Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthJune 9, 1877
Place of BirthBelfast, County Antrim
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMiss Agnes Taylor (friend), Carlin, Quebec
Trade / CallingBlacksmith
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number830052
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion44th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentWinnipeg, Manitoba
Address at EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentDecember 20, 1915
Age at Enlistment38
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarNo
Death Details
Date of DeathJune 3, 1917
Age at Death40
Buried AtNo known grave; commemorated on the Vimy Memorial in France

Cairns, William

During the war over 250 battalions were raised in Canada but only a small number of them served with the Canadian Corps in France and Belgium. Most battalions were broken up in England and used as reinforcements to replace casualties in front line units. Private William Cairns joined the 144th Battalion and after 16 months of training he was drafted to a front line unit and sent to France. He was killed in action six weeks later.

According to his attestation William was born on 9 June 1877 in Belfast, Ireland. By 1915 he had immigrated to Canada and settled in the town of Kenora, Ontario where he worked as a blacksmith. The war started in August 1914 and William enlisted with the 144th Battalion on 20 December 1915 in Winnipeg. The 144th had been organized the previous month and it was recruited in the Winnipeg area. After ten months of training the battalion was sent to England, embarking from Halifax on 18 September 1916 on the SS Olympic. In England the men were transferred to reserve battalions to be used as reinforcements for other units. William was assigned to the 18th Reserve Battalion in January 1917 at Seaford Camp, East Sussex. Three months later he was drafted to the 44th Battalion and he joined his new unit in France in late April.

The 44th Battalion was in the 10th Infantry Brigade, 4th Canadian Division. In the spring of 1917, after the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the 4th Division took part in a number of operations between Vimy and the city of Lens. Early in June they were given orders to capture several fortified positions between Avion and the Souchez River. The 44th Battalion had already carried out some successful attacks in the area in mid-May and this time one of their objectives was the hamlet of La Coulotte. The operation began at midnight on 2-3 June and the men were involved in heavy fighting as they advanced. They reached the objectives but could not hold them and before dawn on 3 June they were forced back to their original position. From the War Diary of the 44th Battalion casualties on 3 June were 29 killed, 145 wounded and 77 missing. William was one of the men who fell that day.

From the Circumstances of Death record for William: During the attack made by his Battalion on La Coulotte, he was instantly killed by an enemy high explosive shell.

William’s burial place is unknown. He is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial, which bears the names of over 11,000 Canadian soldiers who died in France and have no known grave. He is also listed on page 211 of Canada’s First World War Book of Remembrance, on display in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, and he’s commemorated on the 44th Canadian Infantry Vimy Ridge Monument in Winnipeg.

By Becky Johnson

Photo at the top is the Vimy Memorial in France.

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