The Regimental History of the 1/5th Norfolks
"The Vanished Battalion"
This unit, 'The Sandringham Pals' is perhaps better known as 'The Vanished Battalion', as most of them perished in an ill-conceived attack on 12th August 1915 at Suvla.
That they became so famous, was due to three factors : first of all, most of them were employed by the English Royal Family at the Sandringham Estate. A second strange fact was that - officially at least - their bodies were not found. And last but not least, long after the war, a strange story popped up, when two Gallipoli veterans declared they had seen the Norfolks march into a strange cloud, that engulfed them, then lifted and drifted away, leaving nobody behind. Clearly the work of an early UFO and a legend was born.
In the meantime, the definitive book on the matter is available and the BBC has even made a documentary film about the affair. What is harder to find however, is the official regimental history, published after the war, in which the few survivors tell about their experiences in Gallipoli at the time.
For those who are interested in the original material, here goes (with some pics added) ...
THE HISTORY OF THE NORFOLK REGIMENT
F. LORAINE PETRE, O.B.E.
author of 'Napoleon's Campaign in Poland', 'Napoleon at Bay'
VOL. I I
4th August, 1914, to 31st December, 1918
Jarrold & Sons, Limited
THE EMPIRE PRESS
The history of the 1/4th and 1/5th Territorial Battalions in the Great War is so closely connected that it is possible and desirable to avoid repetition by dealing with both in the same section. They were together in the same brigade during the whole of the operations in which they took part in Gallipoli, Egypt, and Palestine, and even for a few days were amalgamated in a composite battalion.The order for mobilization reached both battalions on the evening of August 4, 1914, a few hours before the formal declaration of war. Next morning the 1/4th Battalion assembled at the Drill Hall in Chapel Field, Norwich, and was billeted in the City of Norwich Schools on the Newmarket Road. The 1/5th Battalion mobilized at Dereham on the same day. On August 11th, the 1/4th Battalion left by special train for Ingatestone in Essex, and on the 17th the 1/5th was transferred from Billericay, to which it had been sent after mobilization, to Colchester. Training for war was actively carried on in both battalions at their various stations in England. The 1/4th were at Purleigh (Essex) on August 11th and at Colchester with the 1/5th on the 19th. There both battalions remained, training and practising route marches, till the spring of 1915 when the 1/5th proceeded, in March, to Bury St. Edmunds, and the 1/4th in April to the same place. At Bury St. Edmunds the officers of the 1/5th had a narrow escape when their hotel was set on fire by bombs dropped by German aeroplanes. From May 21st both battalions became part of the 54th infantry division, and with the 1/5th Suffolk and 1/8th Hampshire constituted the 163rd infantry brigade. On the previous day the 1/4th Battalion had been sent to Watford, which it left by special train on July 29, 1915, for Liverpool, where it embarked on the S.S. " Aquitania " en route for the Dardanelles. It was commanded by the adjutant, Captain E.W. Montgomerie, owing to the illness of Colonel Harvey. On the same day the 1/5th Battalion embarked, also on the " Aquitania." It had been doing further training at Watford since early in May. Each battalion had 1,000 other ranks and the officers originally with them were the following:
Captain E.W. Montgomerie
R.B.C.M.T. de Poix
Colonel Sir Horace G.P. Beauchamp, Bart., C.B.
A.E. Ward (Adjutant)
A. Wright, M.V.O.
Hon. Lieutenant Parker
Capt. R.G. Laden
Aquitania " reached Mudros without adventure on August 5th, and the troops on board
her were taken in smaller vessels, on the 9th, to Imbros, whence they proceeded, on the
10th, to the landing-place of the 54th division in SuvIa Bay and bivouacked on the beach.
The country about the landing-place, as seen from the sea, is described by Colonel Harvey
"On the left SuvIa Point with Nebrunessi Point to the right formed a small bay, known as SuvIa Bay, some mile and a half across. To the right of Nebrunessi. Point a long, gently curving sandy beach, some four or five miles in extent, terminated where the Australian position at Anzac rose steeply to the Sari Bair range.
Inside and immediately in front was a large, flat, sandy plain covered with scrub, while the dry salt lake showed dazzlingly white in the hot morning sun. Immediately beyond was Chocolate Hill, and behind this lay the village of Anafarta some four miles from the shore. As a background the Anafarta ridge ran from the village practically parallel with the sea, where it gradually sloped down to the coast.
click to enlarge the original map
Beyond the plain a number of stunted oaks, gradually becoming more dense farther inland, formed excellent cover for the enemy's snipers, a mode of warfare at which the Turk was very adept. Officers and men were continually shot down, not only by rifle fire from advanced posts of the enemy, but by men, and even women, behind our own firing line, especially in the previous attacks. The particular kind of tree in this part, a stunted oak, lends itself to concealment, being short with dense foliage. Here the sniper would lurk, with face painted green, and so well hidden as to defy detection. Others would crouch in the dense brushwood, where anyone passing could be shot with ease. When discovered, these snipers had in their possession enough food and water for a considerable period, as well as an ample supply of ammunition."
Want of water was one of the great difficulties of the British. They had suffered severely from it in the actions after the landing at SuvIa on August 7th which had failed to gain possession of the Anafarta ridge. The commander-in-chief, Sir Ian Hamilton, had now decided on another attempt to take that ridge with the aid of the 54th division, which was the last of his reinforcements landed.
|Between the landing place
and the Kuchak Anafarta Ova (Ova = plain) lay a very difficult and intricate country in
which it would be almost impossible to avoid intermixture of units and confusion before
the final attack on the morning of the 13th. Accordingly, it was decided to send the 163rd
brigade forward on the afternoon of the 12th to clear this area of any enemy detachments
in it, and to establish itself about the Kuchak Anafarta Ova, thus enabling the main
attacking force next morning to get so far on its way to the ridge without the confusion
which must result from having to fight its way through a country of small fields
surrounded by deep ditches and high hedges, with forest in the background. To add to the
difficulties of the 163rd brigade, its orders were generally to clear the country, and no
definite objective was assigned to each unit. The orders were to clear snipers out of the
scrub, advance to the alignment of the 53rd division, and fill up the gap between it on
the right and the 10th division on the left, and dig in for the night. Picks and shovels
were issued before moving off.
Colonel Sir H. Beauchamp, commanding the 1/5th. Norfolk, had been placed in local command of the brigade in the trenches occupied on the 11th and the early part of the 12th. The 1/4th Norfolk, who had been left on the beach to unload stores after the landing on the 10th, were presently moved up into the support trenches of the brigade, the front line of which, counting from right to left, consisted of the 5th Norfolk, 8th Hants, and 1/5th Suffolk Regiments. On the left of the 54th division was the 10th, the orders of the former being to link the latter up with the 53rd division, whose right flank rested on the Salt Lake and Azmak River. For this purpose the troops available were insufficient, with a front of only three battalions, and the same number in second line.
The advance on August 12th did not commence till 4.45 p.m., the naval bombardment covering it having started at 4 p.m. The order of the three leading battalions was as given above, the 4th Norfolk following in support behind the 5th Suffolk on the left. Directly the advance began the 1/5th. Norfolk received an order to change direction half right, which they did. This order did not reach the 1/8th Hants, and consequently a gap was formed between the battalions, which continually increased as the advance proceeded.
As the brigade advanced it at once encountered serious resistance, and came under heavy machine-gun fire enfilading it from the left, and shrapnel on the right. The machine-gun fire was the more effective in stopping the British advance, and the 5th Norfolk battalion on the right began to get forward quicker than the left. Touch had been partially lost in the close country, and companies and battalions were much mixed up.
click pic to see direction of advance from Kiretch Tepe
What happened with the 5th Norfolk battalion is thus described in Sir Ian Hamilton's despatch of December 11, 1915 describing what he calls " a very mysterious thing."
" The 1/5th. Norfolk were on the right of the line and found themselves for a moment less strongly opposed than the rest of the brigade. Against the yielding forces of the enemy Colonel Sir H. Beauchamp, a bold, self-confident officer, eagerly pressed forward, followed by the best part of the battalion. The fighting grew hotter, and the ground became more wooded and broken. At this stage many men were wounded, or grew exhausted with thirst. These found their way back to camp during the night. But the Colonel, with sixteen officers and 250 men, still kept pushing on, driving the enemy before them. ... Nothing more was ever seen or heard of any of them. They charged into the forest and were lost to sight or sound. Not one of them ever came back." (Sir Horace Beauchamp, Bart., C.B., had served in the Sudan, Suakim, and South African Campaigns, retired in 1904, and returned to serve in the war in 1914.)
It was not till four years later that any trace was discovered of the fate of this body. Writing on September 23, 1919 the officer commanding the Graves Registration Unit in Gallipoli says:
|" We have
found the 5th Norfolks - there were 180 in all; 122 Norfolk and a few Hants and Suffolks
with 2/4th Cheshires. We could only identify two - Privates Barnaby and Cotter. They were
scattered over an area of about one square mile, at a distance of at least 800 yards
behind the Turkish front line. Many of them had evidently been killed in a farm, as a
local Turk, who owns the place, told us that when he came back he found the farm covered
with the decomposing bodies of British soldiers which he threw into a small ravine. The
whole thing quite bears out the original theory that they did not go very far on, but got
mopped up one by one, all except the ones who got into the farm."
click pic to see the area
The total casualties of the 5th Norfolk battalion are stated in their War Diary to have been twenty-two officers and about 350 men. The officers missing were - Colonel Sir Horace Proctor Beauchamp, C.B. ; Captain and Adjutant A. E. Ward; Captains E. R. Cubitt, F. R. Beck (the King's estate agent commanding the Sandringham company), Pattrick, Mason, A. C. Coxon, Woodwark; Lieutenants E. A. Beck, Gay, V. M. Cubitt, T. Oliphant ; 2nd Lieutenants Burroughs, Proctor, Beauchamp, Adams, Fawkes. (Captain Coxon and 2nd Lieutenant Fawkes were both wounded and taken prisoners by the Turks. They were in captivity in Asia Minor till after the Armistice. The rest of the missing were all apparently killed.) Major Purdy and 2nd Lieutenants M. Oliphant and A. R. Pelly were wounded but not missing.
The brigade had made some advance in face of very strong opposition, but was far from complete success. During the night the position gained was held in an irregular line, with three and a half battalions and two companies of the 1/4th Norfolk on a spur.
This account of the action of August 12th, taken from the naturally rather meagre entry in the War Diary, may be supplemented by the following rough pencil notes kept by Captain Montgomerie, who was commanding the 1 /4th Battalion in the absence of Colonel Harvey :
Captain Montgomerie's notes give the following account of the three succeeding days :
" 13th. - Next morning we learnt that the first line of the brigade were holding their own in a clump of trees about 1,500 yards to our right front. I held part of the ridge overlooking the valley with three platoons; the enemy being on my left flank, from where he sniped us day and night, but luckily with very little effect. I had a post on No. 2 and patrolled No. 1, but the snipers laid low. We dug in all day, but the men were very exhausted, and in want of food and water, and were not capable of much manual labour. The Essex brigade made an attack towards the Anafarta wells, but it had no effect.
" 14th. - Our men were now getting exhausted from hard work and lack of food. We sent up some food to them in the early morning. They were well off for water as they had four wells, but they ran considerable risk in getting it.
" 15th. - lt was decided that our first line should be relieved by the Essex brigade. I, from my ridge, was to give covering fire.
The 1st Battalion Essex advanced well and lost few men. The other battalions, who had delayed, suffered more severely. All we could do was to keep down the fire of the snipers by shooting into the trees. Rumour has it that some of these snipers were tied to trees, with water and food within reach. Women snipers have been caught within our lines with their faces, arms, legs, and rides painted green.
After dark our men began to come in. Some came in well, but there were cases where the confusion was great. The last to come in were a party of 100-150 with Captains Hughes and Fisher. These officers had behaved magnificently throughout this show and they finished by leading the men back in very good order."
|On the 16th
both the Norfolk battalions were moved to a point near Kiretch Tepe Sirt on the ridge
running north-east from SuvIa Point, where the 31st brigade was. On the 17th the two
battalions relieved the 6th Munster Fusiliers on Saddle Ridge near Jephson's Post.
Of this position Captain M. B. Buxton, M.C., writes :
" The line here stretched from the top of the ridge at Jephson's Post down to the sea. Jephson's Post was a strong post manned by machine-gunners, some from the brigade and some from the crew of a naval destroyer which stood about 400 yards off the shore. 'This post was able to command all the Turkish line down to the sea. The destroyer was able to render effectual help on several occasions ; for if there was any movement in the Turkish lines, she at once opened fire with her guns.
" At night also her searchlight was directed on the Turkish line as it stretched up the hill, rendering the enemy's trenches clearly visible to our troops while our own were in darkness. The trenches here consisted, when the Norfolk battalions first reached the line, only of rifle pits, and the first thing that was done was to make a strong line of trenches and to build dug-outs. The gullies behind the line were generally deep and afforded excellent cover, but the country was so cut up by these gullies and so covered by scrub that it was extremely difficult to find the way about.
During all this time the troops had been very short of water, often having only about a mugfull each day. The water was very scarce on the Peninsula and such wells as were dug in the plain were brackish.
" The 5th Battalion sank several small wells in the hope of finding water, but these produced nothing more than brackish and muddy puddles. Water, in these first weeks, was sent to the battalion in skins, and in the extreme heat a great deal of it evaporated. Later, when petrol tins were used they were found to be more satisfactory. All the water was brought in tank steamers from Egypt and pumped on to the Peninsula, where it was stored and distributed.
As the left of the 5th Battalion rested on the sea, this was an excellent opportunity for bathing and washing, when things were quiet, which was taken much advantage of.
While there the shortage of water and food and the hardships they had encountered much reduced the health of the battalion, and the majority were suffering from mild or severe forms of dysentery. This disease, and jaundice, and various fevers, from this time onwards, caused far more casualties than the Turks.
" The battalion was still only in fighting order, i.e. with haversacks only and no packs, and they were unable to get any blankets or change of underclothes till the end of August. While in the day it was extremely hot, at night it became very cold, so much so that it was almost impossible to get much sleep.
" The only officers with the battalion were Major Barton in command; Lieutenants Birkbeck, Beck, Cubitt; 2nd Lieutenants Buxton and James; and Lieutenant and Quartermaster Ford."
|Captain Montgomerie's diary
of events in the 1/4th Battalion whilst in the neighbourhood of Jephson's Post is as
" 16th - I was relieved on the ridge by the 4th Essex early in the morning. The battalion joined up in trenches some 300 yards in rear of the ridge. We were busy digging trenches all day, and trying to collect the men to their various companies. In the late advance we had been in reserve, and three companies and one platoon had reinforced the first line, so they had become very scattered.
" In the afternoon the 10th division advanced along the ridge and cleared the whole hill of the enemy. Unfortunately we were unable to hold on to the extreme east of it. It was a fine sight to watch from the valley below.
" 17th. - A quiet day improving trenches. Had a little shrapnel in the morning on the right. Bampton was killed by one of the shells. I was ordered to take over the lines held by the 8th Hampshires on ridge just to right of where I had been previously. This suited us well, as we would then have all four companies in that line. I had made all arrangements, and we were starting to move when I was sent for to brigade head-quarters, and told to take the battalion in support of 30th brigade on top of Kiretch Tepe. At this time I had also under me the remnants of the 5th Norfolk, which consisted of 150 men under one officer - Lieutenant Evelyn Beck. I sent out orders to collect the various companies and had to rapidly issue ammunition, water, and food. While preparing to move our men were heavily shelled with shrapnel and a few high explosives. We lost eight men. We started our movement up the hill at 7 p.m. It was a very tedious climb and as we were all heavily laden it was very slow. Anyhow, we managed to arrive at the brigade headquarters at 12 midnight without any mishap. We were put right away into some trenches facing south on top of the ridge.
" 18th. - Remained quiet, during the day. Orders were received in evening to relieve the 6th Munsters and Inniskillings in front line facing east. The Essex brigade was to relieve us. This relieving was muddled through all right. We had to do a lot of digging to make things safe.
" 19th. - All. quiet during day. Worked hard all night fetching food, water, etc., and improving the trenches.
" 20th. - Were relieved of Jephson's Redoubt by Essex; so organized the line with two companies in firing line and two in support.
" 21st. - Standing to arms at 3 p.m. as an attack was commenced on our right. There was no movement in our part of the battle-field. At night a party of Turks tried to make 'an advanced trench but this was stopped by the torpedo boat on the left and the machine-guns.
" 22nd. - A very quiet day; very little sniping. The enemy shelled us for the first time in this position, two shells fell very near. They are undoubtedly trying to hit the machine-guns near us. They shrapnelled the ridge farther along, and did a little damage to the Essex.
" 23rd. - A quiet day. A little shelling in morning and evening. One shell hit head-quarters dug-out, but did no damage. These common shells do little damage. Sniping was bad in morning.
" 24th. - Very quiet all day; very little sniping. The Turks tried to shell our trenches with H.E., but they all fell well short of our line. Orders received to be prepared to be relieved by the 162nd brigade to-morrow night. At about 6 p.m. this order was cancelled and we remained in our present place.
" 25th. - All quiet."
|Towards the end of August
the Norfolk battalions were moved farther down the Gallipoli Peninsula, and Captain
Montgomerie's diary gives the following account of the move and of events succeeding it :
" 31st. - Companies on fatigue not relieved, and remained at A beach.
Next day Colonel Harvey returned to the command of the battalion, which had been sadly reduced from an embarkation strength of twenty-six officers and 1,000 other ranks to thirteen officers and 580 men at the end of August. A month later its fighting strength was fourteen officers and 376 other ranks, with 218 in hospital. After the fighting in the middle of August, the struggle was more against disease and hardship than against Turkish guns and rifles. Dysentery caused havoc in all ranks, and in the middle of October there remained of the 1/4th Battalion only sixteen officers and 242 men fit for duty. Colonel Harvey himself fell a victim to dysentery almost immediately on his return, and by October 25th had to make over temporary command to Major C. R. Roberts-West, adjutant of the 7th Essex. When Colonel Harvey was sent home sick, on the 4th December, he left only ten officers and 170 men of the battalion fit for duty. In the 1/5th Norfolk battalion the circumstances were similar. except that, owing to its casualties on August 12th the battalion had suffered more severely at the hands of the enemy. On September 22nd command of the remains of it was taken over by Lieutenant-Colonel H. J. Kinsman of the 4th Inniskilling.
The 1/4th Battalion was in various 'sectors of the trenches after September 10th, carrying on duties similar to those described in Captain Montgomerie's diary. It is needless to describe them further in detail. The Norfolk Yeomanry, afterwards the 12th (Yeomanry) Battalion Norfolk Regiment, shared these duties with the 1/4th in November.
The 1/5th Norfolk Regiment were at Aghyll Dere, north of Sari Bair, in the beginning of September, temporarily attached to the 162nd brigade at Gloucester Hill, where they were at times in the firing line. At the end of the month as many as seventy-one of their reduced numbers were sick, and on November 1st their numbers were so reduced that the battalion had to be reorganized in two companies. When, on November 5th they were in the firing line at Aghyll Dere, Captain Balme was complimented by General Birdwood on a patrol which had been carried out by him on October 31st.
|The following account of
Captain Balme's exploit is given by Captain Buxton :
" The Turks had been in the habit of posting a listening post at night on a steep spur which led down from their line, but which could only be approached from our lines by climbing up, one at a time, a precipitous ridge which led up to it. Captain Balme of the 3rd Essex Regiment, who was attached to the 5th Norfolk, took out a small party one evening before dusk to attack this. They succeeded in climbing the steep sides of the ridge without attracting the attention of the Turks, and were able to get into the post before the Turkish outpost took up their position for the night. When the Turks put in an appearance they were most successfully ambushed, and Captain Balme was able to bring the whole of his party back without a casualty. For this he was awarded the M.C. Captain Balme was, later, invalided from Egypt, but rejoined his own regiment in France, where he was afterwards killed."
The evacuation of Anzac did not occur till December 18 th - 19th but the 1/5th Norfolk battalion were embarked for Mudros on the 3rd
Of the period after the move to the Anzac neighbourhood Major Buxton writes, from the point of view of the 5th Battalion :
" At the end of August the brigade was sent off to Anzac and attached to the 9th Corps, consisting of Australian and New Zealand troops. The 5th Battalion were attached to the 162nd brigade, consisting of the 10th and 11th London Regiment, 4th Northampton Regiment, and 5th Bedford Regiment. They held a line of trenches stretching along the brow of a ridge which rose above Aghyll Dere (or valley).
" The 5th manned the trenches alternately with the 10th London Regiment, each spell in the trenches consisting of about a week. After a week in the line the regiment went into rest on the other side of the ridge, only 200 yards from the trenches, and their time there was employed in fatigues, carrying parties, and digging trenches. It was possible from here to take bathing parties down the Aghyll Dere to the beach, which was about two and a half miles away. There were always a great number of men bathing, and at times the Turks used to shell with shrapnel, but fortunately never seemed to cause any casualties.
" About November the Suffolk Yeomanry were attached to the 5th Battalion for instruction in trench warfare, as they had only lately arrived, and they shared all the duties for about a fortnight..
" The Turkish line of trenches opposite the 5th Battalion were on the high slopes of the ridge connecting Khoja Chemen Tepe and Chunuk Bair, both of. which were about 1,000 feet high. The Turks were able to get as much timber as they needed from the thickly wooded eastern slopes of the peninsula, and with this they constructed several lines of barbed wire entanglements, and were able to provide head cover to their trenches, and wood for strutting and dug-outs.
" On the western side the ridge was covered with scrub about three or four feet high, and there were a considerable number of olive trees in the valleys about twenty or thirty feet high. The Australian troops were on our right, their line stretching from the southern branch of the Aghyll Dere to Anzac.
" Special mention must be made of the activities of the various Norfolk County Red Cross and Regimental and other associations, who were good enough to send out large consignments of cigarettes, tobacco, chocolate, fly-nets, and other luxuries, which were most welcome. Perhaps the most acceptable of all was a consignment Of 2,000 or 3,000 sandbags made by various ladies in Norfolk which arrived early in September, at a time when sandbags in the front line were very scarce. This consignment was put to excellent use, and added not a little to the safety in the trenches and to the comfort of the men in the dug-outs.
" By about September, owing to. the fact that great numbers of troops had been living in a small space, flies began to abound and became a perfect curse. It was impossible to prepare any food without it becoming covered with a horde of filthy black flies, and at all times of the day they were continually tormenting the troops and spreading disease.
" About the middle of October the rations greatly improved and, instead of bully beef and biscuits, rations of beef, bread, cheese, and all kinds of jam and marmalade were frequently sent up.
" The 5th Battalion were withdrawn from the trenches on November 30th. For about a week before this there had been a great blizzard, and the peninsula was covered with snow and the cold was intense. Later this turned. to great storms of rain, and soon all the valleys which had been used as the chief means of communication for ration parties, etc., were changed into torrents. A great number of the barges and lighters which were used to bring the supplies and land the troops from the ships in the bay were wrecked on the shore. 1
" The 5th Battalion left the peninsula on the night of December 4th, and were embarked at Mudros. There were only two officers of the original 5th Battalion left with the battalion-Captain Eustace Cubitt, the adjutant, and Lieutenant Buxton. Captain Birkbeck, the only other remaining officer of the original 1/5th Battalion who had left England in the 'Aquitania,' was detailed for duty as embarkation officer and remained, with Private Harrod, carrying out these duties on the peninsula till the final evacuation, and then rejoined the battalion."
The 1/4th which was then at Reserve Gully, Anzac, went to Mudros on December 7th and 8th, its strength then being eleven officers and 199 other ranks.
On December 15th the 1/4th embarked, with eleven officers and 237 other ranks, on the s.s. "Victorian" from Mudros for Alexandria, where it arrived on the 19th and command was assumed by Lieutenant-Colonel W. A. Younden, T.D. The 1/5th who had gone to Mudros on December 4th, also went on the " Victorian " to Alexandria, where both battalions were, till the end of the year, at Sidi Bishr camp, and remained till the beginning of February, 1916.
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