Project has now honoured all 876 Cambridgeshire Regiment men killed in WW1

Members of the Royal British Legion Riders Branch and soldiers from the Cambridgeshire Regiment

The cambs876remembered project has commemorated the lives of all 876 Cambridgeshire Regiment soldiers who fell during the First World War. - Credit: Supplied by Christine Green

A small crowd gathered at a village cemetery in the Fens to honour the last of 876 soldiers from the Cambridgeshire Regiment to have fallen in the First World War.

Monday (May 24) marked 100 years since Private John Payne died from the wounds he sustained in action in 1917.

He had been caught up in a gas attack and spent the final years of his life back in the Fens suffering with phthisis, a condition where the eyeball deteriorates and shrinks in size.

The grave of Private John Payne at Guyhirn Old Churchyard

The grave of Private John Payne at Guyhirn Old Churchyard. - Credit: cambs876remembered

Private Payne was aged 33 when he died in 1921. Records show he was married to Florence who lived at the Toll House in Rings End.

And last Saturday (May 22), a Covid-secure service was held at his graveside in the Guyhirn Old Churchyard to commemorate his life.

Julie Spence OBE, the Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, her Cadet Colour Sergeant Charlie Rice of the Whittlesey Detachment and representatives of the Royal British Legion were among those who attended and paid their respects.

Julie Spence OBE, the Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire and her cadet at the service

Julie Spence OBE, the Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire (right) and her Cadet Colour Sergeant Charlie Rice of the Whittlesey Detachment (Left) at the grave of Private John Payne in Guyhirn. - Credit: cambs876remembered

There, everyone heard the story of Private Payne’s life, and a personalised poppy cross was placed on his grave.

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The service also marked the end of an extraordinary project which, over the last seven years, has commemorated every soldier that fell during the conflict from the Cambridgeshire Regiment.

Royal British Legion cambs876remembered committee and riders

Members of the Royal British Legion cambs876remembered committee and riders at Guyhirn Old Churchyard where they were honouring the life of Private John Payne. It was the 100th anniversary of his death. - Credit: cambs876remembered

Known as 'cambs876remembered', a committee from the Eastern Region’s Royal British Legion Riders Branch honoured each life of the 876 men killed.

The riders branch is made up of motorcycle enthusiasts, and to mark the 100th anniversary of each soldier’s death the group would ride to his memorial or grave for a service.

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.

Two who passed away in Africa were honoured in Ely Cathedral.

Photograph of Corporal Arthur Rawson who was killed in August 1914

Corporal Arthur Rawson (front and centre) was the first soldier the cambs876remembered project honoured in August 2014. He is buried in Whittlesey Cemetery. - Credit: cambs876remembered

Corporal Arthur Rawson, from Whittlesey, kneels at the front of this photograph

This photograph of Corporal Arthur Rawson, from Whittlesey, (front - kneeling) was among those discovered after the cambs876remembered project honoured the centenary of his death. - Credit: cambs876remembered

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. Everyone will remember the poppies at the Tower of London.

“More locally, 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.”

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. Some were killed in action, others lost their lives in tragic accidents or through illness.

The first man from the Cambridgeshire Regiment to be remembered back in August 2014 was Corporal Arthur Rawson, who is buried at Whittlesey Cemetery.

Corporal Arthur Rawson's funeral

Corporal Arthur Rawson's funeral procession in August 1914. - Credit: cambs876remembered

Corporal Arthur Rawson's grave at Whittlesey Cemetery

Corporal Arthur Rawson's grave at Whittlesey Cemetery. - Credit: cambs876remembered

Since his service, photographs of him have been shared with the project.

While each individual’s story is fascinating, one that will always stand out for Christine is that of Second Lieutenant Gilbert McMicking who studied modern languages at Trinity College, Cambridge.

He was sent to Germany to further his education, and war broke out while he was there.

A letter he wrote to his officer commanding was intercepted by the Germans and he was placed at a prisoner of war camp at Celle Castle, near Hanover, for three-and-a-half years.

Painting of the façade of the castle which looks onto Celle's Altstadt, near Hanover

Façade of Celle Castle, near Hanover, close to where Second Lieutenant Gilbert McMicking was held as a prisoner of war. - Credit: cambs876remembered

In 1917, he was transported to the Netherlands as part of a prisoner exchange, but died of Spanish Flu on Armistice Day in Den Bosch hospital.

To mark the centenary of his death, members of the Royal British Legion Riders Branch travelled to the Dutch city where the Mayor welcomed them with a civic reception.

They were also invited to take part in other events for the city.

Christine added: “The entire project has been such a fascinating journey.

“We've 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.”

A cambs876remembered cake

An 876 cake baked to mark the end of the cambs876remembered project. - Credit: cambs876remembered


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