Fàilte! (Welcome!)

Fàilte! (Welcome!)
This blog is the result of my ongoing research into the people, places and events that have shaped the Western Isles of Scotland and, in particular, the 'Siamese-twins' of Harris and Lewis.
My interest stems from the fact that my Grandfather was a Stornowegian and, until about four years ago, that was the sum total of my knowledge, both of him and of the land of his birth.
I cannot guarantee the accuracy of everything that I have written (not least because parts are, perhaps, pioneering) but I have done my best to check for any errors.
My family mainly lived along the shore of the Sound of Harris, from An-t-Ob and Srannda to Roghadal, but one family 'moved' to Direcleit in the Baighs...

©Copyright 2011 Peter Kerr All rights reserved

Friday, 30 July 2010

Donald Kerr in the Canadian Expeditionary Force

Until this morning I was unaware of any of my relatives having participated in 'The Great War', as WWI once used to be called. A communication arrived alerting me to to this entry which proved a double surprise.

Firstly, because of it being a cousin of mine and, secondly, because I also wasn't aware that he had emigrated to Canada! I immediately checked on Ancestry.co.uk and there, in the Canadian records that I had no previous reason to search with regard to Donald, was the original 'Attestation Paper', presumably completed, or at least signed, in his own hand. The Regimental Number is shown as 197, but I am ignorant as to whether that is his personal Service Number or just a record that he was the 197th volunteer? A 'Sapper', of course, is a military engineer and when one thinks of the trenches of WWI and the quantity of woodwork utilised in their construction it is obvious why a Carpenter would be directed into such service.

I knew that he was born on the 7th of April 1884 but didn't know that he was a Carpenter, nor that he had served for 3 months with the 'Rossshire Artillery Stornoway', the Artillery Reserve whose training ground gave 'Battery Point' in the town its name.

When Donald signed the document on the 20th of March 1915 he was in Winnipeg, Manitoba. According to the entry in Lewismen in Canadian service his last address in Stornoway had been 64 Keith Street. In 1901 the 17 year-old Scholar was in Mackae's Buildings, Plantation St, Stornoway and before that, in 1891, at 13 Church Street, Stornoway.

Donald was the eldest child of Alexander John Kerr and Margaret Macarthur and his cousin Alex Macarthur fell at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Donald, as far as I am aware, died in Stornoway in 1935 at the age of 51 which is one reason why I never suspected that he had ever left Lewis, let-alone served with the Canadians during World War I.

Some 15 years after Donald signed that Attestation Paper in Winnipeg, his cousin John's daughter (my Aunt) emigrated to Canada. She and her husband left Aberdeen for him to take-up a post as Assistant Professor of Chemistry at one of the Universities in that vast country. As it happens, it was the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg...

Update: Thanks to the contributor whose comment appears below, I can now order Donald's record from Ottowa but meanwhile am reading the Diary of the Canadian Overseas Railway Construction Corps here .
A couple of extracts:
July 8 1916 Bergue - HRH The Prince of Wales had tea in No 2 Coy's mess
July 9 1916 Bergue - In a.m. party attended Sports Troop of 2nd Army Supply Column at le NIEPPE. Tug-of-war finals won by Canadian Overseas Railway Construction Corps.
(The Prince of Wales war service is described here )
A painting of the work of the CORCC in the Senate of Canada's Parliament Building - http://www.voiceseducation.org/category/tag/railway-construction-france-leonard-richmond

Update 2: Apparently the CORCC began with 540 volunteers from the Canadian Pacific Railway in early 1915. Collectively the Canadian Railway Troops laid in excess of 2,500 miles of track during the war.

The remains of what I presume to have been the Sidings at Wippenhoek ?

Update 3: When Donald died on the 14th of December 1935 at 10 Bayhead, Stornoway his occupation was given as 'Building Contractor' providing more credence to my suggestion that he played a hand in the construction on the Lewis War Memorial .

Update 4: Alexander McArthur, son of Isabella McArthur, of 48 Lewis St, Storonoway, Ross-shire, and the late Alexander McArthur. Able Seaman Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (Clyde Z/3622). Killed, aged 26, whilst serving aboard HMS Defence at the Battle of Jutland (North Sea) 31/05/16. Commemorated on Portsmouth Naval Memorial. Source: CWGC Casualty Details data base.


  1. Number 197 is his regimental number. On the second page of his attestation paper it says he joined up with Canadian Overseas Railway Contruction Corps (or Coy). You can order a copy of his service record at http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/cef/001042-100.01-e.php . Just do a search for him and click on the link on how to consult or order a copy of the record. Check out the Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group at http://www.cefresearch.com/phpBB2/ if you would like to learn more.

  2. Thank you for that comprehensive information, Annette, it is very much appreciated. I will definitely look to discover more! Thanks again, Peter