May 3, 1919 - April 25, 1944
Lawrence Kerr was the fourth child of Clara Otelia (nee Pollock) Kerr (1893-1979) and Kenneth Kerr (1883-1963) of Millet, Alberta. He had four brothers, Stewart (1923-2011), Alex, Gordon, and Kenneth Jr., plus four sisters, Gladys, Helen, Muriel, and Eleanor. One of his brothers was a pilot in the RCAF, another a farmer and one a salesman. The family attended the United Church.
Lawrence, with a Grade X education, was an apprentice machinist and clerk for four years prior to his enlistment with the RCAF in Edmonton. He had been working for his father who was the dealer of a farming machinery business. Lawrence hoped to work up to branch manager at the machine company after the war and he was going to constantly work to reach that goal. “Good type of young man. Qualified educationally and is keen.” He had been a passenger in a plane for about three hours, indicating aviation was a hobby of his for ten years. “To do my duty to my people and country and freedom” was his reason to join the Air Force.
He liked French and Algebra the best in school, but did not like history very much. He could drive a car, ride a motorcycle, could swim, shoot, and ski.
He liked to play baseball, softball, and hockey, where he was a goalie and was the captain of his team. He had prior military experience for one year, July 1940-41, with the 21st Edmonton Fusiliers in Wetaskiwin. His physique was considered to be athletic and his mentality, alert. He stood 5’11 ½”” tall and weighed 170 pounds, had auburn hair and blue eyes.
Lawrence started his journey through the BCATP on July 21, 1941 at No.2 Manning Depot, Brandon, Manitoba. From there, he was sent to No. 15 SFTS, Claresholm, Alberta until he could be sent to No. 3 Wireless School in Winnipeg, October 27, 1941. He was in the station hospital for two days in mid-September 1941. “78.1%.”
From there, he was sent to No. 8 B&G School, Lethbridge, Alberta, July 5, 1942. Lawrence earned his Air Gunner’s Badge on August 3, 1942. “Rather slow to grasp ideas. Shows some timidity.” Final assessment: “Capable air gunner but lacks initiative.”
Lawrence was then attached to Western Air Command, Victoria, August 7, 1942, sent to 115 Squadron, Annette Island, Alaska, August 25, 1942 until August 16, 1943. He was at the US Army Hospital March 29 to April 7, 1943 when he had his tonsils removed. “A satisfactory operator and a good NCO. Keen and reliable.”Then with 115 Squadron, based out of Patricia Bay, BC, then Tofino, BC, he remained as a WAG. (In September 1943, he wished to be remustered to pilot, but that did not happen.)
Lawrence sent his mother his assigned pay from the time he had enlisted until April 26, 1944. He had about $850 in his bank of War Savings Certificates and Victory Loan Bonds, plus had paid $35 in premiums on a life insurance policy, Mrs. Kerr being the beneficiary.
On April 25, 1944, the result of a flying accident during a navigation flight between Patricia Bay and Tofino, Ventura 2218 was lost. On board were P/O John E. Moyer, Sgt. Harry Arthur Maki, LAC Murray Thomas Robertson, F/O Ambrose Moynagh, WO1 Brinsley George Henry Palmer, and WO2 Lawrence Kerr.
The wreckage was later found as it crashed into Mount Bolduc, south of Cowichan Lake, BC, but due to the difficulty of the terrain, the bodies were buried at the site. In The Cowichan Leader, dated May 1, 1944: “Six RCAF flyers were given a last resting place at the top of rugged peaks in the mountains near Cowichan Lake where their plane crashed killing them all last Wednesday. They were on a navigational flight from a Vancouver Island base. On Tuesday, while two RCAF padres read the burial service, comrades of the dead reverently erected a cairn of stones over the bodes and left them to their last sleep…wreckage of the plane was still hot and smouldering. Bodies of two of the crew were found 30 feet in front of the demolished fuselage. Another body was found at one side and two more were discovered in the wreckage. Later, a sixth body was found to one side, 50 feet distant. All must have died instantly.” [See the Cowichan Chamber of Commerce link below for more.]
REPORTED LOCATIONS OF GRAVE: “This grave is located on the summit of mount Bolduc, which is some 3500 feet above sea level. Owing to the almost inaccessibility of the wreckage, it was decided that the burial should take place at the scene of the crash. Consequently, Protestant and Roman Catholic chaplains were flown into a base at camp #3 of the lake logging company, some 8 miles West and South of Cowichan Lake Village. A period of 3 1/2 hours was required to reach the bodies. A single grave containing the six deceased personnel was blasted out of solid rock after removing some two feet of stone. The grave was lined with six inches of evergreen boughs on which the bodies were placed and were then covered with another layer of spruce boughs. There being no earth available, it was necessary to complete the grave with rock. A cairn was erected, surmounted on the grave which was inscribed the names and rank of each deceased personnel. The funeral service of the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches was conducted at the graveside by Flight Lieutenant McDonald representing the Protestant church and Flight Lieutenant Gerard, representing the Roman Catholic Church. An Air Force Ensign was flown during the ceremony. The burial party was composed of 10 RCAF personnel, Constable Jack Henry of the BC Provincial Police, and Doctor J.B. Carson. He was a civilian doctor from the village of Youbou, British Columbia. Photographs were taken and will be submitted in due course. Letters are being sent by the respective chaplains to the next of kin as well as photographs. With these grave ledger sheets, the letter to the next of kin and the photographs to same, will complete this operation. An added item of interest is the fact that Mrs. Florence Kelly, resident at the base camp, made an 8 foot wreath of spruce, wild flowers, and three daffodils, which was all that could be found in the camp. This wreath was carried to the summit and placed on their grave as a memento from the folk in the camp.”
A memo from the RCAF in Vancouver, BC, dated September 14, 1944 to the Administrator of Estates, Ottawa: “Mrs. Clara Kerr, mother of WO1 Lawrence Kerr who was killed in an aeroplane accident 25 April 1944 has visited this headquarters inquiring into the estate of the above mentioned as follows: Mrs. Kerr states that she has reason to believe that her son had subscribed to, or purchased for cash, a Victory Bond in the last preceding series before his death. Mrs. Kerr states that her son owned a Delta Combination Electric Radio and that to date, no information has been received concerning this item.”
A letter to the Secretary, Dept. National Defence for Air, Ottawa, dated October 2, 1944: “On April 25, 1944, Ventura Aircraft No. 2218 crashed near Rounds, BC. All the occupants were killed. On June 23, 1944, information was received from a resident of Rounds, BC that one Ken Wilson was in possession of a watch taken from the wreck, which he had repaired and which he was using. Through the BC Police, this watch was recovered, but in the circumstances, no action was taken against Wilson as civil authorities considered there was not sufficient evidence to base a charge. The watch is a ‘Leroy’ shockproof wristwatch, numbered 407 on the case. Every effort has been made by enquiry of the station among the comrades of the deceased airmen, to determine to whom this watch belongs. Efforts were also made to trace the owner through jewellers in Vancouver, but it is stated that the watch is not an expensive one, and a jeweller would keep no record. We are therefore unable to determine to which of the airmen the watch belongs to and it is now enclosed so that it may be on hand in your office should any of the next of kin make enquiries.”
A letter written to F/L E.C. Collier, Director of Estates, Ottawa dated January 23, 1945 from Mrs. Kerr said, “In regard to watch belonging to Lawrence Kerr. To the best of our knowledge, it was a Rolex, waterproof, shatterproof crystal, full sweep second hand and round in shape. It has a luminous dial and a brown leather strap.”
A letter dated July 10, 1945, Mrs. Kerr wrote, “I regret the delay in answering but your first letter was sent to the USA to some person of the same name by the post office here. I have a picture of Lawrence showing the watch plainly and am certain the watch you sent me is the same one. However, to be sure, I took the watch and picture to McGee’s Jewellery store in Edmonton and the jeweller states that this is the same make of watch as show in the picture. If you wish, I will send the watch and picture to you for further checking. It is not my desire to keep a watch belonging to another boy. When Lawrence bought the watch, he left the case here at home. The watch you sent us fits the case perfectly. There is, however, no trade name on the case. Kindly advise further what you wish done in this regard.”
The six men are commemorated on a plaque and a sign at the site of the crash, as well as their names appear on the Ottawa Memorial, as their grave was considered inaccessible. On an old growth forest tree stump, dozens of poppies have been placed at the crash site. [See photos in the links below.]
For the full Court of Inquiry, please contact me.