Cain, Robert Henry born 02-01-1909 in Shanghai,. His parents were Manx and returned to the Isle of Man when he was young, where he was educated at King William’s College. The Manx are a Celtic people from the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea.The number of Manx is unclear, but of the 80,000 inhabitants on the island, 47.6% were also born there. The number could be estimated at 50,000 to 60,000 people. They live on the island itself, but also in England and the United States (Cleveland).The symbol of the Manx is the Triskelion. In 1928 Cain joined the Honourable Artillery Company, a unit of the Territorial Army (TA). The TA was the volunteer reserve force of the British Army and members continued in civilian work; Cain worked in Thailand and Malaya for Shell. He was placed on the supplementary reserve list on 12-02-1931.
In April 1940, shortly after the start of the World War II, Cain was given an emergency commission into the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers as a Second Lieutenant. In 1942, he was seconded to 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment before being temporarily promoted to the rank of Major in April 1943—a position he would keep until being honourably granted the rank in 1945. The 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment was part of 1st Airlanding Brigade which landed in Sicily in July 1943 as part of Operation Ladbroke. In the same month, Cain took command of the battalion’s B Company.
The Battle of Arnhem was part of Operation Market Garden , an attempt to secure a string of bridges through the Netherlands. At Arnhem the British 1st Airborne Division under command of General Robert “Roy” Urquhart and Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade under command of General Stanisław Sosabowski were tasked with securing bridges across the Lower Rhine, the final objectives of the operation. However, the airborne forces that dropped on 17 September were not aware that the 9th SS Division Hohenstaufen under command of General Wilhelm “Willi” Bittrich and 10th SS Panzer Frundsberg under command of General Heinz Harmel, divisions were also near Arnhem for rest and refit. Their presence added a substantial number of Panzergrenadiers, tanks and self-propelled guns to the German defenses and the Allies suffered heavily in the ensuing battle. Only a small force managed to hold one end of the Arnhem road bridge before being overrun on the 21st. The rest of the division became trapped in a small pocket west of the bridge and had to be evacuated on the 25th. The Allies failed to cross the Rhine, which remained under German control until Allied offensives in March 1945.
The Allies planned to fly the British and Polish to Arnhem in three separate lifts over three days. Major General Roy Urquhart decided to deploy the 1st Airlanding Brigade first, as glider troops could assemble more quickly than parachute infantry and secure the landing areas. Cain took off with the first lift along with two companies of the South Staffords but only five minutes after departing from RAF Manston the tow rope connecting the Albemarle tug to his Horsa glider pulled out of the leading aircraft. After landing safely the glider’s occupants were able to fly out the following day with the second lift.
In Arnhem the Allied plan quickly unravelled. Only a small group of the 1st Parachute Brigade, mainly elements of Lieutenant Colonel John Frost’s
2nd Battalion, were able to reach the bridge. The 1st and 3rd Battalions were unable to penetrate the outer suburbs of the city and their advance stalled, so in order to support them the first lift of the South Staffords were sent forward on the morning of the 18th. When Cain arrived with the second lift they too were sent forward, arriving at the outskirts of Arnhem on the night of the 18th. Lieutenant Colonel David Dobie of the 1st Battalion proposed a concentrated attack on a narrow front between the Lower Rhine and the Arnhem railway line. Dobie survived the war and died on 12-12-1971, age 59 of a heart attack. The South Staffords would advance toward the bridge, with the remnants of the 1st and 3rd Battalions on their right flank, while the 11th Parachute Battalion, remained in reserve. The Staffords moved forward at 4.30am with D Company in the lead, followed by B and A Companies with C Company in reserve. In the area around St Elizabeth Hospital, the lead company met heavy resistance clearing houses and B Company took the lead, getting as far as a dell near the Arnhem City Museum. Here Cain and his men encountered enemy armour for the first time. The company was only armed with PIATs and mortars and although Cain and several of his company opened fire on the tanks and guns, they did not manage to disable any. By 11:30 they had run out of PIAT ammunition and the tanks now dominated the area. Their position was clearly hopeless and so Lieutenant Colonel McCardie, who died on 03-04-1977, .the commanding officer (CO) of 2nd Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment, ordered them to withdraw from the dell.Cain fell back with several of his men but few of them were able to escape, while the men of the other companies were forced to surrender in their droves. Cain was the only senior officer of the battalion to escape in what he later described as the “South Staff’s Waterloo”.
As the surviving men fell back through the 11th Battalion’s positions, Major Harry Lorenzo Gilchrist (A Company, 11th Battalion) who died of leprosy on 26-12-1943 (aged 73), met Cain, who told him that “The tanks are coming, give me a PIAT”. Gilchrist was unable to oblige and so the Staffords regrouped behind the 11th Battalion’s positions; roughly 100 surviving men forming into five small platoons under Cain’s command. Lieutenant Colonel George Lea, who died age 77 on 27-12-1990 in Saint Brélade, Jersey, commander of the 11th Battalion, ordered them to capture a piece of wooded high ground known as Den Brink to cover a fresh advance, and a bayonet charge quickly cleared the enemy there. However, the thick tree roots on the hill made it impossible to dig in, and after suffering severe casualties, Cain took the decision to withdraw back to Oosterbeek.
On 20th September a Tiger tank approached the area held by his company and Major Cain went out alone to deal with it armed with a Piat. Taking up a position he held his fire until the tank was only 20 yards away when he opened up. The tank immediately halted and turned its guns on him, shooting away a corner of the house near where this officer was lying. Although wounded by machine gun bullets and falling masonry, Major Cain continued firing until he had scored several direct hits, immobilised the tank and supervised the bringing up of a 75 mm. howitzer which completely destroyed it. Only then would he consent to have his wounds dressed.
In the next morning this officer drove off three more tanks by the fearless use of his Piat, on each occasion leaving cover and taking up position in open ground with complete disregard for his personal safety.
During the following days, Major Cain was everywhere where danger threatened, moving amongst his men and encouraging them by his fearless example to hold out. He refused rest and medical attention in spite of the fact that his hearing had been seriously impaired because of a perforated eardrum and he was suffering from multiple wounds.
On 25 September the enemy made a concerted attack on Major Cain’s position, using self-propelled guns, flame throwers and infantry. By this time the last Piat had been put out of action and Major Cain was armed with only a light 2″ mortar. However, by a skilful use of this weapon and his daring leadership of the few men still under his command, he completely demoralized the enemy who, after an engagement lasting more than three hours, withdrew in disorder.
Throughout the whole course of the Battle of Arnhem, Major Cain showed superb gallantry. His powers of endurance and leadership were the admiration of all his fellow officers and stories of his valour were being constantly exchanged amongst the troops. His coolness and courage under incessant fire could not be surpassed.
The hostilities in Europe ended on 08-05-1945, when the Allies accepted the unconditional
Upon leaving the army Cain went back to his pre-war occupation with Shell, living in East Asia and then West Africa. In 1951 he was elected to the Nigerian House of Representatives while working there. He returned to Britain in 1965 and settled in the Isle of Man upon his retirement.
Death and burial ground of Cain, Robert Henry.
Cain died of cancer on 02-05-1974, age 65, in Crowborough, Sussex. His body was cremated at Worth Crematorium and its ashes interred in the family grave with his parents at Braddan Cemetery on the Isle of Man. Cain had four children, his daughter Frances was married to Jeremy Clarkson between 1993 and 2014.
Major Robert Cain was one of five British soldiers to earn a Victoria Cross, the highest British military award, during the Battle of Arnhem. Of these five soldiers, Robert Cain is the only one who survived the Battle of Arnhem. The other were Luitenant John “Jack” Hollington Grayburn, Flight Lieutenant David Samuel Anthony “Lummy” Lord, Lance-sergeant John Daniel Baskeyfield, Kapitein Lionel Ernest