Permanent honour in stone for town’s VC hero

Sergeant Hugh Cairs, who was born in Ashington and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the First World War.
Sergeant Hugh Cairs, who was born in Ashington and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the First World War.

A special paving stone will be laid in Ashington to honour a war hero as part of 2014’s First World War centenary events.

Commemorative paving stones will be laid in the hometown of all those in the UK awarded the Victoria Cross for valour “in the face of the enemy” as part of efforts to mark the 100th anniversary of the Great War next year.

Among those to be honoured will be Sergeant Hugh Cairns.

He was born in Ashington on December 4, 1896, the third of 11 children to George and Elizabeth Dotes Cairns (nee Donkin) and they lived in Seventh Row.

The family emigrated in May 1911 when he was aged 14.

During the First World War he joined the Canadian forces and was stationed in France.

In 1917 he was involved in the battle of Vimy Ridge, winning the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry.

Sgt Cairn’s brother was killed in the battle and it is said that from this point he had no interest in returning home, only in avenging his sibling’s loss.

In battle at Valienciennes in 1918, Sgt Cairns was credited with killing, capturing or forcing to surrender scores of Germans.

He was shot and killed in the battle but was awarded the Victoria Cross in honour of his bravery.

Sgt Cairns died 32 days short of his 22nd birthday, and now rests in Auberchicourt British Cemetery, seven kilometres east of Douai, near Nord in France.

A street was named after him in France and a memorial statue erected in the Canadian town where he lived, Saskatoon.

As part of the four-year centenary programme, a total of 28 paving stones are set to be unveiled next year, which will commemorate medals awarded in 1914 and others will be laid in every year up to 2018.

Plans to restore war memorials around the country have also been announced.

The decision has been welcomed by David Easton, secretary of the Northumberland Branch of The Western Front Association, who has campaigned tirelessly to have Sgt Cairns remembered in his hometown.

He said: “This is excellent news.

“The Northumberland Branch of the Western Front Association has been working with Mike Slaughter, the clerk to Ashington Town Council, to seek to ensure recognition of Sgt ‘Hughie’ Cairns in his hometown, and the council has been very supportive of this project.

“Such a paving stone should fit in well with the council’s wider plans to revitalise the war memorial garden and surrounding area.

“Hugh Cairns still has close family in the Ashington area and in Canada.

“I am sure they will all be equally thrilled by this initiative.”

Mr Slaughter said: “We very much welcome this news and formal recognition of Sgt Cairns.

“The timing coincides with the wider plans currently being drawn up to improve and further develop the Ashington Memorial Garden, a project devised by Ashington Town Council and its key partners, including the Royal British Legion, the Western Front Association, Northumberland County Council and local schools.”