Cambridgeshire Regiment Old Comrades’ Association

While from 1920 the Territorial Force Association in Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely was busying itself with the details of recruiting a new battalion of part-time soldiers, with Lt-Col Muirhead Collins Clayton as its commanding officer, men who had served in the Great War, as it was then known, began to hold reunions.

An event was held in Cambridge as early as 1919, and there is a newspaper report of a reunion of C Company from the beginning of 1920, at Wisbech’s White Hart Hotel. Dubbed the ‘Fen Tiger Company’, these old comrades were led by CSM Fred Rowe DCM. The C Company reunions would become an annual event at either Wisbech or Whittlesey. At the end of the year a reunion dinner was held at the Drill Hall in Cambridge, where one of the wartime commanders, now Brigadier General, ‘Ted’ Riddell was the main guest, and where many 1915 Star medals were handed out.

The re-formed battalion and its old comrades turned out for the unveiling of the County War Memorial in Ely Cathedral in May 1922 and a few months later when Cambridge’s war memorial was unveiled by the Duke of York (later King George VI).

In 1927, the Wisbech reunion included 50 men of C Company who had gone out to the Western Front with the battalion 12 years earlier on February 14th 1915. Three years later in November 1930, Brig-Gen Riddell again attended the reunion at Cambridge, where he was guest of honour, and when wheels were in motion to form the Cambridgeshire Regiment Old Comrades Association.

The OCA finally got off the ground in 1931, thanks mainly to the efforts of Bt Col C V Canning MC TD DL, when he was in command of the 1st Btn Cambridgeshire Regiment. At first it was a purely social organisation, staging annual dinners at Cambridge Drill Hall in East Road. As funds grew, small-scale benevolent work was undertaken.

The new OCA held its first reunion dinner in 1931, and a year later the second dinner was attended by 400 old comrades and these events would continue throughout the 1930s. An independent branch was soon formed at Wisbech and was on a sound footing by 1939.

At the reunion dinner in 1934 the old comrades were able to buy copies of the battalion history, ‘The Cambridgeshires" written by Riddell and Clayton.

Some 250 old comrades under Colonel Clayton paraded at the inspection of the Territorial Army by General Sir Walter Kirke in October 1937 at Parker’s Piece, Cambridge. By 1938 the OCA had more than 600 members, who decided a year later to have a Cambs OCA standard for ceremonial occasions. At this time Col Clayton was the OCA president and its chairman was Lt-Col  F N Drake Digby TD, commanding 1st Btn.

Soon another war was looming and in 1939 the OCA members were approached to join a National Defence Company, TA. Many would go on to join the Home Guard.

After World War Two, the association was reorganised and expanded to have branches at Cambridge, Chatteris, Ely, March, Newmarket, Whittlesey and Wisbech, which all elected members to the association’s executive council.

Once again, there were annual dinners. World War One veterans were still featuring among the reunions and holding office in the various branches. In 1955, the annual reunion dinner in February 1955 at Cambridge marked the 40th anniversary of the battalion’s embarkation to France on February 14th 1915. In 1958, the branches held celebration dinners to mark 50 years since the founding of the Cambridgeshire Regiment in 1908.

As the Cambridgeshire Regiment changed its name throughout the post-WW2 years, the veterans of the first conflict became fewer and fewer, and the branches were mainly in the hands of 1939-45 veterans. The Regimental Council was set up in 1984 to ensure continuance of the Cambridgeshire Regiment’s name, traditions and history, as well as looking after the welfare of its members. A Remembrance service and reunion is held at Ely Cathedral every year.

In 2014, the OCA’s official title changed to become The Royal Anglian Regiment Association (Cambridgeshire), with its letterheads stating “incorporating The Cambridgeshire Regiment”. It has branches covering  Cambridge, Wisbech, Whittlesey & Peterborough, with the March & District Branch currently suspended due to lack of numbers.

There have become fewer members who wore the Cambridgeshire badge; these are now only former members who served in World War Two, post-war in successor units and more recently those of D (Cambridgeshire) Company, VI (Volunteer) Btn, The Royal Anglian Regiment, formed in 1971 and disbanded in 1999. The county ACF took on the story and their serving adults can also wear the Cambridgeshire tie.

To help secure its existence, it welcomes others who wish to join, such as relatives or other interested parties, who can become associate members.

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Cambridgeshire Regiment OCA men on parade in Cambridge in 1972.

The March & District Branch Standard.

OCA men marching down Regent Street.

OCA membership card and rules (click above image for full document).

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

Copyright 2015, 2016, 2017 by Felix Jackson. The information and images on this site should not be reproduced without prior permission.