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