Kerin was an Australian country boy, born the second son in a farmer’s family of five at Currawarna near Wagga Wagga NSW, on 5 November 1885. Tall and rangy at six foot one, and strongly built, he towered above his fellow AE2 crew members and was promptly nicknamed ‘Tiny’. At 27, Kerin was chosen for submarine service in the RAN, enlisting in December 1912 for a tour of five years. He underwent six months’ specialist training in Portsmouth, during which period he also gained qualifications as a diver.
Kerin was the gentle giant of Belemedik camp, and also a peacemaker who looked out for his submariner mates. George Kerr recorded Kerin’s intervention in a fight between the AE2’s young Bill (Michael) Williams and Ben Talbot: ‘Tiny interfered and then Williams wanted to have a go at him, and told him that even if he were as big as a tree he would [still] fight him … It was funny to see Tiny standing there waiting … with [Williams] afraid to do more than to tell him he didn’t care.’ But pressure of camp imprisonment did get to John Kerin on one occasion at least, as shown by an entry in Kerr’s diary in March 1916: ‘Another drunk—Tiny Kerin this time. This is his first offence’.
After release, Kerin arrived back in London in December 1918, via Alexandria. He was very ill with influenza and was hospitalised for a month. He returned to Australia as soon as he had recovered, and left the navy at his own request when the term of his period expired on 30 June 1919. In later life Kerin worked as a boilermaker for an engineering company. He died in May 1947, aged 62, and is buried in Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney.