The project by a group of Royal British Legion (RBL) Riders to commemorate every man from the Cambridgeshire Regiment killed in the First World War has concluded with a small ceremony at Guyhirn, near Wisbech.
In 2014 a group of RBL motorcycle enthusiasts decided that they would hold a service to mark the centenary of the death of each of the 876 men of the Cambridgeshire Regiment killed in action or accidents, or who died of illness or of wounds inflicted during the war, up until 1921. They visited the graveside of every soldier and held ceremonies of remembrance, with the exception of two who died in Africa; these were remembered at services at Ely Cathedral. Between them, they clocked up 196,779 miles, travelled across the country and even ventured to the continent to pay their respects to soldiers in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany.
Cadet Colour Sgt Charlie Rice and HM Lord Lieutenant Mrs Julie Spence OBE QPM, at the ceremony of Remembrance for Private Payne, Guyhirn. Picture; Cambs ACF.
On 24th May 2021, a small crowd gathered at a Guyhirn village cemetery to honour the last of 876 fallen soldiers. This marked 100 years since Private John Payne died from wounds he sustained in a gas attack in 1917. The ceremony was socially distanced and Covid 19 restrictions limited the number of attendees to 30, with Cambridgeshire ACF being represented by Colour Sgt Charlie Rice of Whittlesey Detachment. CSgt Rice is one of our Lord Lieutenant’s Cadets and was accompanying the Lord Lieutenant, Mrs Julie Spence OBE QPM. Also paying their respects were Cambs 876 Committee Members, Lt Col (Retired) David Denson TD of the Cambridgeshire Regt Association, representatives of the Royal Anglian Regt Association, the Royal British Legion and two former ACF Commandants, (retired) Colonels Mark Knight MBE DL and Colin Elsden DL.
France 2016: Cadets prepare to lay a wreath. Picture: Cambs ACF
Cambridgeshire ACF has supported the whole project throughout the seven-year period, with cadets joining each service held in the county of Cambridgeshire and notably also in France, to commemorate the taking of the Schwaben Redoubt, a German fortress on the Somme, by the men of the Cambridgeshire Regt in Oct 1916. During the battle, 42 gallantry awards were won by men of the Regiment. In 2016, a party of 40 Cadets and Adults undertook a four day journey to France and Belgium to take part in a days service of remembrance along with the Cambs 876 Remembered Committee.
Cadets and RBL members pay their respects, France 2016. Picture: Cambs ACF
The then Commandant, Col Mark Knight MBE DL recalls the visit well. “ I will always remember the sight of our cadets standing next to a war grave alongside a Cambs 876 Member ready to lay a poppy cross on a Cambridgeshire Regt soldier. Not a sound could be heard as the cadet laid the poppy cross and Last Post sounded across the cemetery. We also paraded in uniform at the Menin Gate, Ypres, later that evening. It was an occasion to remember seeing our cadets under the memorial to 54,000 soldiers killed in WW1 with no known grave. It was the most emotional part of my cadet service and no doubt was also for all attending that day”.
Cadets, CFAVs, members of the RBL and others at the commemoration for Captain Gordon Allan, November 2019. Picture; Doug Stuart
The Cambridgeshire Regiment was an Infantry Regiment of the Territorial Force, which during the First World War was intended for home defence. On the outbreak of war, thousands of men from the Regiment volunteered to go to France, with Corporal Arthur Rawson the first to die in August 1914. He is buried in Whittlesey Cemetery. The Regiment served in other conflicts, including The Second World War, before being disbanded in 1961. Cambridgeshire ACF has strong historic connections with the Regiment; we once wore their cap badge and still wear their colours on our uniform today.
A group of soldiers from The Cambridgeshire Regiment, c.1915.
Christine Green, who researched the lives of every solider, said: “It has been an incredible project to work on. In 2014, when we first started, there were massive commemorations to mark the centenary since the start of the First World War, and the Royal British Legion encouraged branches to research the lives of 10 soldiers from their area. My late husband Glenn initially researched the backgrounds of 13 men, but that number seemed inadequate when the Commonwealth War Graves states 876 from the Cambridgeshire Regiment lost their lives. So, we formed a committee, and set about honouring them all. Sadly, Glenn passed away in June 2018, but everyone agreed the project should still be completed in his name. If he was here today, I know he'd be so proud. We thank Cambridgeshire ACF for their tremendous support on the project journey. All have made new friends, met the ancestors of soldiers, and most importantly visited the graves and memorials of these incredibly brave men. Their lives needed to be remembered.”
In 2015, the committee was awarded the Freedom of Wisbech for their dedication and commitment to the project. Each soldier’s story is now featured on the Royal British Legion’s 'Every One Remembered’ website. http://www.cambs876remembered....
Text by PI Doug Stuart with thanks to Colonel (retired) Mark Knight MBE DL.