Services of John Kerr: Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, Rifle Brigade, Shropshire LI, Royal Irish Rifles & Viceroy’s Band.
According to his soldiers records (WO 97/5278), John Kerr was born in Skee Cleenish (see appendix), in the district of Enniskillen
in the county of Fermanagh on the 7th of July 1864. His father was a man by the name of William Kerr, who is listed on the
baptismal certificate as a ‘pensioner’ and thus probably ex-army, his mother was Elizabeth Kerr (nee Boles). The birth was
registered on the 25th of July 1864 by A. Nixon, Registrar.
John Kerr enlists initially with the British Army on the 2nd of March 1883 at Enniskillen. He joins the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and
after being read a notice by Lance Sergeant George M. Peters he signs on for a period of 12 years service. What is strange is that
he tells the army that he is 15 years and 9 months old, this contradicts his registered birth date which would make him nearly 19.
It is probable however that he would not have met the enlistment rules on physical build (weight and chest size) for an 18 year old
man, so passed himself off as a boy. At the time of his enlistment he was 5ft 4½in tall, fresh complexion, brown eyes, brown hair,
a tailor by trade and Church of England by denomination. He had descriptive marks of a large scar on his back, close to the right
scapula. His weight was a mere 104lbs (7 stone 6lbs), which would have meant that his appearance would have been of an
emaciated youth – the possible influences of this we can only guess at. At the time he gave his next of kin as his brother, William,
living at Cleenish, so it is likely that his parents were dead. After a primary military examination and the approval of Lt. Colonel
George B. Stokes (Commanding Officer, 2nd Bn. R. Innis. Fus.), Kerr joins the 2nd R.I.F. (formerly the 108th Foot or Madras
Infantry) as Regimental Number 547.
Due to his perceived age, Kerr is granted the rank of Boy and he begins his military training. Often with boys the training was
lighter than that of Private soldiers and he would have had some musical tuition if he showed any talent in that regard. This was to
be a boon to Kerr in his later career. However, in this initial phase of his army life it appears that the Inniskilling Fusiliers were not
impressed with him, and he is discharged on the 16th of June 1883 as ‘not likely to become an efficient soldier’. A total service of
Kerr re-enlists for the same unit only 3 months later on the 17th of September 1883, the Inniskilling’s having moved to Belfast
earlier that month. Again, he tells the enlisters that he is much younger than his real age (giving his age as 16 years and 9
months). His notice is again given by Lance Sergeant George M. Peters and his approval given by Colonel Stokes. On re-enlistment
he is nearly 2 inches taller (5ft 6¼ in) but still only 108lbs in weight. His new number in the 2nd Bn. Innniskilling Fusiliers is No.728.
Kerr remains as a Boy in the unit until he is deemed to have reached the age of 18 (17th of June 1885) at which point he is ranked
as a Private soldier. Having completed 2 years in the army and with no serious discipline problems, Private Kerr is granted a good
conduct badge and a penny a day increase in pay on the 17th of September 1885. During this 2 years, Kerr had also completed a
basic (3rd class) certificate in education.
At the end of December 1885 the 2nd Bn. Inniskilling Fusiliers board transports and are shipped to Malta, their stay is however
short and by May of 1886 they are brought back to England and go into barracks at Aldershot. This garrison town would remain
the home of the Battalion for the next 2 years.
In late 1888 the 2nd Inniskilling Fusiliers board transports for service in India. The Military Service Sheet of John Kerr shows that
he arrived in India on the 12th of December 1888, this contradicts the records of the Oriental and India Office Collections (OIOC)
which for some reason state the 3rd of December 1885. India would be John Kerr’s home for the next 16 years, long after the
Inniskilling’s had returned home he remained on the sub-continent.
By January of 1891 the battalion was serving at Secunderabad in Madras. Private Kerr had been appointed both as unpaid Lance
Corporal and as a Bandsman on the 25th of November 1890, and had also gained his second good conduct badge and pay
increase from the 17th of September 1889. John had also gained his 2nd Class certificate of education on the 7th of August 1889.
On the 29th of March 1891, by authority of the Adjutant General at Simla, India (No.2970/c) Bandsman John Kerr of the 2nd R.
Innis. Fusiliers is transferred to the Bengal Unattached List. As his unit was serving in Madras, Kerr is also transferred as a Lance
Corporal to the 1st Battalion of the Rifle Brigade (with effect 22nd of April 1891), in which unit he is numbered as No.1265 – the
1st Rifle Brigade were at Bareilly at that time, but it is likely that this was an administrative transfer only. John Kerr is at this time
part of the Viceroy’s Band and would be based at Calcutta, with probable passages to the Simla Hills where the Government is
based during the heat of the Indian Summer.
John Kerr is promoted to Sergeant in the Viceroy’s Band (and indeed the Rifle Brigade) on the 29th of March 1892 (authority A.G.
in India No.2071/c). This suggests that he had originally been selected for a post with this rank on the unattached list and had
proved over a period of 12 months that he could sustain this position and rank. Plainly happy in his work, Sergeant Kerr decides at
Fort William to re-engage with the army for such a time as to complete a 21 year period (to pension) on the 8th of May 1893. With
the departure of the 1st Battalion of the Rifle Brigade from India (to Hong Kong) in late 1894, Sergeant Kerr is again transferred,
this time to the 1st Battalion of the Shropshire Light Infantry (Ex 53rd Foot) on the 30th of November 1894 (authority G.O.C.C.
934 of 1894). At that time the 1st Bn. Shropshire LI were serving at Fort William – his papers do not show any regimental number
in this unit, but an extract of Registry of Marriages & Baptisms (Form A22) gives his number as No.4799.
During the following 5 years there is little in his service papers to suggest that Sergeant Kerr did anything but his regular duties
with the Viceroy’s Band in Simla and Calcutta. His service papers suggest that he wounded his left arm whilst not on duty (Court of
Inquiry, 29th May 1896), but this is the only mentioned occurrence up to the end of the century.
On the 17th of March 1900, John Kerr is married in Calcutta. A certificate accompanies his service papers (kept by the Adjutant of
the Shropshire LI), but this is taken from the original certificate held in the records of the Oriental & India Office Collections
(OIOC). At this time, John had taken the middle name of Thomas, the first time this had been used.
Marriage information (Bengal Certs: N/1/280 f223)
St Peter’s Church, Fort William, Calcutta, 17th March 1900.
John Thomas Kerr, aged 35, a Sergeant in the Viceroy’s Band, residing at Calcutta, father William Kerr married by Banns to Sarah
Louise Aird, aged 28, a spinster of Madras, father William Aird.
Present: H. Vaughan, Mary Jane Mason, J. Patterson.
Performed by H.T. Ottley, Chaplain of Kidderpore.
John was to sire another 2 children in India, both being born in the hill station of Simla..
Birth & Baptism information (Bengal Certs: N/1/291 f242)
Baptism at Christchurch, Simla, 19th May 1901.
William John Kerr, son of John & Sarah Louise Kerr, abode in Simla, Musician. Child born 5th April 1901.
Minister C.J. Ferguson, Domestic Chaplain to the Minister of Lahore.
Birth & Baptism information from Army Form A22
Baptism at Simla, 29th of June 1902.
Sybil Florence Kerr, daughter of John T. & Sarah Louise Kerr, abode in Simla. Child born 8th of May 1902.
Minister C.J. Ferguson, Domestic Chaplain to the Minister of Lahore.
Having completed the statutory period of engagement, and with a clean discipline record, Sgt. John Kerr of the Viceroy’s Band is
granted a silver medal for Long Service & Good Conduct on the 26th of June 1902. Although King Edward the 7th had been on the
throne for some time, it appears as though the Calcutta Mint had either not been issued the new medal for the King, or that they
wanted to use up the Victorian version. Either way, the medal issued to Kerr is of the Victorian pattern and is named in the sloping
engraved style of the Calcutta mint.
On the 31st of January 1903 Sergeant Kerr again changes Regiment, this time to the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles, whom
he joins as No.6998. (Authy. DAG Bombay & Command No.471B at Poona dated 4th of February 1903.). He is further promoted in
this unit to Quartermaster Sergeant on the 30th of April 1903 (Authy. Govt. of India No.1067/A dated at Simla, 30th April 1903).
Having nearly completed his 21 years of service to pension, QMS Kerr leaves India in October of 1904 and arrives back in England
on the 15th of November 1904. He is discharged from the Army on the 6th of December 1904 at the Discharge Depot, Gosport
having completed 21 years and 81 days in the army, the description of him at that time being “37 years and 5 months old, 5ft 10in
tall, fresh complexion, brown eyes, brown hair and a tailor by trade”. His conduct was shown as being ‘Exemplary’ and his
qualifications for employment in civilian life as ‘is a good musician’. He gave his residence as being 43 Henley Road, Upper
Edmonton, North London. It would seem then that QMS Kerr had no intention of returning to Ireland as he would seem to have
remained in that area until his death.
John Kerr is granted a pension as an out-patient of the Chelsea Hospital (No.54758/C) and within his service papers is an Army
Form O 1707 (Death Certificate of Pensioner). This shows that John Kerr died during an operation on his prostrate gland at the
North Middlesex Hospital, Silver St., Edmonton N18 on the 2nd of April 1941. He would have been 76 years old at the time,
although the Army may have thought he was a few years younger! His death is certified by his daughter, Sybil Florence Cavanagh,
who at that time was living at 21 Laurel Grove, Waterloo, Liverpool. At the time of his death, John Kerr was on a pension of £75 &
15 shillings per annum.
Public Records Office documents WO 97/5278
Army Lists & Harts Lists.
OIOC Records (Clerical registers and military documents – one of which is shown below but was found to be dubious).
Bengal Unattached List 1898 (L/Mil/10/239).
No. 4288 on List. Serving with 1st Shropshire LI. A Sergeant with the Viceroy’s Band (Musician).
Joined Unattached List on 29/03/1891, serving at Calcutta.
Enlisted for 12 years service into the Royal Irish Fusiliers (sic.. an error in the records) on 17/09/1883 @ Belfast aged 16 years and
3 months, 5ft 6¼ inches tall . Born Inniskilling, Fermanagh.
Fresh complexion, brown eyes, light brown hair.
Tailor by trade.
Stated as ‘Arrived in India on the ‘Malabar’ on the 3rd of December 1885’ which is contradicted by his WO97 papers.
Bengal Unattached List (Punjab) 1903 (L/Mil/10/244).
No.36 on Punjab List.
Description from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837
CLEENISH, a parish partly in the baronies of MAGHERASTEPHENA and TYRKENNEDY, but chiefly in the barony of CLANAWLEY,
county of FERMANAGH, and province of ULSTER, containing with the post town of Lisbellaw, 10,557 inhabitants.
This place derived its name, originally ‘Cluan Innis’ from an island in Lough Erne, where was a monastery, of which St. Synell was
abbot about the middle of the 6th century, and with whom St. Fintan resided for more than 18 years. The parish which is situated
on the shores of Lough Erne, and on the road from Dublin to Enniskillen, comprises according to the Ordnance Survey, 36,531
statute acres (including islands), of which 996¼ are in the barony of Magherastephena, 4898¼ in that of Tyrkennedy, and 30,
636½ in the barony of Clanawley: 3804¼ acres are under water, including 1051 in Upper and 492½ in Lower Lough Mac Mean,
1448½ in Upper Lough Erne, and 811¼ in the river Erne and small loughs. In Upper Lough Erne are several smaller islands, of
which those of Bellisle, Killygowan and several smaller ones are within the limits of this parish. There is little wood, except on
gentlemen’s demesnes, and there are several bogs and a large tract of mountain. The land is of good quality, and the system of
agriculture is improving; a large portion is in meadow and pasture, and that which is under tillage produces good crops. Limestone
and freestone are abundant and are quarried for agricultural and for building purposes: and in the mountainous parts of the
parish, good flags are obtained.
The gentlemen’s seats are Fairwood Park, the residence of J. Denham, Esq.; Skea of J. Hassard, Esq.; Garden Hill, of W. Hassard,
Esq.; Bellisle of the Rev. J. G. Porter; Snow Hill of J. D. Johnstone, Esq.; Russian of Captain Jones ; Ballanaleck of A. Nixon, Esq.;
Lisbofin House, of C. Fausset, Esq.; Corrard House, the property of Sir. A. B. King, Bart.; and Cliniharnon Cottage, the residence
of the Rev. J. O’Reilly, commanding fine lake and mountain views. Near it is a holy well, overspread with branches of a large thorn.
Fairs are held at Holywell and Lisbellaw, for cattle and pigs. A manorial court is held on the estate of General Archdall; and petty
sessions are held at Shanmullagh and Lisbellaw every fortnight.
The living is a rectory and vicarage in the diocese of Clogher, and in the patronage of the Provost and Fellows of Trinity College,
Dublin: the tithes amount to £568. 15s. 4d. The church is a neat edifice, built in 1818 by aid of a gift of £900 from the late Board
of First Fruits, and is surrounded by plantations. There are also chapels of ease at Lisbellaw and Mullaghdan, both neat buildings,
to the latter of which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have recently made a grant of £134 9s 11d., for repairs. The glebe house is
a good residence, built in 1825; the glebe comprises 840 statute acres.
In the R. C. divisions the parish forms part of the union or district of Enniskillen, and is partly a parish of itself; there are four
chapels, one of which at Lisbellaw belongs to the union of Enniskillen, and the other three to this parish; the latter are situated
respectively at Mullaghdan, Mullymeisker and Holywell, and are all neat edifiecs; that at Holywell was built in 1829, at an expense of
There are two places of worship for Presbyterians of the Seceding Synod, one of the second class at Lisbellaw, and the other at
Corrard. There is also at Lisbellaw a place of worship for Wesleyan Methodists.
There are two schools aided by subscription, and a national school at Mullymeisker, in which together are about 560 boys and 300
girls, and seven Sunday schools.
Several mineral springs exist in different parts of the parish, but they are not used medicinally.
|John Kerr - Unattached List