Born in Ashington, England, and emigrating with his family to Saskatoon in 1911, Hugh Cairns enlisted in the C.E.F at only 19 years old. Despite the horror stories of the Western Front, Hugh was but one of thousands of young men who left their lives behind to serve their country during the First World War.
Enlisting with his older brother Albert, the Cairns left behind their self-made plumbing business and joined with the 64th Saskatchewan Battalion, embarking for Britain in June 1916, and onwards to France later that year. While in Britain, the 64th Saskatchewan had been broken up to provide reinforcements, though Albert and Hugh ended up together in the 46th Battalion. Their tour of duty saw the 46th Battalion in action at The Somme, Ancre, Arras, and Vimy – where Hugh was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions. The D.C.M was second in stature only to the Victoria Cross; an award that Cairns would win, but give his life for.
The Last Hundred Days of the war saw Sgt. Cairns and his platoon in action at Valenciennes. On November 1st, only 10 days removed from the end of the war, Hugh Cairns “showed most conspicuous bravery” leading his men – capturing dozens of German prisoners and guns before collapsing from blood loss and shock. Cairns succumbed to his wounds the next day, being awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously; the last of 71 Canadian servicemen to be awarded the honour throughout the First World War.
Cairns’ life and service serve as a stark reminder that not all heroes make it home, but that they are never truly forgotten. As No Stone Left Alone commemorates the centennial year of the 1918 Armistice, we also commemorate those who paid the ultimate price.