Bridge of Weir

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43372 Private William Cairns

1st/5th Battalion, King's Own Scottish Borderers

died of septicaemia 11th August 1919

aged 28

Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille
St Machar's Church Memorial, Bridge of Weir

Burnbrae, Bridge of Weir
Son of John Cairns and Margaret Loudon
Husband of Elizabeth McGonville Ward

His Life

William Cairns was born on 27th February 1891 at 22 Canning Place, Glasgow, the third of a family of six born to John Cairns, a pottery kilnman originally from Ireland and Margaret Loudon, from Dalry, Ayrshire, who had married in 120 Millburn Street, Glasgow on 5th April 1878.

In 1881 John (24), and Margaret (22) were living in Main Street, Bo'ness, West Lothian.

In 1891 the Cairns family of five was living at 22 Canning Place, St Rollox, Glasgow. The children were John, Mary Ann and William (1 month).

By 1901 the family, now of eight, was in 77 Parson Street, St Rollox, Glasgow. The eldest son, John (14) was a message boy.

By 1911, the family has been dispersed, possibly due to the death of their father (certainly deceased by 1918). Janet and Catherine were inmates in the Maryhill Industrial School for Girls. There is no sign of Rebecca.

William Cairns' Army service record was unconventional.

He volunteered very early and his first Attestation Papers were signed on 13th August 1914, and he was enlisted into the Seaforth Highlanders, with Regimental No. 1484 on 14th August 1914 and assigned to "D" Company, 8th Battalion but was discharged on 11th December 1914 from Petersfield (in Hampshire, where the battalion was billeted) for misconduct. His discharge papers record a "bad" military character and an intended place of residence as c/o Mrs Carroll, 44 Roseberry Street, Oatlands, Glasgow.

His next Attestation Papers were signed on 4th May 1915 and on 7th May he was approved as a baker in the Army Service Corps, Aldershot, Regimental No. S/4/94370. On 1st December 1915 he was sentenced to 112 days detention later reduced by 18 days on authority of the Commandant, Detention Prison, Devizes. He returned to duty on 4th March 1916. But on 28th April 1916 he was "discharged being no longer physically fit for War Service" from the A.S.C. discharge depot, Catterick after a medical examination found he had "chronic bronchitis, originated in childhood in Glasgow" carefully adding "not result of and not aggravated by service". His pension entitlement was calculated as 361 days minus the 94 days of actual detention served, although it seems his application may have been rejected.

William Cairns married Elizabeth Ward, domestic servant, a daughter of Charles Ward, engineer's labourer, and Elizabeth Jamieson, Ladeside, Bridge of Weir in the Parish Church Manse, Bridge of Weir on 12th March 1918. William (27) was again serving in the Army Service Corps as Private No. 385574, ASC Field Bakery, presently in Prees Heath, Shropshire. His father John is confirmed as deceased. So, between April 1916 and March 1918 William had rejoined the ASC, once again as a baker, and had been given a different service number. Later again, he was transferred to the 1st/5th Battalion King's Own Scottish Borderers. Private Cairn's Medal Index Cards (found for his final three service numbers only) does not record when he first joined a theatre of war but he was not awarded the 1914 -15 Star.

The 1st/5th (Dumfries and Galloway) Battalion, King's Own Scottish Borderers was a territorial battalion formed in August 1914 and was blooded at Gallipoli as part of the 52nd (Lowland) Division. From January 1916 to April 1918 it served in Egypt, and landed on 17th April 1918 in Marseille for service in France. In June 1918 it transferred to the 103rd Brigade, 34th Division. If William joined them around that time he became involved in some of the last battles of the war during the Allies' final advance in Flanders. After November 1918, the 34th Division joined the Army of Occupation and by January 1919 was in Cologne.

William Cairns was hospitalised in Wimereux, in the Pas de Calais and died of septicaemia on 11th August 1919. He is buried in the cemetery at Terlincthun that was begun in June 1918 when the space available for service burials in the civil cemeteries of Boulogne and Wimereux was exhausted. It was used chiefly for burials from the numerous base hospitals in the area.

William Cairns, the willing but unreliable soldier, was the last of the 72 on Bridge of Weir's memorials to fall.


1891 Census 1901 Census 1911 Census Birthplace
Name Age Name Age Name Age
John4 John14 Glasgow, Lanark
Mary Ann2 Mary12 Glasgow, Lanark
William1 mo William10 Glasgow, Lanark
Rebecca6Glasgow, Lanark
Janet4Janet*14 Glasgow, Lanark
Catherine9 moCath* 10 Glasgow, Lanark

* = not in John and Margaret Cairns family home - see text for details


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