Great-granddaughter hopes to bring Passchendaele hero's Victoria Cross home

Lesley Barron Kerr sits with a signed letter from The Queen from a 1956 review of holders of the Victoria Cross, in her Vaughan, Ont., home on Monday, November 6, 2017. Kerr's great grandfather was awarded the Victoria Cross for his service at Passchendaele, and would like to buy the medal, which is up for auction. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

OTTAWA - Lesley Barron Kerr doesn't remember the last time she saw the Victoria Cross that her great-grandfather, Colin Barron, received for heroism at the Battle of Passchendaele. But she's hoping to hold it again soon.

It has been 30 years since Kerr's father sold the military medal — the British Empire's highest award for bravery and courage on the battlefield — for $25,000 to help support himself and his only daughter.

"My grandmother may have been alive at the time when she gave it to him," Kerr says. "And then because my father was a single father raising me, he had to sell it to pay the mortgage to pay the house."

Kerr, who runs a large karate-school business in Toronto, still has the citation and box given to her great-grandfather nearly a century ago. Since her father died in 2005, she has been trying to find the medal as well.

Now it has resurfaced, and Kerr is hoping to bring it back into the family. But it won't be easy.

Barron's Victoria Cross will go up for auction next month — with the bidding expected to start around $250,000.

Barron was one of nine Canadians to receive a Victoria Cross for his actions at Passchendaele, which has gone down in history as one of the bloodiest and most controversial battles of the First World War.

On Nov. 6, 1917, the 24-year-old, who was born in Scotland but moved to Canada in 1910, managed to sneak behind the German lines and take out several machine-guns that had been holding up the Canadian attack.

The citation for Barron's Victoria Cross would later credit his actions with having "produced far-reaching results, and enabled the advance to be continued."

He died at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto in 1958.

Kerr, who was born after Barron died, says her family would sometimes talk about her great-grandfather, and that her father kept the Victoria Cross on a shelf in his library. But he didn't tell her when he decided to sell it.

"I can't really blame him for that. I think all he wanted was security for me," she says.

"He didn't want to worry about changing houses once my mother left. He wanted to maintain stability for me. I guess he tried every way he could see fit to maintain that stability."

Now a successful businesswoman, Kerr says she and her husband talked about buying the medal back for years. But they didn't know where it was until The Canadian Press reported that it would go on auction on Dec. 5.

"It was part of the family and my father had to make the sacrifice to sell something in order to make sure he paid off his mortgage and took care of me," Kerr says.

"I feel that I should try to at least acquire it to the best of my ability. So I was looking into it for quite some time, searching for the medal to see if I could just buy it back and put it back in the family."

Kerr says she hopes to bid on the award when it is put up by London-based auction house Spink, but she fears she won't be the only one.

Ninety-six Victoria Crosses have been awarded to Canadians since 1856, and the last to come up at auction, which was presented to Maj. David Currie during the Second World War, sold in August for $550,000.

"If it went to $500,000, no, absolutely not," Kerr says of her great-grandfather's Victoria Cross. "I would just go visit it, if possible."

Given its historical significance, some might question the idea of buying and selling military medals. Kerr says she sees both sides of the debate.

"I'm a business owner, and I understand people try to make money," she says. "But it's a part of history. I don't know if something like that should be sold."

As for what she will do with it if she manages to actually purchase her great-grandfather's Victoria Cross?

"It's something very historical and something that should be looked at in a museum," she says. "If I were to acquire it, I'd like to perhaps donate it for a partial period of time to a museum in order to tell his story."

— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.


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