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Kerr, Alexander John Henry

Kerr, Alexander John Henry

Alias: Krashky

Dates: 1892-1964

Nationality: British

Awards: Polar Medal (silver)

Alexander Kerr was born in Ilford, Essex, the son of a ship's master in the Merchant Navy. Kerr joined the Royal Navy directly from school and passed his engineering exams at a very young age. He worked on oil tank steamers before being selected for Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. At the age of 21, Kerr was the youngest member of the expedition until the stowaway Perce Blackborow was signed on.

Kerr was quiet but extremely reliable, and he got along exceptionally well with Lewis Rickinson, the first engineer. The two were similar in height, weight, personal outlook, and temperament, and they even shared a cubicle on the ship.

Although Kerr didn't have an engine to take care of after Endurance sank, his abilities and knowledge were extremely valuable during the four and a half months on Elephant Island. Most importantly, he improved the cooking facilities by making a chimney so that all the cooking could be done inside the hut. Shackleton wrote that, 'A chimney was soon fitted, made by Kerr out of the tin lining of one of the biscuit-cases, and passed through a close-fitting tin grummet sewn into the canvas of the roof just between the keels of the two boats, and the smoke nuisance was soon a thing of the past. Later on, another old oil-drum was made to surround this chimney, so that two pots could be cooked at once on the one stove' (Shackleton, South, 1920: 228). The stay at Elephant Island also had its downsides for Kerr, as he had a tooth taken out without any anaesthesia. For his contributions to the expedition, Kerr was later awarded the Polar Medal in silver.

Upon his return to Britain, Kerr married his sweetheart, Lillian Mitchell; they settled in East Ham and had a son and a daughter. Kerr then returned to the Royal Navy, serving on mine sweepers in northern Russia during the First World War. In 1921, he went south again, serving as first engineer on Quest during the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition 1921-22 (Quest).

After the expedition, he enlisted in the merchant navy as an engineer. In order to be close to his family, he later transferred to tug boats working the Thames, a position he held until 1934. Retiring from the sea, Kerr set up a wholesale confectionary and newsagent's business in Ilford. He died after a long illness in hospital in Stepney two days after his seventy-second birthday.

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