Robert Cain

Robert Henry Cain was born on January 2, 1909, in Shanghai. Not much is known about his early life. However, it is known that his family moved back to the Isle of Man in the Irish sea when he was a child. He would be educated at King William’s College as a young adult.

In 1928, Robert Cain joined the Honorable Artillery Company, a unit of the Territorial Army (TA). He went on the reserve list on February 12, 1931. He also worked for the Shell Company in Thailand and Malaysia during this time.

Robert Henry Cain received an emergency commission into the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers as a second lieutenant. In April 1943, he received the rank of temporary Major, a position he would be fully granted in 1945. His company landed in Sicily in July 1943 as part of Operation Ladbroke. There, he took command of the Battalion’s B Company.

As the Allies attempted to advance into Arnhem, they decided to do so via three separate lifts over three days. However, five minutes after departing, things went south, and they had to turn back. Cain instead went in with the second lift the next day, September 17, 1944. When he arrived, he and his troops were immediately sent forward. They were soon met by the enemy.[1]

When Cain has men encountered the enemy, they came face to face with several tanks and guns. They fell back, but very few of them were able to escape, and the other Companies around them were forced to surrender. Cain was the only senior officer of the Battalion to escape. He would later refer to the incident as the “South Staff’s Waterloo.”[2]

As they fell back, Cain was ordered to dig in since another battalion had been able to capture a piece of wooded high ground known as the Den Brink. However, the tree roots made it almost impossible to do so, and after suffering severe casualties, Cain decided to withdraw back to the Oosterbeck.

Kane attempted to help defend the Lonsdale forces sector that covered the southern end of the eastern Oosterbeck perimeter. It is said that during the following days, Cain could be found everywhere, consistently encouraging his men and dealing with armor and snipers. On Thursday the 21st, two tanks approached his position. Guided by a colleague, he waited in a trench until the first tank was close enough to engage. The tank fired at the building and killed Cain’s colleague. Still, he held his position. Cain fired round after round until the tank was disabled. While engaging with the second tank, around exploded in his face and threw him backward. He later recalled thinking he was blind and “shouting like a hooligan. I shouted to somebody to get into the PIAT because there was another tank behind. I blubbered and yelled and used some very colorful language. They dragged me off to the aid post.”[3]

It was initially a thought that Cain was blind. However, within half an hour, his sight returned. He refused morphia and returned to the front lines against all advice. The next day, his eardrums burst from the constant firing. He stuffed his ears with band-aids and continued fighting. By the end of the battle, it was reported that Cain was responsible for the destruction or disabling of six tanks and several self-propelling guns.

After the war ended, Cain returned to his previous occupation with the Shell Company. He continued to live in East Asia and then West Africa. In 1951, he was elected to the Nigerian House of Representatives. He retired and returned to Britain in 1965.

Cain died of cancer on May 2, 1974. His body was cremated, and his ashes were interred in the family grave on the Isle of Man.[4]

[1] Robert Kershaw, “It Never Snows in September,” 1990, Shepperton, UK edition, 303.
[2] Martin Middlebrook, “Arnhem 1944: The Airborne Battle,” Viking Press, 1994, 203.
[3] “Major Robert Henry Cain,” Pegasus Archive,
[4] Winston Ramsey, ed.”Arnhem VC’s”. After the Battle – Arnhem (Special Issue, 1986): 27–30.

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