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Hugh Cairns

Hugh Cairns VC DCM (December 4, 1896 – November 2, 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.

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Victoria Cross Medal Ribbon & Bar.jpg

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.

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 (Ottawa, Canada).

Other Honours/Awards

Cairns was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. The DCM is the second highest award for gallantry in the British Honours system.

Cairns was also awarded the Légion d'honneur by the Government of France. In March 1936, the town of Valenciennes renamed one of its principal streets "Avenue du Sergent Cairns"[1][2].

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.

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