George Albert Cairns was born on 12 December 1913 in Sidcup, Kent, son of Albert Henry Cairns, engineer, and his wife Rose Sophia (née Skinner). A bank clerk before the war, he married Ena Kathleen, daughter of Michael Francis Duffy and his wife Edith (née Chandler) in 1941. On 26 July 1941, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Somerset Light Infantry. Having been posted to India, he volunteered to serve with the Chindits and took part in Operation Thursday, the second Chindit operation.
Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday, the 17th of May, 1949
The War Office, 20th May, 1949
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:
Lieutenant George Albert Cairns (198186), The Somerset Light Infantry, attd. South Staffordshire Regiment.
On the 5th March, 1944, 77 Independent Infantry Brigade, of which the 1st South Staffordshire Regiment formed a part, landed by glider at Broadway (Burma).
On the 12th March, 1944, columns from the South Staffordshire Regiment and 3/6 Gurkha Rifles established a road and rail block across the Japanese lines of communications at Henu Block.
The Japanese counter-attacked this position heavily in the early morning of the 13th March, 1944, and the South Staffordshire Regiment was ordered to attack a hill-top which formed the basis of the Japanese attack.
During this action, in which Lieutenant Cairns took a foremost part, he was attacked by a Japanese officer, who, with his sword hacked off Lieutenant Cairns left arm. Lieutenant Cairns killed this officer; picked up the sword and continued to lead his men in the attack and slashing left and right with the captured sword killed and wounded several Japanese before he himself fell to the ground. Lieutenant Cairns subsequently died from his wounds.
His action so inspired all his comrades that, later the Japanese were completely routed, a very rare occurrence at the time.
George Cairns is buried in Taukkyan War Cemetery, Yangon, Myanmar and there is also a memorial headstone, placed there by his parents, who had retired to the Isle of Wight, at St Mary’s, Brighstone. He was mentioned in despatches on 26 April 1945, in respect of ‘gallant and distinguished services in Burma’. Cairns’s VC was the last to be gazetted for the Second World War. The original VC recommendation, together with the three vital, supporting, witness statements – were destroyed when Major General Orde Wingate’s plane crashed just eleven days later. By the time the recommendation was reconsidered, two of the three witnesses had been killed in action. The then-commander of 77 Brigade, Mike Calvert, eventually had the case reopened and, with the support of Mrs Cairns’s MP, George Douglas Wallace (later Baron Wallace of Coslany), successful representations were made to the War Office. Ena Cairns continued to work in the bank where she had met her husband, never remarried and lived with her mother and sisters, Beatrice and Vera, at 50 Harland Avenue, Sidcup.