Major Robert Cain after receiving the Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace.

Victoria Cross: Robert Cain

in General information/Oosterbeek

Major Robert Cain was one of five British soldiers to earn a Victoria Cross during the Battle of Arnhem – the highest British military award. Of these five soldiers, Robert Cain is the only one who survived the Battle of Arnhem.

Major Cain and the South Staffords landed on Ginkel Heath on Monday, September 18, 1944. The South Staffords Regiment attempted to fight its way to the bridge on Tuesday, September 19. Due to a force majeure of German tanks, that attack ended at the municipal museum on the Utrechtseweg.

Because Major Cain was the highest ranking officer of the unit who had not been killed or injured, he attempted to steer the South Staffords’ chaotic retreat.

In Oosterbeek, the remainder of Cain’s unit was partly responsible for the defense of the east side of the British sector, at the Oude Kerk on the Benedendorpseweg. The heroic performance he displayed here earned him the Victoria Cross.

Due to the disastrous attack at the municipal museum, Cain had developed an intense hatred for the German tanks. He saw it as his most important task to eliminate as many as possible.

From the nomination for the Victoria Cross:
“Major Cain, for his outstanding devotion to duty and remarkable leadership skills, was largely personally responsible for saving a vital sector front.”

On September 20, a Tiger tank approached the area defended by Cain’s company. Major Cain set out alone, armed with a PIAT anti-tank gun, to take out the tank. He took a position and waited until the tank was only 20 meters away before opening fire.

The tank immediately stopped and turned its cannon. In an attempt to take out Cain, the German tank shot the corner of a house. Cain was injured by the falling brickwork, but continued to fire his PIAT until he immobilized the tank. Meanwhile, other soldiers had deployed a 75 mm howitzer that completely destroyed the tank.

Cain had now turned his attention to the next tank. However, the grenade in his anti-tank gun exploded prematurely. Blinded by the blow, Cain was taken to a first aid post with a blackened face.

Not injured enough
Cain was afraid he was blind, but his eyesight returned after half an hour. Against the doctor’s advice, he declared himself ready for battle again. “I am not injured enough,” Cain said.

In the days that followed, Major Cain, often alone, went hunting for German tanks with a PIAT. On September 22, his eardrums burst due to the constant explosions. Cain stuffed cotton wool in his ears and continued.

At some point, the PIATs ran out of ammunition. Cain improvised by using mortar shells to take out tanks instead.

When Robert Cain was evacuated over the Rhine along with the remainder of the Airborne division on Tuesday 26 September, he had eliminated a total of six tanks, including four Tiger tanks. In addition, he had also destroyed a number of motorized field artillery.

From the nomination for the Victoria Cross:
“During the Battle of Amhem, Major Cain was extremely brave. His stamina and leadership aroused admiration from his colleagues, and stories of his prowess were constantly exchanged between the troops. His cold-bloodedness and courage under ceaseless fire could not be surpassed.”

After the war, Cain returned to the job he had at Shell before the war. He worked in Asia and later in western Africa. In 1965 he returned to Great Britain and went to live on the Isle of Man. Cain died in 1974.

Top Gear
Jeremey Clarkson (yes, of Top Gear) made an impressive documentary about the history of the Victoria Cross. It examines extensively the exploits of Robert Cain during the Battle of Arnhem.

Clarkson: “Robert Cain was one of the five British soldiers who was awarded the Victoria Cross after the Battle of Arnhem, and the only one who could recount it. Not that he told about it.”

“I unfortunately never met him, which is unfortunate for two reasons. Firstly, I am fascinated by VC winners and secondly, I am married to his daughter. ”

The (very good) documentary can be seen here:

The five Victoria Crosses during the Battle of Arnhem were awarded to:
Lieutenant John Hollington Grayburn
Flight Lieutenant David Samuel Anthony Lord
Lance Sergeant John Baskeyfield
Captain Lionel Queripel
Major Robert Henry Cain .

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