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The Cambridgeshire Militia

The Militia was the oldest military force in the realm and existed, on and off, for more than 1000 years: a force available for defence against foreign enemies and domestic rebels. By the mid-18th century it had almost ceased to exist but, in 1756, the Govermnent revived the Militia. Men between the ages of 18 and 45 years could be chosen for service by lot to serve for 3 years or pay 10 for the privilege of finding a substitute. In 1757, 30,000 Militia infantry were raised in England and Wales; the responsibility of Lord Lieutenants of Counties.

In Cambridgeshire, the Militia Regiment was raised in August 1759 (the month of the Battle of Minden), with a quota of 480 men formed into 8 companies. The Regiment was not embodied for the Seven Years' War. They were to train for 4 weeks each year until they were eventually embodied, with other Regiments, in 1778, as a result of the threat posed by the alliance of the French and the rebellious American Colonies, with whom we had been at war since 1775. On 26 March 1778, the Lord Lieutenant received his Royal Warrant and the Regiment assembled in Cambridge in April. It left the County for the first time in August, marching to Great Yarmouth, where it remained until November.

It was the practice that the precedence of Regiments was determined by lots drawn at a meeting of Lord Lieutenants: Cambridgeshire drew 31.

The Regiment returned in March 1779. In May it became the 27th Regiment: a year later it was the 44th and moved to north London to be in reserve at the time of the 'No Popery" riots raging in London. In April 1781, the precedence changed again - to 34: in 1782 it was to be the 25th. Movement around East Anglia continued, with only relatively brief spells in garrison in the County.

In 1783, peace had been concluded with America and the Militia were disembodied. For the 25th Regiment, this took place at Ely after 5 years' service.

For the next 10 years, little happened of note except routine training. However, in 1793, as a result of tension between Britain and France, the Regiment, with 13 others, was embodied on 22 January. Lots were again drawn and the Regiment emerged as the 11th. It remained thus until peace and disembodiment in 1802.

In March 1799 the Regiment moved to Dublin, rebellion having broken out in Ireland the previous year. As a result of this service several Militia Regiments were authorised to include an Irish Harp on their Regimental Colour. In April 1802 the Regiment was disembodied at Ely. Interestingly, by an Act of Parliament passed on 26 June, the Militia ceased to be exclusively Protestant in character.

On 25 March 1803, under a renewed threat of invasion, the Militia were called out once more, the 11th mustering at Ely. The Regiment became the 24th Regiment, which it remained until 1833. Duties took companies all over East Anglia.

In May 1810, we find the 24th in Hampstead and Highgate. By the Summer, it was at Hull and the following year in Durham, then at Sunderland and at Peebles. From there the Regiment went to Ireland once more, returning in 1815.

On 26 January 1816 the Regiment was disembodied at Ely after nearly 23 years duty (save for a few months in 1802-3). Apart from annual training - and this not every year - the Regiment's life was quiet from 1816 to 1852. (Their precedence was changed to 68 in 1833.)

In 1853, the County bought some buildings and a plot of land for Militia Stores and a Parade Ground of about 3 acres in Ely. Later, accommodation for sergeants and a hospital were added.

1854 saw the Militia embodied again (the Crimean War) and the Cambridgeshires, once more, moved to Ireland. Before leaving, they received their new Colours from the Countess of Hardwicke at Ely Cathedral. The 68th returned home to be disembodied on 12 January 1856. A few blank years now follow but, in 1878 the Militia Reserves were embodied for 3 months as a result of the wars in Afghanistan and South Africa.

On 24 May 1881 (the Queen's Birthday) saw the 68th receiving new Colours from Lady Elizabeth Biddulph (daughter of the Earl of Hardwicke) at Ely Cathedral.

1881 was also the year of major re-organisations of the Infantry of the Line and the Militia (the Cardwell Reforms). Regiments of the Infantry were re-organised into Territorial Regiments, each of 4 battalions. The 1st and 2nd were to be the Regular Army battalions and the 3rd and 4th Militia, all bearing a name corresponding to the localities with which the Regiment was connected. The Cambridgeshire Militia became 4th Battalion The Suffolk Regiment (Cambridgeshire Militia). The dress for all 4 battalions was to be identical, with militia battalions wearing an 'M' on their shoulder straps.

Annual training continued unremarkably through 1884 to 1889 when a Suffolk Brigade, of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalions, took part in the Queen's Birthday Parade at Aldershot on 23 May. All 3 battalions wore Minden Roses. Ties with the Suffolk Regiment were by now well-established. In 1891, the Militia battalions paraded for the Queen's Birthday, at Colchester; again wearing Minden Roses.

The annual routine continued until the next major reforms of the Army in 1908. These (the Haldane Reforms) included the closer integration of the Volunteers with the Regular Army, in the creation of the Territorial Force. The Militia, generally, was converted into the Special Reserve, to provide trained reinforcements for a Regiment's 2 line battalions and a training centre for the Territorial Force. The Cambridgeshire Militia was one of 23 battalions to be disbanded. The rest went in July 1919.

Further reading about The Suffolk Regiment and the Cambridgeshire Militia.

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