Medals and mementos of HMS Hoods last captain go under the hammer

Topic: People Storyline: People

Almost 83 years to the day that he was lost along with more than 1,400 men he led, the medals and naval effects of Ralph Kerr – captain of the Navy’s most famous warship at the time – go under the hammer.

Captain Kerr is best known as Commanding Officer of ‘the mighty Hood’ in her fateful – and fatal – encounter with Bismarck which ended in matter of minutes with the battle-cruiser at the bottom of the Denmark Strait.

But he was also an influential – and popular – figure in the Royal Navy between the wars, especially destroyer operations.

Kerr had only been in command of HMS Hood – the very embodiment of British naval power between the two world wars – three months when she sailed with brand-new battleship HMS Prince of Wales to intercept Hitler’s flagship.

The foes met in the ‘Iceland Gap’ between Iceland and Greenland around 6am on May 24 1941.

Hood lasted barely ten minutes in the encounter with Bismarck and her escorting cruiser Prinz Eugen.

With only its fifth salvo, the Bismarck penetrated the Hood’s armour or upper deck with a 15in shell which detonated in a magazine and tore the ship apart with a cataclysmic explosion.

The battle-cruiser sank with such force and speed just three of her crew were saved. Capt Kerr was not among them. He was posthumously Mentioned in Dispatches.

Born in the final decade of Queen Victoria’s reign, Ralph Kerr served his country in both world wars. He joined the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1904, spent much of the Great War as a junior officer aboard dreadnought HMS Benbow, seeing action at Jutland, before being given command of HMS Cossack in 1918.

That began an association with destroyers lasting more than 20 years – he was singled out by senior officers for his leadership qualities and seamanship who was at home on the waves, not on a staff - before he was assigned to HMS Hood.

More than eight decades later his family is selling many of his personal artefacts through London/Berkshire auctioneers Dawson.
Going under the hammer on May 30 are:

  • a comprehensive collection of decorations from both world wars, plus a George VI Coronation Medal and a Palestine Medal, plus the Burma Star awarded to his son Captain Russell Kerr, Royal Artillery and 82nd Tank Regt who was killed in Burma in 1945. Collectively the medals are valued at £3,000-£5,000;
  • a portrait by Oswald Birley – well known for painting the Royal Family, Churchill and Gandhi among others – which is expected to fetch between £2,000 and £3,000, plus a watercolour of Hood valued up to £500;
  • a midshipman’s dirk and scabbard, made by Wilkinson’s, estimated at £300-£500.

“It is a rare opportunity to handle such a comprehensive collection of personal items from the life of a significant figure in British Naval history, and we are very much looking forward to offering them for sale,” said Peter Mason of Dawsons.

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