One of the town’s last surviving Second World War veterans

Jim Kerr.
Jim Kerr.

James Henry (Jim) Kerr was one of Portadown’s last surviving veterans of World War Two and the last one associated with his beloved Seagoe Parish Church. He has died at the age of 96.

Jim passed away at Mahon Care Home, with his family at his bedside. He is survived by Olive, his wife of 66 years, son Geoffrey (wife Pearl), daughter Liz Beattie (husband Trevor) and grandchildren Christopher, Matthew, Rachel and Jonathan.

He was 100 per cent committed to the wide range of activities he pursued. These included his family, first and foremost, his professional life, the Loyal Orders, the Masonic Order, Seagoe Parish Church and Portadown Football Club.

Jim was born in Kesh, County Fermanagh, the son of James Henry Kerr snr., and Matilda Sarah Kerr, and had three sisters, Irene, Annie and Beatrice, all deceased. The family later moved to Enniskillen, and he was educated at the Model Primary School and at Portora Royal. His first job was as an accounts clerk with the local firm of T.P. Topping.

When war broke out, Jim and six of his friends didn’t follow the deep-rooted Fermanagh tradition of joining the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers or the Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards – they plumped instead for the RAF, where he served from 1940 until he was demobbed in 1947.

After training in England, Jim was posted to the Middle East and Africa. The ship convoy taking him to his posting in North Africa had to sail round South Africa to the Suez Canal, with the Germans in command of the Mediterranean, and an ever-present threat of U-boats.

As a leading aircraftman, he was stationed in Alexandria and Egypt, and they were involved in various battles, until the war ended. But his service continued back home in Aldergrove and dismantling the flying boats back in Killadeas, Fermanagh.

He ended his RAF service in France.

Jim had sad memories of the war, losing many friends in action, and he vividly remembered the day when he witnessed an RAF transport plane crash at Lydda Airport, with the loss of 150 souls.

After the war, Jim Kerr took up employment as a clerical officer in the Fermanagh County Surveyor’s Office in Enniskillen. With his typically caring attitude, he involved himself in voluntary welfare work in the area, with ex-service personnel.

Then, in 1951, he married Cork-born Olive Kingston, a fashion buyer in George Wilson and Son of Enniskillen - they met on a blind date.

Jim’s other passions in Fermanagh were football and the Loyal Orders. He was an official with Enniskillen Corinthians FC and they created history by winning the Junior Cup, beating Clooney Rovers, Londonderry, at Shamrock Park, where he was to make his mark later in life.

The Kerrs moved to County Armagh in the late 1960s. He initially worked with Armagh County Council and then with the Roads Division of Craigavon Development Commission, with the advent of the new city project.

They set up home in Killicomaine Park. With the re-organisation of local councils in 1973, Jim transferred to the DoE Roads Division at Marlborough House and retired in April 1985.

Along with his father, he followed a strong Orange-Black-Masonic tradition in Enniskillen and he continued this in Portadown. He joined ex-Service Lodges LOL 608 (Orange) and RBP 326 (Black), which had in their ranks a significant number - around 50 - of WW2 veterans in the 1960s.

He served at officer level in lodge and district, none more onerous than Portadown District LOL No 1 during the marching crises. He served with District Masters Herbert Whitten, Jack Brownlee, John Toal, Harold Gracey, David Burrows and Darryl Hewitt. He was a Trustee of Carleton Street Orange Hall.

He was secretary for 25 years of the committee of the County Grand Lodge of Armagh, from 1983-2008 and then held the post of honorary assistant secretary.

After serving the Masons in Enniskillen, he transferred to Portadown in 1968, where he was a Past Master and Past Secretary of 231 from 1981-2007, as well as being in Portadown Preceptory Lodge and Armagh Provincial Grand Lodge.

On the football front, he was treasurer of Portadown Football for many years, significantly during the golden era of Ronnie McFall. The Ports were his pride and joy, lifting around 24 trophies during that time. His ‘books’ were meticulously kept. He acted with total integrity and was a personal friend of chairman Ted Clarke, whose contributions to those halcyon days was immeasurable.

Being a meticulous man, he kept detailed records – written and photographic – of achievements during his life, especially the 1991-92 season, when the Ports’ four trophies included the League and Cup. That ‘double’ achievement had pride of place in his memoirs – as had the proud album of his distinguished war record.

His family was his pride and joy. He took a close interest in everything in which the various generations, especially his four grandchildren, were involved. Jim and Olive were also faithful members of Seagoe Parish, and with his financial skills and experience, he led the counting teams for the freewill offerings at the historic church.

There was a large attendance at the funeral service at Seagoe, with the Rector, Rev Canon Terence Cadden, and Curate, Rev Canon Raj Sathyararaj officiating. Canon Cadden praised the deceased for the faithful and professional way he followed such a wide range of interests, all voluntary and without any thought of reward.

The family wishes to thank the staff of Mahon Hall Care Home for the loving and professional way in which they cared for Jim, and Ian Milne Funeral Directors for the dignified and compassionate way they carried out their duties. The family also singles out his friends Cardwell McClure, John Proctor, Nat Richardson and the late Jackie Gilpin for their concern and visitations. Jim lost his sight five years ago, and his deep Christian Faith sustained him throughout the last difficult years.

Donations in lieu of flowers are to Seagoe Parish Church, c/o Ian Milne Funeral Directors, Seagoe Road, Portadown.