Royal Engineers, 19th Corps

Age: U/K

Date of Death: 6.8.17

Buried: Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery VI.C.3

Family history: Husband of Jessie, 82A Hight Street, Bathgate. They had a daughter Jessie born on 18 May 1914. His wife later remarried and moved to Quebec, Canada. He originally enlisted in the Royal Scots and later transferred to the Royal Engineers.

The action leading to his death

19th Corps were engaged in the opening battle of Third Ypres known as the Battle of Pilkem Ridge. 19th Corps were in the centre of the British attack and had pushed forward to the Steenbeek.

WW1 - The Ypres Salient Battlefields, Belgium
Linesman Map

Prior to the opening of the offensive companies were tasked to work at both Army and Corps level. At Army level the companies were given specific tasks such as building new railways, roads and bridges that would allow the Army to advance. At Corps level, four or five companies were given special corps duties and these involved managing the Ammunition Refilling Points, from the Divisional Ammunition Columns and taking over and working these ARP’s, digging in cables and mending any breaks as a result of enemy shell fire. They also had the responsibility of making and maintaining the forward roads. This was hazardous work as it meant working in daylight under enemy observation and shell fire. In May and June 1917 the Labour Corps had 200 men killed maintaining roads south and north of Ypres. As the advance inched east the Road Construction Companies worked from forward Royal Engineer dumps unloading materials sent forward to take the roads forward.

WW1 - The Ypres Salient Battlefields, Belgium
IWM Q 6001 Road repair. A method was used by the Royal Engineers to raise roadway to proper level. Near Yser Canal and Pilckem Ridge, 25 September 1917.

Corporal J Cumming Morgan who served with 8 Company, Royal Engineers wrote in ‘A Labour Company at Ypres’ of the work his company did in keeping the road open from Shrapnel Corner to Ypres, this included Manor Farm, Zillebeke and Hellfire Corner, this was done under constant shell fire and in the open: ‘A squad of men is quickly on the spot with pick and shovel, and the hole is filed up with any mortal thing that can be found stones, beams, bricks, railway lines, sleepers, bits of cars or lorries, wheels, cases of bully, tombstones, dead horses—anything that will occupy space and in a few minutes the traffic moves on once more, and the War goes on!

These same dangers were faced by many other men in many other companies, including John.

Medals Awarded

Victory Medal, British War Medal

WW1 - The Ypres Salient Battlefields, Belgium

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