CAIRNS, Robert Wood
(Service number 36407)

First Rank Private Last Rank Private


Date 29 May 1891 Place of Birth Coldingham, Scotland

Enlistment Information

Date 21 September 1916 Age 25 years 4 months
Address at Enlistment Factory Road, Temuka
Occupation Farmhand
Previous Military Experience
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin James Cairns (father), Factory Road, Temuka
Religion Presbyterian
Medical Information 5 feet 11 inches tall, of fair complexion, with fair hair and blue eyes.

Military Service

Served with NZ Armed Forces Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation G Company 21st Reinforcements
Unit, Squadron, or Ship Canterbury Infantry Battalion
Date 19 January 1917
Transport HMNZT 75, Waitemata
Embarked From Wellington, New Zealand Destination Devonport, England
Other Units Served With 3rd Battalion Otago Regiment, Auckland Infantry Battalion
Last Unit Served With 2nd Auckland Battalion

Military Awards

Campaigns Western European
Service Medals British War Medal, Victory Medal
Military Awards

Award Circumstances and Date

No information

Prisoner of War Information

Date of Capture
Where Captured and by Whom At Courtrai-St-Quentin Canal, France by the Germans
Actions Prior to Capture
PoW Serial Number
PoW Camps
Days Interned
Liberation Date


Date 15 November 1919 Reason Termination of his period of engagement

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

Sprained ankle - No 4 New Zealnad Field Ambulance; 18 General Hospital, London. Wounded - shrapnel from a bomb - 3rd New Zealand General Hospital, Codford, London Influenza & Bronchitis - 3rd New Zealand General Hospital, Codford, London.

Post-war Occupations


Date 23 August 1973 Age 82
Place of Death Timaru, New Zealand
Memorial or Cemetery Timaru Cemetery
Memorial Reference General Section, Row 147, Plot 1155
New Zealand Memorials

Biographical Notes

Robert Wood Cairns was born on 29 May 1891 in Coldingham, Scotland. He was a farmhand working for his father on the family farm on Factory Road in Temuka.

Robert enlisted on the 21 September 1916, at Trentham, the attesting officer was Lieutenant D.A. Kidd. The medical officer described Robert as being 25 years and 4 months old, a Presbyterian who was 5 feet 11 inches tall, with fair hair, blue eyes and of a fair complexion. Private Cairns joined G Company of the 21st Reinforcements in Trentham. He embarked on board the Waitemata with HMNZT 75, on 19 January 1917. The contingent disembarked at Devonport and marched into Sling Camp on 28 March 1917. Private Cairns was taken on strength and posted to A Company, 3rd Battalion Otago Infantry Regiment, at Codford on 24 April 1917. The Battalion left for France on 28 May 1917.

On 15 June 1917, Private Cairns was admitted to No 4 New Zealand Field Ambulance with a sprained ankle. Two days later he was transferred to the No 1 New Zealand Field Ambulance before being admitted to the 18 General Hospital in London on 21 June. On 29 June he was transferred to the 5th Convalescent Depot. The incident report for Private Cairns' sprained ankle reports that his injury was of a trivial nature, which occurred while in the performance of his military duty on the night of 14th June 1917, when marching to billets on completion of relief from trenches near Le Berzet. The place was shelled and when endeavouring to take cover, Private Cairns sprained his ankle, and was in no way to blame. Soldiers typically spent 4 days in the front line, then 4 days in close reserve, and finally 4 days at rest, although this could vary depending on circumstances or conditions. It was during one of these change overs that Robert sprained his ankle. On 19 July 1917 Private Cairns was attached to the New Zealand General Battalion Depot in Codford, he was then posted back into the field on 19 January 1918, joining the 5th New Zealand Reserve Brigade.

On 3 February 1918, Private Cairns was admitted to hospital again, this time being of a more serious nature. He was admitted to the 3rd New Zealand General Hospital with a bomb wound to his right forearm. The report said that a bomb exploded close to him and a piece of shrapnel cut him in the left arm. He was operated on, on 13 February 1918 and a piece of metal was removed (one report states right arm and another report says left arm).

Private Cairns returned to the front, and was transferred to the 2nd Auckland Battalion on 16 September 1918. It was while serving in this regiment that Private Cairns was reported missing on 30th September 1918. The next information comes from a cable received when Private Cairns was reported having being released, and having arrived back in London on 7 December 1918 (noting 36407 Private R. W. Cairns, 2nd Auckland Battalion, was captured at Courtai-St-Quentin Canal, France on 30 September 1918).

Private Cairns remained in England for some months after the war, because he was again admitted to the 3rd New Zealand General Hospital in Codford, London on 8th April 1919 with influenza. On 14 April he was placed on the the seriously ill list with influenza and Bronchitis. On 21 April he was once again listed as severely ill and very weak. In May, though still listed as severeley ill, he was improving. On 27th May 1919, Cairns was finally taken of the severely ill list.

Cairns returned to New Zealand on the 'Marama', embarking at Southhampton on 9 June 1919 and arrived in New Zealand on 17 July 1919. He was discharged from the Army on the termination of his period of engagement on 15 November 1919, he had spent a total of 3 years and 57 days in the army. He received the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Robert later arried May Elizabeth, they lived at 8 Virtue Avenue in Timaru. On 23 August 1973 he died aged 82 in Timaru. He and Elizabeth are buried in the General Section, Row 147, plot 1155 of the Timaru Cemetery.


Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [31 October 2016]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ ref AABK 18805 W5530 0021557[4 November 2016].

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Researched and Written by

Dianne Hall

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