Scottish Twins Died On the Same Day at Anzio During WWII

The Herald Scotland reported on January 21, 2014 the story of two Scottish twins who perished during the Second World War on the same day.

Interactive information panels linked to smartphones have been installed at Anzio and Beach Head war cemeteries in the south of Rome ahead of the 70th anniversary events that commemorate Operation Shingle.

Among those who will be featured are Fife-Born John and Thomas Cairncross. These gentlemen died after being among 100,000 Allied troops who waded ashore at Anzio on January 22, 1944, at the start of one of the bloodiest campaigns of Second World War.

The twins joined the London Scottish Regiment on their 19th birthday. They died on February 4th, the regiment came under heavy fire during a German counterattack.

The twins enlisted as privates and they were members of a force that were sent to relieve a decimated unit of the Gordon Highlanders.

John (L) and Thomas Cairncross, British twins who lost their lives on the same day, 4th Februray 1944, during the allied landing at Anzio
John (L) and Thomas Cairncross, British twins who lost their lives on the same day, 4th Februray 1944, during the allied landing at Anzio

One Cairncross twin died at Carroceto which is a village located 10 miles north of Anzio. The other twin was killed nearby. It is uncertain which sibling died first.

London Scottish Regiment veteran Private Robert Cunning, later wrote: “One of the brothers was killed and the other determined to take revenge on the Germans who killed his brother.”

Both twins were buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Anzio War Cemetery. It was only when primary school children from the twins’ hometown of Newburgh began researching names from the local war memorial four years ago had the story of the twins come to light.

The students learned that the twins had two other brothers and a sister. The brothers, Alexander and Hugh, still live in Newburgh, and the sister unfortunately had passed away.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (GWGC) visitor information panels which are installed at the Anzio and beach Head war cemeteries can now connect to phones. This will allow visitors to get more information about the battles that took place and the personal stories of some of the people who were buried there… Including the Fife twins.

Robert Fox, CWGC commissioner, has unveiled the memorial on January 22nd, and said: “The cemeteries and memorials created and maintained by the CWGC are of huge historical significance.

“They are also deeply moving on a personal level.

“The CWGC’s innovative use of technology – and our interactive visitor information panel program in particular – help to tell the extraordinary story of the sacrifices made by Common-wealth servicemen and women in the Italian campaign.”

The panels at Anzio are among 500 to be installed at CWGC locations all across the globe. Some of the first installations will be placed at WWII cemeteries. Each of the panels feature information about the site of the cemetery and a QR (quick response) code.

When the code is scanned with a smartphone, the code will provide access to more information on their phones. Some of the information will include the stories of some of the victims who were buried there or commemorated at the location.

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE