September 25, 2017. Arras, France was our home base for our trips in and around the Vimy area. Our hotel was across from the train station. In front of the station was a plaza with restaurants surrounding it. Of course, we took a stroll to see what was there.
If we still had the idea that war memorials were only in cemeteries and in the countryside, we had a reality check as soon as we ventured outside the hotel. In the plaza, across from the train station, is a large memorial to the people of Arras who lost their lives in the war.
The memorials and cemeteries made us more determined than ever to honour the memories of as many of the soldiers on the Borden-Carleton Cenotaph that we could while we were in Europe. After we left the Ligny Saint-Flochel British Cemetery, we made our way to Bac-Du-Sud British Cemetery where James Ambrose CAIRNS is buried.
It was our first clue that visiting cemeteries can be a challenge. Bac-Du-Sud British Cemetery in Bailleulval, 13 km southwest of Arras, is just on the side of very busy highway, the N25. If you think of a highway shoulder and widen the space slightly, you have an idea how we were parked. There are no actual parking spots, just the gate to the cemetery off the side of the highway. Around the cemetery is a farmer’s field.
The cemetery has 688 WW1 Commonwealth graves, of which 4 are unidentified, and 55 German graves. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the cemetery began in March 1918 by the 7th, 20th, and 43rd Casualty Clearing Stations, but when Germans advanced at the end of March 1918, their place was taken by field ambulances of the units fighting on the Arras front, notably the 31st Division and the Canadian Corps. In August and September 1918, once the Germans had been pushed back, the 45th and 46th Casualty Clearing Stations were posted here.
James Ambrose Cairns, son of Terrence Cairns and Elisabeth Hughes, was born March 16, 1895 in Emerald, PEI. He was killed in action near Neuville – Vitasse (raid on ‘The Maze’) on June 13, 1918. Neuville-Vitasse, 16.6 km from Bailleulval, was a village under the control of the Germans. To protect their position, the Germans had a series of trenches, referred to as ‘The Maze’, on the outskirts of the village. It was during a raid on these trenches that Cairns lost his life.
Although we have not been able to find a photo of James Ambrose Cairns, we were lucky to have an account of what happened from the Canada War Graves Register Circumstances of death: Cairns “was one of a carrying party in the frontline trench, when an enemy shell burst nearby, fragments of the shell striking him in the head and body, inflicting fatal wounds. He was immediately taken to a Dressing station and later to the Canadian 4th Field ambulance where he died of his wounds the next morning.”
An obituary in the Summerside Journal of September 11, 1918 gave a bit more information on what happened, as well as a few highlights of Cairns’ life and career in banking: “On the evening of June 12th, Pte. James A. Cairns was borne from the field of battle in France to a dressing station severely wounded. He was doing duty in a front line trench, being at the time one of a party, who were carrying out a dead comrade, when an enemy shell burst nearby inflicting fatal wounds, fragments of the shell striking him in the head and body. He was immediately taken out to a dressing station and died the next morning at No 4 Canadian Field Ambulance.
Pte. Cairns was 23 years of age at the time of his death. He enlisted when he was 21 years of age in Liverpool where he was one of the staff of the Royal Bank of Canada. He went to Lieutenant’s training school where he obtained his diploma but did not get a commission. He crossed to England in October 1916, and was held in reserve for some time, but growing eager to get to France he went as a private and was in action three months before his death. He worked in the Royal Bank of Canada in Summerside for three years, also in Tyne Valley, before being transferred to Liverpool, N.S.”
In the next blog entry we visit Bellacourt Military Cemetery before continuing our search for the Manitoba and Grandcourt cemeteries. Do you have information or photos for James Ambrose Cairns? Comments or stories? You can share them by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by commenting on this blog.
© Daria Valkenburg