Exceptional Naval and Polar Awards from the Collection of RC Witte

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Date of Auction: 13th December 2007

Sold for £13,000

Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000

The Great War D.S.C. group of six awarded to Engineer Commander T. Kerr, the Royal Indian Marine’s first ever D.S.C. recipient, for his gallantry in the armed paddle-steamer Comet, near Kut, in September 1915, on which occasion his senior officer was awarded a posthumous V.C. - one witness said that Turkish bullets pattered on the Comet ‘like raindrops on a window pane’

Distinguished Service Cross
, G.V.R., hallmarks for London 1919; Africa General Service 1902-56, 1 clasp, Somaliland 1908-10 (Asst. Engr. T. Kerr, R.I.M.S. Hardinge); 1914-15 Star (Engr. T. Kerr, R.I.M.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Engr. Lt. T. Kerr, R.I.M.); Coronation 1911, mounted as worn, generally good very fine (6) £4000-5000

Footnote

D.S.C. London Gazette 21 January 1916:
‘In recognition of their services during the advance on Kut-el-Amara on the 27 and 28 September 1915 ... Engineer Kerr not only kept the Lascar engine-room complement of the
Comet in excellent order during the action, but assisted in carrying down the wounded under fire.’

Thomas Kerr was born in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire in April 1883 and, having served as a 4th Engineer in the P. & O. Steamship Company 1903-07, was appointed to the Royal Indian Marine as an Assistant Engineer in the latter year. Joining the R.I.M.S. Hardinge in the same rank in April 1909, he was present in the Somaliland operations and was advanced to Engineer in April 1911. The outbreak of hostilities in August 1914 found him on general duties in Aden, but that November he joined the armed paddle-steamer Comet, an appointment that would lead to his active employment in the Tigris Flotilla in the following year.

Following the fall of Turkish-held El Amara in June 1915, battle commenced for the capture of Kut, 120 miles up river, and as part of his overall plan, General Townshend asked the Tigris Flotilla to attempt to force a passage upstream and take a bridge the enemy had built just short of that place. But as part of their defence line, the Turks had constructed a formidable boom across the river at a place called Es Sinn, about eight or nine miles from Kut - two iron barges had been grounded, one on each bank, and then linked by a heavy iron cable to a native dhow, sunk in midstream. Added to which, this whole reach of the river was commanded by enemy artillery, while the barrier itself was held by well-armed troops in trenches on the banks.

And it was here, before dusk on 28 September, amidst a terrible barrage of point-blank fire, that Lieutenant-Commander E. C. Cookson, D.S.O., tried to force a passage for the Comet, initially by directing gunfire on to the native dhow, but afterwards by ramming at full speed. Neither attempt worked, leading to him coming alongside and jumping on to the boom, armed with an axe, a desperate undertaking that led to him being riddled with bullets - he died back aboard the Comet shortly afterwards, having said, “I am done. It is a failure. Return at full speed.” Nor was he the sole casualty, at least another dozen having been hit, including four soldiers of the Royal West Kents and two Goanese seaman. It was for his gallantry in bringing these wounded down to the comparative safety of the lower deck that he was awarded his D.S.C.

He ended the War with an appointment at Alexandria Docks, gained advancement to Engineer Lieutenant in June 1919 and to Engineer Commander in November 1930, and was placed on the Retired List in January 1934.