Having previously served in the CMF, Alex Kerr enlisted in the RAAF in April 1940 in the first course of pilots in the Empire Air Training Scheme. After undertaking training in Australia and Canada he arrived in the United Kingdom in December that year. In April 1941, he was posted as a pilot to No. 115 Squadron RAF, flying Wellington Bombers. In May 1941, on his fourth operation, Alex was shot down over Hamburg. Badly wounded and unable to get out of the escape hatch, his life was saved by his rear gunner, who pushed him from the burning aircraft. Alex managed to open his parachute before losing consciousness.
During the next four years as a prisoner of war, Alex studied and passed exams for a Certificate in Social Studies (Oxford University) and a Bachelor of Science in Economics (London University). Alex spent his 21st birthday in a POW camp, where a Canadian prisoner named Calvert gave him an egg for his birthday, a rare treat. During his time as a prisoner, Alex was involved in three escape attempts, one of which included the construction of a ‘record breaking’ tunnel. He succeeded on his third attempt.
During his years of captivity, Alex kept a diary on which the book Shot Down is based. It’s an incredible story. In his foreword, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston (retd) described the book as a fascinating read and at the same time a careful and accurate record of life in the POW camps.
There is no doubt that Alex Kerr’s strength and courage are an example to us all.
At the link below you’ll find a very interesting talk that Alex Kerr gave a couple of years ago on his prisoner of war experience. It is worth watching and it will be an excellent lead in to the book.