Sergeant Thomas James Cairns



Thomas James Cairns was born on 15 August 1868 at Orangefield, Belfast, a child of coachman and groom James Cairns and his wife Elizabeth (née Roden). By 1893 he was living at 8 Little York Street and working as a labourer. On 4 March that year he married Ellen Cuddy at St Anne's Church of Ireland Parish Church, Belfast. The couple already had one child, and would have twelve more over the next seventeen years.

Cairns served in South Africa during the Boer War, probably in the 54th (Belfast) Company, 13th Battalion, Imperial Yeomanry (No.11134). By the time of the 1911 Census he was living at 19 Kenbaan Street, Belfast, with his wife and seven of their eight surviving children, and working as a plater in a shipyard.

Cairns enlisted in the North Irish Horse on 27 or 28 August 1914 (No.1044). Because of his military experience he was quickly promoted to the rank of sergeant. On 1 May 1915 he embarked for France with D Squadron, which at the time was serving as divisional cavalry to the 51st Division.

In May 1916 D Squadron came together with A and E Squadrons to form the 1st North Irish Horse Regiment, serving as corps cavalry to VII, XIX, then V Corps until February-March 1918, when the regiment was dismounted and converted to a cyclist unit, serving as corps cyclists to V Corps until the end of the war.

Cairns remained with the regiment until late August 1917, when he and a number of others found to be not physically fit for front-line service (he was then aged 49), were transferred to the Labour Corps (No.388308). He was discharged on 5 April 1918 (another record gives the date as 4 March 1919) due to 'age and myalgia'.

After the war Cairns lived with his family at 11 Aughrim Street Belfast, and returned to work as a plater. He died there on 13 July 1948 and was buried in the Dundonald Cemetery.


Sergeant Cairns's first child, William (or Robert), also served in the war, as a driver in the Army Service Corps.


The image above shows Cairns in late November 1914. The full picture can be seen here.