Family of WWI veteran finally reunited with treasure trove of Anzac memories

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For more than 30 years, a stranger kept Jim Kerr’s war medals, photographs and postcards safe in the hope that one day Kerr’s family would reclaim their archive.

It took patience, care and some letter writing to ensure that Eleonore Pierson, 64, was able to connect the little box of Corporal Kerr’s memorabilia with Colin and Graeme South, two brothers who had carried the intrigue of their grandfather’s World War I service with them for years.

It is a strange tale of accidental inheritance.

In the early 1980s, Ms Pierson’s mother, Milli, bought the box of Gallipoli memorabilia at a trash and treasure stall in Newmarket.

How the box came to be at the market is a mystery.

“My mother was German and was very interested in the history of the other side,’’ Ms Pierson said.

“The box contained someone’s life story and it was so fascinating to have it so concentrated.”

“We never had the heart to dispose of it. I thought about donating it to the Australian War Memorial but felt that it wasn’t my decision to make.”

So Ms Pierson contacted the Herald Sun to help her find a relative.

And from there, we were able to get in touch with the South brothers.

Colin South, a 60-year-old Melbourne-based film producer who has worked with Russell Crowe, and 67-year-old Graeme South, a retired consular official based in Sydney, recently drove an hour northeast of Melbourne to meet the custodian of their grandfather’s war memorabilia.

Deeply moved by Ms Pierson’s kindness, the brothers have promised to send her copies of the photos as she has grown quite attached to the soldier after all these years.

“Any one of these things could have been thrown to the wind and gone in different directions,” Colin said.

“The fact that it’s all been kept together by Eleonore is just remarkable as we thought everything was lost.”

“She is part of our family history now.”

The brothers sat at Ms Pierson’s kitchen table for several hours going through this time capsule of the Kerr’s family history.

The South brothers had seen very few photographs of their grandfather who was 68 when he died.

They were both boys at the time but the items in the box triggered snippets of childhood memories.

“There was a wall cabinet at my parents’ house where the best china was kept and there was a little cupboard underneath where all the family photographs were, along with these items,” Colin said.

But the brothers suspect their mother, Myra, misplaced the box during their move from Blackburn to Springwood, NSW, in the early 1980s.

She was a churchgoer and often donated to the local church fete. After realising what had happened, Myra arranged for replicas of Jim’s service medals.

Jim Kerr was a 22-year-old sharefarmer in Shepparton when he enlisted in September 1914.

He was raised among 10 siblings on the family’s property, Arcadia Homestead.

Jim left Melbourne in February 1915 and served in Gallipoli together with his 19-year-old brother, Sergeant Joseph Chester Kerr of the 24th Battalion.

He was one of the lucky ones to survive the futile charge at The Nek and later took part in the famous battle at Beersheba in 1918.

But his brother Chester was not so fortunate who died in action on August 26, 1916, in France.

Jim was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery in Palestine (Gaza).

He led a mounted patrol, charging an enemy motor car while under machine gun fire and forced the car to drive to where they could be handed over to the regiment.

He returned to Australia in October 1919 and became a professional driver. Jim married Edna Margaret Gibbs in 1922.

He later lived in Euroa and worked as a linesman for the State Electricity Commission until retirement.

Jim read C. E. W. Bean’s complete history of World War I from cover to cover and would point out to his family the names of men he once knew.

But he was never known to speak about his own time at war.

The South brothers will attend the Anzac Day dawn service at the Shepparton War Memorial where Jim Kerr’s brother Chester’s name appears.

And Ms Pierson will join them. The South brothers intend to visit their grandfather’s grave at Euroa Cemetery after the service.

At this stage, the Souths remain unsure as to what they plan to do with the contents of the box.

If not to keep it as a family heir loom, they may piece together more elements of Jim’s story before handing it over to the war memorial.

“I feel a tinge of sadness to part with the box, but mostly relieved that it has finally found its home,” Ms Pierson said.

Originally published at Herald Sun or News.com.au.

*JERAA Ossie Awards: Highly Commended for Best Text-based Story.

*Young Walkley Awards: Finalist nomination.

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About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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