The G Company Tug-of-war team at Ashridge Park camp in 1914. Back row from left to right: Pte J.W. Edwards, L/Cpl G. Burbridge, Sgt G.H. Grange, Pte H. Bullen, and Pte J.W. Sutton. Front row left to right: Pte J.W. Richards, Cpl G. Chapman, 2nd Lt J.W.A. Ollard, Pte A. Sallabanks and Pte H.Richards.

George Burbridge MC in 1918.

Arthur Sallabanks after mobilisation in 1914.

Benwick village war memorial.

Chapman while serving in the 3/1st Btn.

The 1914 Wimblington Gala winning 'Benwick Chickens' Tug-of-war team.

Every Picture Tells a Story - 'The Benwick Chickens' Tug-of-war Team

It is said that every picture tells a story and there are many interesting tales that can be found relating to photographs of men of the Cambridgeshire Regiment.

One such example is the picture of a tug-of-war team formed by G Company of the 1st Cambridgeshire Regiment. The men in the team were all recruits in January 1914 from the fenland village of Benwick, where enough men had enlisted to allow them to have their own drill station, rather than having to travel to the company HQ at March.

With each of the battalion’s eight companies entering a team to compete in the sports at the annual summer camp, it was the G Company eight that pulled their way to victory on July 28th 1914 at Ashridge Park, Berkhampstead.

The muscular bunch of farm labourers needed only two pulls to win the final, going on to represent the battalion in the Brigade Cup and winning that event too. These men were not newcomers to tug-of-war, a popular event at local galas in the county’s towns and villages. Indeed the eight men, calling themselves the ‘Benwick Chickens’, had defeated a team from March at the Wimblington gala earlier in July 1914.

The eight, who all enlisted in January 1914, were mobilised with the 1st Battalion in August 1914. Here are their stories:

Pte John William Edwards

The husband of Mrs A E Edwards, of The Lane, Benwick, he was posted to 2/1st Battalion in late 1914 and then 3/1st Battalion, being sent with a draft to the Western Front on September 16th 1916. His draft, including his pal and fellow 'Benwick Chicken' Harry Richards, left the training camp at Etaples on September 26th going by train to Corbie, where 94 men were transferred to the 9th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment. Edwards was wounded on October 14th, 1916. He died of wounds after being wounded for the second time, aged 29, on March 13th 1917 and is buried at Bethune Town Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

L/Cpl George Burbridge

The son of George and Alice Burbridge, of Little London, Benwick, he was a Corporal by the end of 1914. He sailed to the Western Front on February 14th 1915 with the 1/1st Cambs, being a member of the new D coy. Promoted Acting Sgt and Sgt the following month, he succeeded George Chapman as Company Sergeant Major of D coy in July 1916. During the battalion’s attack at St Julien on July 31st 1917, his actions when taking command of C and D companies after all officers became casualties resulted in the award of the Military Cross. The citation for his MC can be found by clicking here.

George was gassed in November 1917, he was sent to the UK where he was posted to the Cambs & Suffolk Reserve Battalion, Suffolk Regiment in 1918 and remained in the UK until he was demobilized in February 1919. Burbridge was presented with his MC by King George V at Buckingham Palace in May 1919. He died in 1946.

Sgt George Henry Grange

Not a member of the team but appears in the Ashridge Park photograph. A Post Office clerk, he lived in The Avenue, March. Joining the 1st Battalion in 1908 from the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, Suffolk Regiment, he also went to the Western Front on February 14th 1915, as a Sergeant in D coy, but was sent to the UK suffering from a nervous complaint after heat stroke in June 1915.

Promoted to Company Sgt-Major, he was posted to 3/1st Battalion, but was later transferred to the 9th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment TF (a home service unit), before becoming Acting RSM of a Training Reserve Battalion. Awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for valuable service in connection with the war, he died in 1924.

Pte Harry Bullen

The son of Thomas and Sarah Ann Bullen, of Benwick, he also went to the Western Front with the 1/1st Battalion on February 14th 1915, with D coy, being promoted L/cpl the following month and Cpl in September. He was still serving with the Cambridgeshires in early 1916, but was killed in action, aged 29, while serving with 7th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment on January 30th 1918. Having no known grave, he is listed on the Pozieres Memorial to the Missing, Somme.

Pte John William Sutton

The son of Mr and Mrs Albert Sutton, of The Lane, Benwick. Sutton went to the Western Front with the 1/1st Battalion on February 14th 1915, soon being posted to its Machine Gun Section. He was shot in the head by a sniper while on lookout on April 16th 1915 and died later the same day. More than 50 men from the battalion attended his funeral at Ypres Town Cemetery Extension in Belgium.

Pte James William Richards

He was the son of James and Eliza Richards, of High St and later Green Lane, Benwick. He was later transferred to the Military Foot Police and after the war ran The Plough pub at Benwick. He sadly drowned in the River Nene in November 1938.

Cpl George Chapman

The son of Thomas and Mary Ann Chapman, of Whittlesey, his father died and his mother then remarried. In 1900, Chapman enlisted in the Royal Marines, purchasing his discharge in 1906. By 1911 he was living at Forty Foot Bank, Benwick, with his wife Mary Ann. After enlisting in the Cambridgeshires, he quickly gained a Lance Corporal’s stripe and was promoted Cpl in July 1914 and Sgt in October.

He sailed to the Western Front with the battalion on February 14th 1915, as a member of D Coy. On March 15th 1915, Chapman and Sgt Purell were accompanying two officers in the front line at St Eloi, when the Germans exploded a mine; Purell was killed (for more information on St Eloi please click here). Promoted CSM of D company in September 1915, he was sent to the UK in July 1916, being posted to the 3/1st Battalion and later the 9th Northamptonshire Regiment TF where he continued to serve in the UK. He died, still living in Benwick, in 1958.

2nd Lt J W A (Jack) Ollard

Not part of the team but features in the Ashridge Park photograph. Information on Jack can be found by clicking here.

Pte Arthur Sallabanks

The son of Robert and Ann Elizabeth Sallabanks, of West View, Benwick, he was posted to the new  2/1st Battalion in September 1914 and died on February 4th 1915 of a brain hemorrhage, at Peterborough (for more information please click here). He is buried in Benwick Cemetery.

Pte Harry Richards

After being mobilised Harry was posted to the 2/1st Battalion in the autumn of 1914 and later to 3/1st Battalion. Along with John William Edwards he was drafted to the Western Front on September 16th 1916, eventually joining the 9th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment.

He was wounded in the hand on October 14th 1916 (the same day as his pal Edwards), and later posted to the Labour Corps. Harry sadly died in 1932 at Papworth.

Of the eight men pulling in the tug-of-war team in 1914, four lost their lives serving in the Army, and two others were wounded. The fallen men are all remembered on the Benwick village war memorial.

 

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This site went live on the 14th February 2015 to mark  100 years since the 1/1st Cambs went off to war.

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM

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