Hugh Cairns (VC)

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Hugh Cairns
Cairns hugh.jpg
Born (1896-12-04)4 December 1896
Ashington, England
Died 2 November 1918(1918-11-02) (aged 21)
Valenciennes, France
Buried Auberchicourt British Cemetery
Allegiance  Canada
Service/branch Canadian Expeditionary Force
Years of service 1915 - 1918
Rank Sergeant
Unit 46th Battalion, CEF
Battles/wars First World War 

Hugh Cairns VC DCM, (4 December 1896[1] – 2 November 1918) was a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.


He was born in Ashington, Northumberland, England. The Cairns family immigrated to Canada and settled in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1911. He was a keen footballer, playing for the Christ Church Intermediate Boys Football club, reaching the championship of the Sunday School League. He also played for the St. Thomas Church team when they won the Saskatoon League Championship in 1915.[2]

Hugh and his older brother Albert enlisted in the army in August 1915. Cairns was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for his actions at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917.[1] At the time DCM was the second highest award for gallantry in the British honours system.

VC details[edit]

He was 21 years old, and a sergeant in the 46th (South Saskatchewan) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.

For most conspicuous bravery before Valenciennes on 1st November, 1918, when a machine gun opened on his platoon. Without a moment's hesitation Serjt. Cairns seized a Lewis gun and single-handed, in the face of direct fire, rushed the post, killed the crew of five, and captured the gun. Later, when the line was held up by machine-gun fire, he again rushed forward, killing 12 enemy and capturing 18 and two guns.

Subsequently, when the advance was held up by machine guns and field guns, although wounded, he led a small party to outflank them, killing many, forcing about 50 to surrender, and capturing all the guns. After consolidation he went with a battle patrol to exploit Marly and forced 60 enemy to surrender. Whilst disarming this party he was severely wounded. Nevertheless, he opened fire and inflicted heavy losses. Finally he was rushed by about 20 enemy and collapsed from weakness and loss of blood. Throughout the operation he showed the highest degree of valour, and his leadership greatly contributed to the success of the attack. He died on the 2nd November from wounds.[3]

With the German surrender and armistice on the 11th of November, ten days later, Sergeant Cairns would prove to be the last of seventy-one Canadians to earn the Victoria Cross for his actions in the Great War. Cairns was also awarded the Légion d'honneur by the Government of France.

Cairns is buried in the Auberchicourt British Cemetery, seven kilometers east of Douai, France, roughly sixteen kilometers north of Cambrai, (Plot I, Row A, Grave 8).


His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Canada.[4] In March 1936, the town of Valenciennes renamed one of its principal streets "Avenue du Sergent Cairns".[1]

Cairns has several buildings and locations named after him in his hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan including Hugh Cairns V.C. School (an elementary school that opened in 1960), and the Hugh Cairns V.C. Armoury. The school is located on Cairns Avenue, however the street was not named for Hugh Cairns, but rather for Saskatoon pioneer John Cairns. In addition, a statue of Cairns, known as the Footballer's Memorial, is in the city's Kinsmen Park.


  1. ^ a b c "Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online". Retrieved January 16, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Rosebud's WW1 Archive". Retrieved January 16, 2013. 
  3. ^ "No. 31155". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 January 1919. p. 1504. 
  4. ^ "Medal at Canadian Museum of Civilisation". Retrieved January 16, 2013. 

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