Major Robert Cain VC

Major Robert Cain was awarded the Victoria Cross in the battle for Arnhem. He was the sole recipient, out of the five Victoria Crosses awarded during that battle, who survived.

Although Robert Henry Cain was born in Shangai on 2 January 1909 he grew up on the Isle of Man where he was educated at King William’s College. In 1928 Cain joined the Territorial unit; the Honourable Artillery Company, while working for Shell.

In April 1940 he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. In 1942, he was seconded to 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire and in April 1943 he was given the temporary rank of Major. He landed with the Battalion’s in Sicily in July 1943 as part of the 1stAirlanding Brigade. In the same month, Cain took command of the battalion’s B Company. 

In 1944 he was part of the forces which took, Arnham as part of Operation Market Garden.

Originally expected to be part of the airlift on 17th September, a problem with the tow rope breaking forced his glider to land in the UK so he finally arrived in Arnham on 18th September.

There is probably no better report of his action than the official citation:

War Office, 2nd November, 1944.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve awards of the VICTORIA CROSS to: —

Captain (temporary Major) Robert Henry Cain (129484), The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, (attd. The South Staffordshire Regiment) (I Airborne Division) (Salcombe, Devon).

In Holland on 19th September, 1944, Major Cain was commanding a rifle company of the South Staffordshire Regiment during the Battle of Arnhem when his company was cut off from the rest of the battalion and during the next six days was closely engaged with enemy tanks, self-propelled guns and infantry. The Germans made repeated attempts to break into the company position by infiltration and had they succeeded in doing so the whole situation of the Airborne Troops would have been jeopardised.

Major Cain, by his outstanding devotion to duty and remarkable powers of leadership, was to a large extent personally responsible for saving a vital sector from falling into the hands of the enemy.

On 20th September a Tiger tank approached the area held by his company and Major Cain went out alone to deal with it armed with a Piat. Taking up a position he held his fire until the tank was only 20 yards away when he opened up. The tank immediately halted and turned its guns on him, shooting away a corner of the house near where this officer was lying. Although wounded by machine gun bullets and falling masonry, Major Cain continued firing until he had scored several direct hits, immobilised the tank and supervised the bringing up of a 75 mm. howitzer which completely destroyed it. Only then would he consent to have his wounds dressed.

In the next morning this officer drove off three more tanks by the fearless use of his Piat, on each occasion leaving cover and taking up position in open ground with complete disregard for his personal safety.

During the following days, Major Cain was everywhere where danger threatened, moving amongst his men and encouraging them by his fearless example to hold out. He refused rest and medical attention in spite of the fact that his hearing had been seriously impaired because of a perforated eardrum and he was suffering from multiple wounds.

On 25 September the enemy made a concerted attack on Major Cain’s position, using self-propelled guns, flame throwers and infantry. By this time the last Piat had been put out of action and Major Cain was armed with only a light 2″ mortar. However, by a skilful use of this weapon and his daring leadership of the few men still under his command, he completely demoralized the enemy who, after an engagement lasting more than three hours, withdrew in disorder.

Throughout the whole course of the Battle of Arnhem, Major Cain showed superb gallantry. His powers of endurance and leadership were the admiration of all his fellow officers and stories of his valour were being constantly exchanged amongst the troops. His coolness and courage under incessant fire could not be surpassed. 

(There are some errors in Cain’s citation. The action described as occurring on the 20th actually took place on the 21st and the Tiger tank he engaged was in fact a StuG III). 

Although hostilities ended on 8thMay, 1945 there was a concern that some of the German forces remaining in Norway may fight on. Cain travelled to Oslo, Norway, with the 1stAirlanding Brigade on 11 May 1945. Working the Norwegian resistance, the British took the surrender of German troops in Norway without incident. He returned to the UK on 25 August 1945.

Cain officially relinquished his wartime commission on 28 December 1945 and was granted the honorary rank of Major.

Upon leaving the army he went back to his pre-war occupation with Shell, initially returning to East Asia before moving on to West Africa. In 1951 he was elected to the Nigerian House of Representatives while working there. He returned to Britain in 1965 and settled in the Isle of Man upon his retirement.

Cain died of cancer on 2 May 1974 in Sussex , his body was cremated at Worth Crematorium and its ashes interred in the family grave at Braddan Cemetery on the Isle of Man.

His medal list is:

Victoria Cross

1939-1945 Star

Italy Star

France & Germany Star

Defence Medal

War Medal 1939-1945

Efficiency Decoration

Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal

Here is a link to a Pathe news video of the troops from Arnham attending an event at Buckingham palace: