John Cairns EM

b. 22/01/1866 Cleator Moor, Cumberland. d. 1st Quarter 1944 Penrith, Cumberland.

DATE OF EM ACTION: 13/03/1913 Townhead Mine, Egremont, Cumberland.

John was born on 22nd January 1866 in Cleator Moor, Cumberland, the son of Margaret Cairns. From a young age, John became a miner at the Townhead Iron Ore Mine near Egremont, Cumbria. He married Ann, and in 1891, John and Ann had four children, living in Cleator Moor, with his mother, and brother Michael. By the 1901 Census, his family had grown to seven children, and his now elderly mother was still living in the family home. Between 1908 and 1911, sadly Annie Cairns passed away, living John a widower, raising seven of his children alone. Their ages ranging between 23 and 3. He was living at 104 Birks Road in Cleator Moor at the time. Little else is known about John, except that by the outbreak of World War II in 1939, he was now an incapacitated iron ore miner aged 73 living with his daughter and her two children in Ennerdale. John died in 1944, aged 78.


On the 13th of March an inrush of water from old workings occurred at the Townhead Iron Ore Mine, Egremont, Cumberland, shortly after a number of men had descended the pit shaft to their work. As soon as the alarm was raised all men made for the shaft bottom, with the exception of James Ward, who had gone alone to his usual working place some distance from the others. Cairns was rushing to the shaft to escape, when he recollected that Ward, who was working alone, would be unaware of the danger till too late. He promptly turned back to find Ward and hurry him out of the working. By the time he had reached him the water had risen and the two men found it impossible to get back to the shaft. Luckily, they reached a stone drift above the water level, which happened to be connected with the surface by a six-inch borehole. Through this bore-hole communications were made to them from above and food was sent down. They remained imprisoned for 5 days until they were rescued after the mine had been cleared of water. There is no doubt that Cairns imperiled his own life by his plucky action in going back into the mine to give warning to Ward.