Cairns, George Albert.

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Cairns, George Albert, born in London on 12-12-1913,  spend the early 1940s in Sidcup, Kent, working at a bank. Georg met his future wife, Ena, at the same bank. They were married in 1941; a year later he went to war.

Cairns  was a lieutenant in The Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert’s), British Army,  under command of Colonel Allan Francis John Harding, 1st Baron Harding of Petherton.  attached to the South Staffordshire Regiment  in Burma during  World War II. John Harding died 20-01-1989, age 92 in Nether Compton. The South Staffordshire Regiment was a Chindit battalion, part of 77th Indian Infantry Brigade under the command of Brigadier James Michael ” Mad Mike”  Calvert . He was 30 years old when he performed the deed for which he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross . The 77th Indian Infantry Brigade was an infantry brigade formation of the Indian Army during World War II.  It was formed in India in June 1942. The brigade was assigned to the Chindits and organised into eight columns for operations behind enemy lines in Burma. In March 1945, it was converted into the 77th Indian Parachute Brigade and assigned to the 44th Airborne Division. Brigadier James Michael ” Mad Mike” Calvert frequently led attacks from the front, a practice that earned him the nickname amongst the men under his command of “Mad Mike.” Calvert died in his 86th year on 26-11-1998 in Richmond-upon-Thames.

On the evening of 16-03-1944, the South Staffords dug in near what would become a main hinge of the Chindit operation, the block at Henu and Mawlu, known as the White City. A nearby hill crowned with a Pagoda dominated the horizon. It was not occupied by the British or, so far as those present could tell, by the Japanese. The following morning a number of unsuspecting Japanese soldiers were discovered in the area. It was plain that the South Staffords had dug in their positions adjacent to a small Japanese force without either learning of the other’s presence. At about 11:00am, the hill erupted with enemy fire. 

Calvert, who led the attack in person, wrote “On the top of Pagoda Hill,  not much bigger than two tennis courts, an amazing scene developed. The small white Pagoda was in the centre of the hill. Between that and the slopes which came up was a mêlée of South Staffords and Japanese bayonetting, fighting with each other, with some Japanese just throwing grenades from the flanks into the mêlée.” Calvert added, “there, at the top of the hill, about fifty yards square, an extraordinary mêlée took place, everyone shooting, bayoneting, kicking at everyone else, rather like an officers’ guest night.”

During the attack Cairns was attacked by a Japanese officer who with his sword hacked off the lieutenant’s left arm.

  Cairns killed the officer and retrieved the fallen sword before wounding several other Japanese. He subsequently collapsed and perished the following day. Calvert wrote, “[i]n front I saw Lieutenant Cairns have his arm hacked off by a Jap, whom he shot. He picked up the sword and carried on. Finally we drive them back behind the Pagoda.”

Lieutenant Norman Durant, commanding one of South Staffordshire Regiment’s machine gun platoons, was involved in the action on Pagoda Hill. He described the action in a long letter to his family:

The first thing I saw on reaching the path was horrible hand-to-hand struggle going on further up the hill. George Cairns and a Jap were struggling and choking on the ground, and as I picked up a Jap rifle and climbed up towards them I saw George break free and, picking up a rifle bayonet, stab the Jap again and again like a madman. It was only when I got near that I saw he himself had already been bayoneted twice through the side and that his left arm was hanging on by a few strips of muscle. How he had found the strength to fight was a miracle, but the effort had been too much and he died the next morning.After a brief “intermission,” Calvert’s forces broke the Japanese resistance, driving them from the area:

Death and burial ground of Cairns, George Albert.

Cairns, George Albert.   

The fighting had been not unlike that depicted un scenes from ancient battles in the closeness of the hand-to-hand grappling before the Japs finally broke. In spite of our casualties, we hard all that elation of the winners of a good battle, especially of a bayonet charge…I spoke to Lieutenant Cairns before he died. ‘Have we won sir? Was it all right? Did we do our stuff? Don’t worry about me.’ Five years later His Majesty graciously awarded Lieutenant Cairns the Victoria Cross…We counted forty-two Jap dead, including four officers. More were shot and killed or wounded by our machine guns as they struggled across the open paddy, with the Japs giving them some covering fire from Mawlu, 800 yards across the paddy on to Pagoda Hill.

Cairns’s batman, Private N. Coales wrote “He died a hero.”  George Albert Cairns was buried at Taukkyan War Cemetery in Burma. His grave is located at Plot 6, Row A, Grave 4. A stone memorial similar to a headstone commemorates Cairns at St Mary the Virgin Church, Brighstone, Isle of Wight


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