The Cambridgeshire Regiment

 

Formation of The Cambridgeshire Rifle Volunteer Corps:

1st Cambridge

2nd Wisbech

3rd Cambridge University

4th Whittlesey

5th March

6th Ely

7th Upwell (Disbanded 1872)

8th Cambridge

9th Newmarket

10th Soham (Disbanded 1865)

1st Administrative Battalion Cambridgeshire Rifle Volunteer.

1st Cambridgeshire Volunteer Corps.

3rd (Cambridgeshire) Volunteer Battalion The Suffolk Regiment.

1st Battalion The Cambridgeshire Regiment (TF).

The Cambridgeshire Regiment (TF).

1/1st Battalion

2/1st Battalion (Disbanded 1918).

3/1st Battalion – 1915 – 1917.

4/1st Battalion – 1915 – 1917.

The Depot.

The Cambridgeshire Regiment (TA)

1st Battalion

2nd Battalion – Raised in1939

629 (The Cambridgeshire Regiment) Light Anti – Aircraft Regiment RA (TA).

629 (The Cambridgeshire Regiment) Parachute Light Regiment RA (TA).

1st Battalion The Cambridgeshire Regiment (TA).

The Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Regiment (TA).

D (Cambridgeshire) Company, 6th (Volunteer) Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment.

D (Cambridgeshire) Company, 5th (Volunteer) Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment.

Each Company of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment was affiliated with an association and its respective county in East Anglia.
D Company now has links with The Suffolk Regiment.

The History of The Cambridgeshire Regiment – Written by Patrick Macdonald

The Cambridgeshire Regiment traces its history to the formation of the Cambridgeshire Rifle Volunteer Corps in the year 1860. The County was one of the first to raise its own Volunteer Force and, in fact, a volunteer semi-military body had already been formed in the previous year under the guise of the Cambridge Rifle Club, which was later assimilated en bloc into the 1st Cambridgeshire Rifle Volunteer Corps – the RVC. In all, ten separate RVCs were raised in Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely during 1860, each having their own uniform, some grey and others green. The first combined ceremonial parade of these RVCs took place at Wisbech in 1863 on the occasion of the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales.
In time, the various Corps were amalgamated and became the lst Cambridgeshire RVC. A standard uniform was adopted, consisting of a scarlet tunic with dark blue facings and silver lace. Usually, such facings are only permitted to a Royal regiment and it is probable that their adoption was due to the influence of the Duke of Clarence, who took a close interest in the unit.
The Regiment’s long association with The Suffolk Regiment began in 1887 when the 1st Cambridgeshire RVC became the 3rd (Cambridgeshire) Volunteer Battalion The Suffolk Regiment. Since that time the regular army Permanent Staff have been provided by The Suffolk Regiment, with the exception of the post-war period 1947-1956 when The Regiment was part of the Royal Artillery. (Since 1959 the Permanent Staff have come progressively from the East Anglian and the Royal Anglian Regiments.)
During the South African War, in response to an appeal for members of the Volunteer Force to offer themselves for active service, a contingent of 3 officers (including the Padre) and 43 Other Ranks joined the Volunteer Service Company, The Suffolk Regiment. The party saw much heavy fighting in its service and earned the Regiment’s first Battle Honour “South Africa 1900-1901”.

The Militia was the oldest military force in the realm and existed, on and off, for more than 1000 years: a force available for defence against foreign enemies and domestic rebels. By the mid-18th century it had almost ceased to exist but, in 1756, the Government revived the Militia. Men between the ages of 18 and 45 years could be chosen for service by lot to serve for 3 years or pay £10 for the privilege of finding a substitute. In 1757, 30,000 Militia infantry were raised in England and Wales; the responsibility of Lord Lieutenants of Counties.
In Cambridgeshire, the Militia Regiment was raised in August 1759 (the month of the Battle of Minden), with a quota of 480 men formed into 8 companies. The Regiment was not embodied for the Seven Years’ War. They were to train for 4 weeks each year until they were eventually embodied, with other Regiments, in 1778, as a result of the threat posed by the alliance of the French and the rebellious American Colonies, with whom we had been at war since 1775. On 26 March 1778, the Lord Lieutenant received his Royal Warrant and the Regiment assembled in Cambridge in April. It left the County for the first time in August, marching to Great Yarmouth, where it remained until November.
It was the practice that the precedence of Regiments was determined by lots drawn at a meeting of Lord Lieutenants: Cambridgeshire drew 31.
The Regiment returned in March 1779. In May it became the 27th Regiment: a year later it was the 44th and moved to north London to be in reserve at the time of the “No Popery” riots raging in London. In April 1781, the precedence changed again – to 34: in 1782 it was to be the 25th. Movement around East Anglia continued, with only relatively brief spells in garrison in the County.

In 1783, peace had been concluded with America and the Militia were disembodied. For the 25th Regiment, this took place at Ely after 5 years’ service. For the next 10 years, little happened of note except routine training. However, in 1793, as a result of tension between Britain and France, the Regiment, with 13 others, was embodied on 22 January. Lots were again drawn and the Regiment emerged as the 11th. It remained thus until peace and disembodiment in 1802.
In March 1799 the Regiment moved to Dublin, rebellion having broken out in Ireland the previous year. As a result of this service several Militia Regiments were authorised to include an Irish Harp on their Regimental Colour. In April 1802 the Regiment was disembodied at Ely. Interestingly, by an Act of Parliament passed on 26 June, the Militia ceased to be exclusively Protestant in character.
On 25 March 1803, under a renewed threat of invasion, the Militia were called out once more, the 11th mustering at Ely. The Regiment became the 24th Regiment, which it remained until 1833. Duties took companies all over East Anglia.

In May 1810, we find the 24th in Hampstead and Highgate. By the Summer, it was at Hull and the following year in Durham, then at Sunderland and at Peebles. From there the Regiment went to Ireland once more, returning in 1815.
On 26 January 1816 the Regiment was disembodied at Ely after nearly 23 years duty (save for a few months in 1802-3). Apart from annual training – and this not every year – the Regiment’s life was quiet from 1816 to 1852. (Their precedence was changed to 68 in 1833.)
In 1853, the County bought some buildings and a plot of land for Militia Stores and a Parade Ground of about 3 acres in Ely. Later, accommodation for sergeants and a hospital were added.
1854 saw the Militia embodied again (the Crimean War) and the Cambridgeshires once more moved to Ireland. Before leaving, they received their new Colours from the Countess of Hardwicke at Ely Cathedral. The 68th returned home to be disembodied on 12 January 1856.
A few blank years now follow but, in 1878 the Militia Reserves were embodied for 3 months as a result of the wars in Afghanistan and South Africa.
On 24 May 1881 (the Queen’s Birthday) saw the 68th receiving new Colours from Lady Elizabeth Biddulph (daughter of the Earl of Hardwicke) at Ely Cathedral.
1881 was also the year of major reorganisations of the Infantry of the Line and the Militia (the Cardwell Reforms). Regiments of the Infantry were reorganised into Territorial Regiments, each of 4 battalions. The 1st and 2nd were to be the Regular Army battalions and the 3rd and 4th Militia, all bearing a name corresponding to the localities with which the regiment was connected. The Cambridgeshire Militia became 4th Battalion The Suffolk Regiment (Cambridgeshire Militia). The dress for all 4 battalions was to be identical, with militia battalions wearing an ‘M’ on their shoulder straps.
Annual training continued unremarkably through 1884 to 1889 when a Suffolk Brigade, of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalions, took part in the Queen’s Birthday Parade at Aldershot on 23 May. All 3 battalions wore Minden Roses. Ties with the Suffolk Regiment were by now well-established. In 1891, the Militia battalions paraded for the Queen’s Birthday, at Colchester; again wearing Minden Roses.
The annual routine continued until the next major reforms of the Army in 1908. These (the Haldane Reforms) included the closer integration of the Volunteers with the Regular Army, in the creation of the Territorial Force. The Militia, generally, was converted into the Special Reserve, to provide trained reinforcements for a regiment’s 2 line battalions and a training centre for the Territorial Force. The Cambridgeshire Militia was one of 23 battalions to be disbanded. The rest went in July 1919.

In March 1908 the old Volunteer Force came to an end and the Territorial Force was created in it’s stead. The 3rd (Cambridgeshire) Volunteer Battalion The Suffolk Regiment held its last parade, laid up its Colours in Great St Mary’s Church, Cambridge and became the 1st Battalion The Cambridgeshire Regiment. Since the Regiment shared, with three others in the Army List, the distinction of having no Regular Army battalion, it was granted the privilege of being the 1st Battalion of its Regiment.
The first Colours were presented by King Edward VII at Windsor in 1909.
The Territorial Force became the Territorial Army after the Great War.

The Territorial is a part-time soldier. In general terms, the Territorial pledges to train one evening a week, perhaps two weekends a month and to attend 14 consecutive days’ annual training. While training he or she receives Regular Army rates of pay for his/her rank and grade.
Territorials can only be called-out for full-time service by a Royal Proclamation in time of dire national emergency or war. (Militiamen, on the other hand, as ‘part-time conscripts’ were able to be called-out more readily and often undertook garrison duties to release Regular Army units for operations.)
Territorial units have a small Regular Army staff provided by the parent Regiment: in the case of the Cambridgeshires, this has invariably been the Suffolk Regiment, the East Anglian and now Royal Anglian Regiment (its successors).

1/1st Battalion

On the outbreak of war in August 1914, the 1st Battalion was at full strength and had just returned from Annual Camp. From it was formed the 1/1st Battalion for overseas service. It landed in France on 15 February 1915.
The 1/1st Battalion served continuously in France and Flanders from 1915 to 1919. The Regiment also raised the 2/1st, 3/1st and 4/1st Reserve and Drafting Battalions, the Depot, the 62nd Provisional Battalion for Home Service and three Volunteer battalions for guard duties at Home.
A total of 77 Officers and 789 Other Ranks were killed in action or died of wounds and 3,299 all ranks were wounded. The 1/1st Battalion earned 27 Battle Honours for the Regiment and received over 300 awards for gallantry.
Probably the most outstanding exploit of the 1/1st Battalion was the capture of the Schwaben Redoubt in October 1916. This strong fortress dominated Thiepval and the Ancre and successive attacks by the 18th Division had failed to take it. It was finally gained on 15 October by 1/1st Cambridgeshires with 4/5th Black Watch after hours of bitter fighting and severe losses. The action was the subject of a special commendation by Field Marshal The Earl Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force – the BEF, who referred to it as ‘one of the finest feats of arms in the history of the British Army’. In the course of the battle a reconnaissance aircraft dropped a message at brigade headquarters saying simply ‘Cambridgeshires going over as if on parade’. This achievement cost the Battalion 13 Officers and 200 Other Ranks killed or wounded.
An incident illustrating the fighting spirit of the 1/1st Battalion occurred at the end July 1917, during the offensive at St Julien. C Company had attacked and captured Border House, its objective, beyond the Hanebeek but, at a later stage, the position was outflanked and the survivors of the Company were ordered to fall back. A Runner with a bandaged head brought this message to Battalion Headquarters; ‘I received a message by Orderly to retire, but as Capt Jonas, before he was killed, said we were not to retire without written orders from the CO, I am holding Border House. There are only three of us left alive and two of those chaps is wounded. I am holding Border House until I get written orders to retire. (Signed) Private Muffet. 7.30 pm.’
The Cadre of the 1/1st Battalion returned home in May 1919 to a civic reception given by the City of Cambridge, where the wife of the Lord Lieutenant dressed the Colours with Victors’ wreaths of laurel. The battalion was greeted with wide acclaim throughout the County.

In addition to 1/1st CAMBS TF, another Cambridgeshire unit served with distinction in France and Flanders – 11 SUFFOLK, known affectionately as the Cambs/Suffolks. In addition, 203 (Cambs) Field Company Royal Engineers were also raised at this time.
At the outbreak of the war, men of the County enlisting for Infantry were sent to the Suffolk Regiment Depot at Bury St Edmunds. This soon became overcrowded and a relief camp was formed in Cambridge. From 5 September 1914 recruits were retained in Cambridge, billeted in the Corn Exchange and fed locally. Later, the men were transferred to the County School.
The War Office was asked to authorise the creation of a Cambridgeshire Service Battalion, as it was felt that ‘the large numbers of recruits coming forward entitled the County to a unit which should be strictly their own’. By 25 September, this unit was an accomplished fact and 3 months later it became the 11th Battalion The Suffolk Regiment.
11 SUFFOLK remained at Cambridge until 19 May 1915. Its strength was 47 officers and 1,404 other ranks. The 11th moved to Ripon to join 101 Brigade of 34 Division and crossed to France on 7/8 January 1916. It fought in the trenches in III Corps Sector (Armenti√©res) in February 1916. On to Picardy and the Somme in May for the major offensive in July (Pozieres). In 1917 Arras and the Scarpe (April) appear on the Battalion’s list of battles. In late August, Corporal Sidney Day won the Battalion’s only Victoria Cross. In October the Battalion returned to Flanders, having transferred to XIV Corps, but went back to Arras in October (VI Corps). In March 1918, the Battalion was in the line for the great German offensive and the subsequent fighting withdrawal, lasting several days. In May they joined 61 Division (XVII Corps) in the line and took part in the general advance in August and again in October/November.
11 SUFFOLK remained in France until 15 November 1919 when its Cadre arrived back in Cambridge to a civic reception. Losses had been 152 officers and 3,593 other ranks, of whom 43 and 915 gave their lives. The Battalion gained 26 awards for gallantry, including a Victoria Cross.
On 11 May 1922, the King’s Colour of 11 SUFFOLK was laid-up in Ely Cathedral, where it remains to this day.

After the 1914-1918 War the Regiment reverted to a single battalion and continued so until early in 1939. Many who had served in the War rejoined to rebuild the Regiment in peacetime and, in spite of the usual period of widespread post-war apathy and discouragement, the 1st Battalion was gradually built up to a high standard of spirit and efficiency. The Battalion was highly commended for its competence with the ‘new’ post-war infantry tactics on divisional manoeuvres at Camp by such worthy commentators as Captain Basil Liddell-Hart. It won the Lewis Gun competition at Bisley in three successive years. The Trophy, donated by the Colonel of the Regiment, became The Cambridgeshire Regiment Cup as a result. The Battalion’s Signallers also won the Army’s Dartmouth Cup with a score of 100%.
At the beginning of 1939, authority was given for the raising of a second battalion and this was completed in a matter of days. The 1st and 2nd Battalions attended Camp together in August 1939.

After mobilisation, both battalions joined the 18th (East Anglian) Division and spent the first year of the War on defence duties along the Norfolk coast. Following a period of training in Scotland and the Midlands, they embarked for service in the Middle East. However, as a result of Japan’s entry into the War, the Division was diverted, while at sea, to the Far East. 1 CAMBS went to India, while 2 CAMBS sailed on to Singapore, with the rest of 53 Infantry Brigade.
On arrival there, 2 CAMBS were sent upcountry to reinforce the 15th Indian Brigade at Batu Pahat. The garrison was soon surrounded. The Brigade, in addition to 2 CAMBS, included the ‘British Battalion’ containing all that remained, at that time in the retreat, of 1st Battalion The Leicester Regiment and 2nd Battalion The East Surrey Regiment, as well as 5th Battalion The Royal Norfolk Regiment (TA), a Gunner battery and a company of the Malay Regiment. It held the town against a division of the Japanese Imperial Guards for ten days. When the time came, the survivors were ordered to cut their way out to rejoin the British line some 30 miles to the South. After breaking through the enemy’s encirclement at Senggarang, some 500 members of 2 CAMBS fought their way back to Singapore Island.
Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion, after a very brief spell in India, arrived with the Division in time to take part in the final battles for Singapore. Moving straight into the line, it dug in around Sime Road Camp and proceeded to hold its positions against constant attacks by superior numbers of infantry and tanks. When Singapore finally fell, 1 CAMBS had already been surrounded for two days but was still unbroken.
The 2nd Battalion, after 3 days rest for regrouping and re-equipping, had moved back into the line near the Naval Base. It was twice again surrounded and ordered to fight its way back. 2 CAMBS finally stood to the last at Braddell Road, where it was attacked from front and rear and lost its Battalion Headquarters. When the surrender came, 2 CAMBS had been reduced to a series of isolated posts still fighting determinedly under its surviving officers and NCOs.
Both Battalions earned commendations from Lieutenant General A.E. Percival in his ‘History of the Malayan Campaign’ and won for the Regiment the Battle Honours Batu Pahat, Johore, Singapore Island and Malaya 1942.
The price was 24 Officers and 760 Other Ranks killed in action or died as prisoners of war in the hands of the Japanese.

The Singapore Drums: On 29 January 1942, both battalions of the Regiment were reunited in the bitter fighting of the defence of Singapore. With defeat inevitable, a party of some 20 soldiers, under command of Sergeants Ron Kitson and Ernie Morgan, were detailed to guard some of the Regiment’s possessions, including the prized Drums. The possessions also included some personal baggage. The guard duty was short-lived and, having hidden their treasures in the Goodwood Hotel, the men were recalled to their battle positions.
No one knew of the Drums’ fate after the surrender. All might have been forgotten had not Miss Mary Taylor, a Red Cross Welfare Officer been billeted in the grounds of the Hotel at the end of 1945. (Miss Taylor, now Mrs Mary Dawson, had several Cambridgeshire relatives, including a brother, in the Regiment. Mrs Dawson’s sister Nancy and her husband, Grant Buck are Sponsors of the Collection.)
Investigating outbuildings as possible storerooms, she spotted some drums and recognised the Regimental Badge. She arranged for the Drums to be returned to England where, in February 1946, her father handed them back to the Regiment in Cambridge.
The Drums had last been played in Cape Town in 1941 and it was decided that, now they were returned, they would be paraded in silence to honour the memory of the fallen at Singapore and thereafter. The reformation of the 1st Battalion in 1957, with its new Corps of Drums, gave the Regiment a chance to use them again to the full, re-emblazoned with the new Battle Honours. The Singapore Drums are now displayed in the Cambridgeshire Collection at the IWM Duxford and in the Ely Museum.

The Prison Camp Radio: The venture, to produce perhaps the first secret radio in Japanese POW Camps in Singapore, began in June 1942. The parts were scavenged by members of 2 CAMBS from abandoned ex RAF equipment which the Japanese had carelessly deposited outside their Guardroom at Sime Road Camp. Captain John Beckett, the Adjutant, discussed with Corporal Rogers, a competent electrician, the possibility of assembling a radio receiver. Sergeant Watson of 135 Field Regiment RA had some knowledge of radios and the three set about the task. The radio was built and concealed in a latrine with the antenna hidden in the attap roof. Rogers tapped into the mains and all was ready. Parts left over were secreted to radio enthusiasts in other camps. Each night the News was taken down in shorthand by Sergeant Badcock, the Orderly Room Sergeant, and a news bulletin prepared by him for the CO, Lieutenant Colonel Victor Mapey, to disseminate at his discretion.
When the party was ordered to Thailand the radio was dismantled and concealed in empty food tins under the care of the QM, Captain Harry Cotton. On arrival at Chungkai Camp the radio had to be converted to battery power, there being no mains supply. Contact was made with Lieutenant Tom Douglas, Royal Signals, a former BBC Engineer who, using the Battalion’s radio parts, together with others he had acquired, was able to create five or six miniature sets one of which he handed over to the Adjutant. The set was built into a cigarette tin and worked by batteries covertly bought from local Chinese traders by Lieutenant J. Masefield of the Malay Volunteers. When the 2 CAMBS party was moved onwards to Bankau Camp Tom Douglas reconstructed the radio in an issue waterbottle, cleverly arranged to still contain water. At Wan Tai Kien Camp a Japanese guard accidentally stumbled on a lead that the set existed but, fortunately, his greater interest was in acquiring John Beckett’s Rolex watch and this saved the day and possibly some lives. Each move was by forced march through virgin jungle which produced its own security problems. At Takanun Camp the set was installed in an officers’ hut with the batteries hidden in a bamboo support for the roof. The connecting wires led to John Beckett’s bed-frame with another wire, as antenna, supporting a mosquito net. A sawn-off telephone earpiece was the speaker, it spent the day hidden in his spare boot.
The set, which received BBC World Service Bulletins in the 19 and 25 metre-bands, survived numerous searches by the Japanese secret police and Kempetei, until its life was brought to a close on the Battalion’s return to the base camp at Chungkai, where a similar radio was already working. It had served the Battalion well from June 1942 to March 1945. Others in 2 CAMBS who shared the risks were Lieutenant Fred Fernie and Corporal Tingey.

11 Battalions were raised, with a total strength of over 22,000 all ranks, many who had previously served in an active Battalion of the Regiment. The Regiment pays tribute to the men of the Home Guard who wore the regimental badge with such credit and distinction.

Skip to toolbar