b. 12/12/1913 London. d. 19/03/1944 Henu Block, Burma
George Albert Cairns (1913-1944) was born in Tooting, London on 12th December 1913, the son of Albert Henry and Rose Sophia Cairns (nee Skinner). After schooling, he moved to Sidcup, Kent, where he worked in a bank. He married his wife, Ena Kathleen (nee Duffy) in Sidcup in 1941. He was commissioned into the Somerset Light Infantry as a Lieutenant on the outbreak of World War II, but was attached to the South Staffordshire Regiment, a Chindit Battalion under the command of Major-General Orde Charles Wingate DSO and Two Bars.
The battalion landed by Dakota aircraft at the Broadway airstrip on 7th March 1944, and marched for six days through the jungle to reach its objective. On 13th March 1944 at Henu Block, Burma, on a flat-topped hill stood a pagoda and some huts, occupied by the Japanese. Brigadier Mike Calvert gave the order to charge, and the 1st South Staffords and the 3/6th Gurkha Rifles swept up to the top of the dusty slope to engage in hand-to-hand fighting. The fighting turned into 'an extraordinary melee', and Lt Cairns was attacked by a Japanese officer, who, with his sword hacked off Cairns's left arm. Cairns shot the officer, picked up his sword and continued to lead his men, slashing left and right with the captured sword. He killed and wounded several of the enemy before he himself fell to the ground having been bayoneted twice. A week later he died of his wounds, but his action so inspired his men that the Japanese were completely routed, a very rare occurrence at that time.
After the fight was over, Brigadier Calvert knelt over Cairns , who asked, "Have we won, sir? Was it all right? Did we do our stuff? Don't worry about me." He was buried in Taukkyan War Cemetery, Burma. His Victoria Cross was not gazetted until 20 May 1949, the last VC of the Second World War to be gazetted. The reason for the delay was that General Wingate had the recommendation with him when his plane went down. The crash site and Wingate's body could not be reached until the war was ended, and two of the witnesses had died in the meantime. The award of the medal owes much to the efforts of Mrs Ena Cairns and her MP, Mr G D Wallace who persuaded the War Office to act. The medals are now held by the Staffordshire Regimental Museum, Whittington Barracks, Lichfield, Staffordshire.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: STAFFORDSHIRE REGIMENT MUSEUM, LICHFIELD.
BURIAL PLACE: TAUKKYAN WAR CEMETERY, BURMA.
George Cairns' medals including VC on display at Staffordshire Regimental Museum, Whittington Barracks, Lichfield (August 2014). Also picture of some of Cairns' items from his army career. (see right).
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
GRAVE 6 A. 4
St Mary the Virgin, Brighstone, Isle of Wight
Painting of his VC action by David Rowlands
Wandsworth Town Hall