MEDALS awarded to the Forest-born commander of one of Britain’s most famous Second World War battleships are to go under the hammer.

The auction of medals awarded to Captain Ralph Kerr, who was born in Newnham and commanded HMS Hood, will take place almost 83 years to the day that his ship was sunk by the German battleship Bismarck.

All but three of the crew of 1,418 on board the Hood died after a brief but ferocious exchange of fire with the famed German battleship in the Denmark Strait on May 24 1941.

Captain Kerr was among the dead.

Auctioneers Dawson’s estimate the remarkable collection of medals, awarded throughout his distinguished career, will fetch between £3,000 and £5,000.

A spokesman said: “The medals offered for sale, estimated between £3,000-£5,000, bear witness to his unwavering courage and service to the Royal Navy, his country, and his King.”

The medals include a group from World War I, a George VI Coronation Medal and a letter from the Admiralty which was awarded for Kerr’s mention in Despatches – a report of meritorious action in the face of the enemy.

HMS Hood
HMS Hood (US Military Archives)

Alongside the medals is his ceremonial sword bearing a Gothic monogram RK and is estimated at between £300 and £500.

There is also a portrait of Kerr in uniform wearing a duffle coat and holding binoculars by Oswald Birley as well as correspondence between his widow and the artist discussing photographs used for the composition. It is estimated at between £2,000 and £3,000.

There is also an atmospheric watercolour entitled HMS Hood in Valetta which is valued between £300 and £500.

A member oif the Kerr family said: “I never knew my grandfather, but the details of his face are etched on my mind, from the portrait by Oswald Birley, painted after he died and which hung in a prominent position in the house I grew up in. My mother always said it was a very good likeness, apart from the hands which just didn’t do his hands justice.”

Peter Mason of Maidenhead-based Dawsons said: “The team at Dawsons Auctioneers are honoured to be selling this important group of items relating to Captain Ralph Kerr. 

“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 later this month.”

Captain Kerr joined the Royal Navy in 1903 at age of 13 and he served in the First World War, where he distinguished himself at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

His first command was HMS Cossack in 1918 and his later leadership aboard destroyers, including several flotillas stationed in the Mediterranean, earned him widespread admiration.

Captaincies Kerr was given command of HMS Hood early in 1941, an appointment that surprised many given his background in destroyers.

When HMS Hood came into service in 1920, she was the pinnacle of warship design and was known as the Mighty Hood.

There had been plans to modernise the vessel in 1941 but they were never carried out because of her operational importance the time.

The Bismarck on her way to sea
The Bismarck on her way to sea. Photo: German Federal Archives (German Federal Archives )

At just before 6am on May 24 1941, Hood and HMS Prince of Wales engaged Bismarck and Prinz Eugen to prevent the German ships getting into the Atlantic to block British shipping..

A shell from Bismarck hit Hood’s ammunition stores and the explosion sent her to the depths of the North Atlantic in fewer than three minutes.

The sale takes place on Thursday, May 30. For more information visit