Tag Archives: Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

CWG: Stoker 1st Class Albert Cairns

Stoker 1st Class Albert Cairns

Albert Cairns was born on 22nd October 1894, one of ten children to Wilson and Maria Cairns. Both of his parents were born in Northern Ireland, and flax dresser Wilson raised his family in the capital, Belfast.

When he left school, Albert began shop work, but he wanted bigger and better things. On 2nd March 1912, having already been a volunteer in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, he enlisted in the regiment full time. His service records show that he was 5ft 4.5ins (1.64m) tall, weighed 125lbs (56.7kg) and had blue eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion.

Private Cairns’ army service was brief, however, as, on 23rd March he was discharged for “having made a mis-statement as to [his] age on enlistment.”

Undeterred, six months later, Albert tried again, this time enlisting in the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class. His determination was clear, as he lied about his age again, giving his year of birth as 1893. This was overlooked (or at the very least not checked), and he was sent to HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent, for his training.

In February 1913, Stoker Cairns was assigned to the cruiser HMS Blonde. He spent the next two years on board, and was promoted to Stoker 1st Class.

For all his desire to serve, Albert’s military career was a chequered one. Over the period of five years, he served on four ships, returning to Chatham after each voyage. His character began as Very Good, but as time went on this slipped to Good and then to Indifferent. On four separate occasions he was detained for going AWOL, and he spent a total of 159 days in the brig.

In May 1917 he was returned to HMS Pembroke; that summer was a busy time for the base, and Stoker 1st Class Cairns found himself billeted in overflow accommodation set up in the barracks’ Drill Hall.

On the night of 3rd September, Chatham came under attack from a German air raid, and the Drill Hall received a direct hit. Stoker Cairns was among those to be killed that night. He was 22 years of age.

Albert Cairns was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham, Kent, alongside the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid.

Tragically, Albert was not the first boy of that name to be born to the family. Albert Wilson Cairns was born in 1888, but died when only a toddler.

Wilson and Maria also had three sons called Wilson: the first, born in 1889, died at the age of two. The second was born in 1892, but passed away at the age of seven months.

The third Wilson Cairns was born in 1896. He went on to become a mill labourer, before joining the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in February 1913. Just like his older brother had done before him, however, he had lied about his age, and was soon discharged. Two years later he tried again, and this time succeeded in joining up.

Private Cairns was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, and soon found himself in France and in the thick of it. Fighting in the Battle of Ancre, he was killed on 23rd November 1916. He was just 20 years of age, and was laid to rest in the Waggon Road Cemetery near Beaumont-Hamel.

Private Wilson Cairns
(from findagrave.com)

The Belfast Telegraph reported on Albert’s death, and noted Wilson’s death ten months previously. It also confirmed that Wilson and Maria’s oldest son, George, had also been wounded, and was recovering in a convalescent camp.

The same newspaper ran a number of messages of condolence for Albert, including one from his loving sweetheart, Katie Rollins.

CWG: Stoker 1st Class William Wakeford

Stoker 1st Class William Wakeford

William Edward Wakeford was born on 18th April 1885, the oldest of seven children to William and Theresa. William Sr had been born in East London and was a labourer for the engineering company Vickers. Theresa came from south of the Thames, in Greenwich, and it was in South East London that the Wakefords raised their family.

When he left school, William Jr found work as an assistant to a corn dealer. He was set on a better life and career, however, and, on 1st June 1906, at the age of 20, he enlisted in the Royal Navy with the rank of Stoker 2nd Class.

William learnt on the job; he was initially assigned to HMS Acheron and, during his initial five-year term of service, he served on five further vessels, rising to the rank of Stoker 1st Class as a result of his hard work. In between his voyages, however, he was based at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham, Kent.

When his contract came to an end in May 1911, Stoker Wakeford was assigned to the Royal Naval Reserve. With war looming, however, this did not turn out to be for long and, when hostilities begun in 1914, he was called back into action. He was assigned to the battleship HMS Cornwallis, and spent more than two years on board. During this time, the ship saw action in the Eastern Mediterranean, primarily the Dardanelles Campaign, and the fighting around Gallipoli.

By the start of 1917, Stoker Wakeford was back on dry land, and based at HMS Pembroke. For a variety of reasons, that was a particularly busy year at the dockyard, and temporary additional accommodation was set up at the Chatham Drill Hall nearby; this is where William found himself billeted.

On the 3rd September 1917, the German Air Force carried out its first night air raid: Chatham was heavily bombed and the Drill Hall received a direct hit; Stoker 1st Class Wakeford was among those killed instantly. He was 32 years of age.

William Edward Wakeford was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham.

William’s younger brother Cecil also fought in the Great War. Serving as a Private in the 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, he saw fighting on the Western Front. Caught up in the Battle of St Quentin in March 1918, he was killed as the regiment were cut off by German advances. He was just 22 years old. He was laid to rest in France, and is commemorated at the Pozières Memorial.