Cambridgeshire 'Regimental family' revisits scene of finest hour
5 Sep 06
One of the Somme's forgotten battles, and The Cambridgeshire Regiment's finest hour, has been commemorated at the battlefield itself by a group of Cambridgeshire veterans, serving soldiers and Cadets.
Captain Steve Bowns at the site of the final assault on Schwaben Redoubt
Six previous attempts on the Schwaben Redoubt had already taken place during the epic Battle of the Somme, but all had failed. In October 1916 however, the Cambridgeshire Regiment stormed the Redoubt and crucially, managed to hold the position, despite four counter-attacks from the Germans. They had captured a fortification at the centre of Germany's defences.
General Haig described the action as "one of the finest feats of arms in the history of the British Army", and it was to commemorate this 'finest hour' that the Regimental descendants of the Cambridgeshires returned to the Somme for the battle's 90th anniversary.
Captain Steve Bowns, a military historian, led members of the Cambridgeshire Regiment Association, World War Two Cambridgeshire veterans, serving soldiers of the Royal Anglian Regiment and members of the Cambridgeshire Cadet Force, to the commemorations. He said:
"We're here to remember an amazing achievement from the 1st World War which has since been largely forgotten – the taking of the Schwaben Redoubt by the Cambridgeshires, and we thought it should be remembered."
Cambridgeshire cadets at the Menin Gate during commemorations for the Somme
[Picture: Andy Cargill]
In 1964 the Cambridgeshires were amalgamated into the Royal Anglian Regiment. Captain Bowns continued:
"What we wanted to do was to show that we are part of a Regimental family that stretches back over 300 years. So we've brought serving soldiers from today's Royal Anglians, Army cadets from the Cambridgeshire Army Cadet Force and veterans from the Cambridgeshires who fought in the Second World War.
"And this place speaks to them all. We are all part of one Regimental family."
One of today's Royal Anglian soldiers, Corporal Paul Kennedy, 21, who comes from Cambridge, attended the commemorations. He said:
"These guys were from Cambridgeshire just like me. If I'd been born 90 years ago I would have been out in that field."
As part of their commemorations, officers from the Association and the soldiers also took part in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate, Ypres. Private Simon Keeble, 20, said:
"My great-grandfather, Sergeant William Smith, was killed near Ypres and his name is commemorated on the Menin Gate. To stand on parade at the Last Post ceremony really moved me. I could actually see his name engraved on the wall while I was on parade. I will probably never get that chance again."
Cambridgeshire Cadet Laura Conway, aged 18, attends the commemorations
[Picture: Andy Cargill]
Laura Conway, just 18, is a member of the Huntingdon Detachment of the Army Cadet Force. She explained what going to the Somme battlefield meant to her:
"I was never interested in history at school, but this is not a classroom, this is learning without being taught. It's hard to imagine quite what it was like, but when we saw the Thiepval memorial with its list of 72,000 dead, it made a lot of people think."
From another generation entirely, but linked to Laura through the Cambridgeshires, and also attending the commemorations, was 85 year old veteran Bert Major. He spent much of World War Two in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, and said:
"I wanted to see exactly where my regiment had fought and won."
In all, 42 awards for gallantry were awarded to the Cambridgeshires on a single day in October 1916. The action cost 32 Cambridgeshire deaths and 186 wounded. Mr Freddie Grounds, the Regiment Association's President, said:
"At the Schwaben Redoubt they absolutely distinguished themselves beyond all measure. I felt it was poignant that, on this anniversary, we should have a service of remembrance on the site of the battle."