Due to most people working from home during this unprecedented and difficult time, it is more important than ever to show kindness and to help our communities whenever and however we can.
Sergeant Major Gerry Kerr, one of the Cadet Administrative Assistants at Dumbarton for Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Battalion ACF, decided to use more of his spare time to support care homes during the coronavirus outbreak. He stepped up, knowing that care homes were struggling due to being understaffed. He has been helping out at four care homes, mainly supporting Park Springs Care Home in Bellshill and Netherton Court Care Home in Wishaw. Fortunately, the care homes he has been involved with have remained safe from Covid-19, thanks to good sterile practice and personal protective equipment.
Most of the patients at Netherton Court Care Home have some form of dementia, which hits close to home for Gerry as his mother, Dizela Kerr, had dementia. On relating to the patients and wanting to help others understand the syndrome, he said: “Nobody really understands dementia so it’s good for me to use my Army experience and life skills to interact with the patients. The staff are overwhelmed with my support, and I try and get up every few days.” His transferable Army skills date back to when he joined the Army in 1981. He received The Queen’s Commendation for Bravery for an operation in Kosovo in 1999. The incident left him injured, forcing him to leave soldiering behind in 2002.
Gerry has been helping in different ways at the care homes by talking and interacting with the patients, painting in small groups, helping the patients get mobile, tracking the fire practise and ensuring apparatus is checked. In Wishaw, he built a proper staff rest area by transforming an old shed into a safe and tidy area for the staff to relax. The Cadet Executive Officer of Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Battalion also played a role in supporting Netherton Court by donating a large quantity of books, removing bulk rubbish, transporting oxygen cylinders and talking one-on-one with patients.
The staff at Netherton Court thanked Gerry for all his support by presenting him with a personalised silver figure and a genuine WWI ‘Dead Man’s Penny’ on Monday 25 May 2020. On the touching presentation, he said: “I was stunned as one of the presentations was a ‘Dead Man’s Penny’ which are given to relatives who have lost a loved one who paid the ultimate price. I was over the moon as I collect stuff like this, and it’s in good condition and has a story behind it.” Otherwise known as the ‘Death Penny’, the bronze plaque of condolence was issued out to 1,355,000 relatives of the British service personnel killed as a result of the First World War’s Battle of the Somme, made from a total of 450 tons of bronze.
His ongoing project now is to try and find out who this particular ‘Death Penny’ belongs to. The research is complicated by the fact that many soldiers have the same name, Robert Hunter, and the penny was not engraved with a regiment. On the difficult research of sourcing the penny back to the correct family, he said: “There’s nothing to lose, and if I do not achieve my goal, I will have a precious antique that I will treasure.”
Looking forward, Gerry said: “When Covid-19 settles, I will probably continue to support the care homes as I think it’s the right thing to do. I will also be doing more with understanding dementia. I am hoping to share my experience with the Battalion on drill nights and camps, to highlight how important it is for youngsters to try and understand dementia and how they can help by being understanding and kind.”