Friends of the Somme - Mid Ulster Branch  
4354   Lance Corporal Hugh John Cairns
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Dated added: 30/12/2015   Last updated: 01/05/2020
Personal Details
Regiment/Service: 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (British Army)
Date Of Birth: 08/03/1886
Died: 16/05/1915 (Killed in Action)
Age: 29
Hugh John Cairns was the son of Hugh and Sarah Cairns. He was born about 1886 in Coalisland. The 1901 census shows the family living in Coalisland. Hugh was 15 years old and working in a factory. His father was a clerk. By the time of the 1911 census, Hugh’s mother Sarah had died. Hugh was now working as a railway porter. Hugh John enlisted in Cookstown and served with the 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Lance Corporal Hugh John Cairns was killed in action at the Battle of Festubert on 16th May 1915. The CWGC refer to Hugh as 4354 Lance Corporal Hugh John Kearns. This family name is almost certainly spelt incorrectly as both the census and his local church refer to the family as Cairns.
Lance Corporal Hugh John Cairns
Further Information
Hugh John Cairns was the eldest son of Hugh and Sarah Cairns. Hugh Cairns married Sarah Chambers on 7th December 1883 in the district of Dungannon.
Hugh Cairns was born on 8th March 1886 in Brackaville, Coalisland. He was the second oldest of twelve children.
In military documentation the surname is spelt Kearns.
The 1901 census lists Hugh John, as age 15, living with the family at house 54 in Coalisland, Tullyniskane, County Tyrone. Hugh had left school and was a factory worker. His father was a clerk.
Family: Hugh Cairns, Sarah Cairns, Mary Cairns (born 20th January 1884), Hugh John Cairns (born 8th March 1886), Thomas William Cairns (born 3rd December 1887), Charlotte Jane Cairns (born 20th October 1889), Elizabeth Cairns (born 23rd September 1891), James Cairns (born 27th September 1893), Florence Cairns (born 3rd March 1896) Edith Cairns (born 25th September 1898), Adeline Cairns (born 1st September 1900), Edward James Cairns (born 25th September 1902).
It is believed Sarah Cairns, Hugh’s mother, died on 10th November 1902, aged 38.
The 1911 census lists Hugh John as age 25, living with the family at house 108 in Coalisland, Tullyniskane. Hugh was working as a railway porter. His father was a widower and was a clerk.
Hugh John Cairns photo
Hugh John Cairns enlisted in Cookstown.
Coalisland men Hugh John Cairns on the left is pictured with Robert Lynn on the right. Photo courtesy of Robert Butler.
Medal card
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 13th February 1915: Coalisland Man’s Sight-Seeing
Lance Corporal Cairns, of the Machine Gun Detachment, writing to his sister in Coalisland on 1st February says:-
‘We were on the march for four days. The weather is a bit cold and frosty, but it is all right for marching. I saw Lord Northland a few days ago when we were passing through a village. I saw a lot of artillery and kept a look out for James Lynn (Coalisland), but did not see him. We are getting plenty of food and it is the very best. I am in the best of health and spirits and hope to return safe and sound. We all hope to be home for the Twelfth of July.’
Writing to other friends he says:-
‘This is a great country. I suppose you often hear of cows ploughing. If you were going along, as we are, you would see them here and dogs churning the buttermilk and drawing small carts along the streets. If the summer was once here it would be all right. You would go a long way to see the Indian troops. They are rum looking men. The Germans are very afraid of them. They are the boys that can use the knives.’
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 5th June 1915: Bombardier James Lynn on the Gas
Writing to his friends in Coalisland, Bombardier James Lynn, 43rd Battery, Royal Field Artillery, states that the infantry had a rough time of it for a week or so, but things were now quiet, although further work might soon be expected. Jack’s battalion had captured two lines of trenches from the Germans. His brother and Cairns were together, but he had had no word from them lately, so did not know how they had got on. The gas that the Germans were using was awful, and nothing could live in front of it. Grass, trees and plants withered up the same as if they were burned. He wished to be mentioned to old friends, a number of whom he particularly named.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 26th June 1915: Bombardier Lynn and the Twelfth
Bombardier James Lynn, 43rd Battery, Royal Field Artillery, writing from the western front to friends in Coalisland says:-
‘I saw Alex (Private Alexander Proctor, 2nd Battalion Irish Fusiliers) and Willie (Sergeant William Lynn, 2nd Irish Fusiliers) the other day, and both of them looked well after having such a rough time of it. They were glad to seem me and I to see them. I have heard that Jack and Hugh Cairns were wounded Their regiment went forward with the same old dash and soon made the Germans hop it – Good old Inniskillings; they did some good work but they have lost heavily. The Germans are very cunning, but they don’t like to meet the British, as they know they always get a good basting. I see by the papers that there will be no Twelfth this year. I think it is a good idea, as it would not look nice on account of all the boys being away. However, I hope with God’s help, the war won’t last much longer and that we will get home safe although I am very afraid of it.
Lance Corporal Hugh John Cairns was serving with the 2nd battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers when he was killed in action at the Battle of Festubert on Sunday 16th May 1915.
From the Tyrone Courier dated 15th July 1915:
Newspaper Report
Every effort to trace Hugh Henry Cairns (4354), 2nd battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, who has been missing since the engagement at Festubert on 16 May has failed. His sister Miss Minnie Cairns, Sandy Row, Coalisland, is very anxious for news of him.
Lance Corporal Hugh J Cairns has no known grave and is commemorated on panel 16-17 of Le Touret Memorial in France.
Hugh John Cairns is also listed on Dungannon War Memorial.
There is a memorial to Hugh John in Brackaville Church of Ireland church on the Dungannon Road, Coalisland.
Hugh John Cairns Memorial Tablet in Brackaville Parish Church. Photo courtesy of Robert Butler
The inscription reads:
“1914-1918. For King and country. In loving memory of L/Cpl Hugh John Cairns R. Innis Fus. who was killed in action at Festubert, France in the Great War and his brother Thomas William who served as a driver with the American army in Flanders, and since died in USA. Also their father and mother Hugh and Sarah Cairns of this parish. I will not leave you comfortless. St John XIV XIII.”
The CWGC refer to Hugh as 4354 Lance Corporal Hugh John Kearns.
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References and Links
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1 1901 Census lists Cairns family 1901 Census lists Hugh John, a factory worker, as age 15 at house 54 in Coal Island, Tullyniskane, Tyrone
2 1911 Census lists "Carins" family 1911 Census lists Hugh John, a railway porter, as age 25 at house 108 in Coalisland, Tullyniskane, Tyrone
3 Dungannon War Dead Also listed on Dungannon War Dead
4 Dungannon War Dead Robert Lynn on Dungannon War Dead
5 National Archives UK Medal card can be purchased here (Hugh J Kearns)
6 War Memorials Archive Details of a memorial to Lance Corporal Hugh John Cairns in Brackaville Church
Cookstown District's War Dead Acknowledgements 2010-2021