The Advance on 12th August 1915
The terrain that they would be advancing over had, to their left, rough ground covered with patches of prickly thorn bushes with slabs of stone and dried up water courses. For instance one of these courses, Azmak Dere, ran to the right of where the 1/5th Norfolks would form up. Also on the right was scrubland that then led to farmland and ‘short stubby trees’.
‘None of the officers knew the nature of the operation nor the position of the enemy trenches. There was a general impression that the object of the move was to be a ‘sniper drive’ for the country was infested with snipers and they had been annoying us continually for three days.’
Major Thomas Woods Purdy 1/5th Norfolk Regiment
On the left of the 54th Division was the 10th Division. Orders received was that the former was to link the latter with the 53rd Division who were positioned on the Salt Lake and Azmak River. But as is noted by the Norfolk Regiment history there were insufficient troops to do this, with a front of three battalions and the same number in the second line.
Brigade H.Q. arrived at their position at 1125hrs and the Brigade Major, Major Bridgewater, who was ex 1/5th Norfolks was sent immediately to visit each battalion to confirm they were in position ready to advance at 1600hrs. His order of visits were the 1/5th Suffolks, 1/4th Norfolks, 1/8th Norfolks and the 1/5th Norfolks. He arrived at 1545hrs with maps of the Helles area.
However, when the 163rd Brigade H.Q. moved up to the start line it was ascertained that the 1/5th Suffolks and the 1/8th Hampshires had not received any orders and the 1/4th Norfolks were only getting ready to move, but their C.O. was not happy that he had not received written orders about this and threatened not to move until this was rectified. It is clear that Proctor-Beauchamp had already failed in his duty to inform the other battalions of this order and his ability to command must be brought into question.
‘Company commanders were sent for by the Battalion Headquarters and informed that an advance was to be made immediately towards the hills marked Tekke Tepe and Kavak Tepe. The advance was to be pushed on at all costs, and it was not expected that there would be any opposition but snipers would cause a certain amount of trouble. When asked what the objective was to be Brigade were unable to tell him. He was also uncertain whether there were to be any troops on the flanks of the Brigade. The CO (Colonel J E Rhodes) also said he protested to the Brigadier at the vagueness of the orders.’
From an account made by an officer from the 1/8th Hampshire Regiment
Had it not been for the Brigade Major ascertaining the readiness of the Suffolks and the Hampshires the Norfolks would have advanced on their own.
‘At 3.30 p.m. we received orders to be ready to move at 4 o’clock to go sniper driving, and had no idea we were going into action. Each man was given a pick and a shovel. The idea held among the men was that they were going to dig themselves into positions where they could successfully deal with the enemy snipers who had given us so much trouble.’
Private J E Lockwood, 1/5th Norfolk Regiment
Another veteran of the 1/5th Norfolks had this to say,
‘The only instructions I remember was that we were to advance to the enemy line and dig in or take cover for the night and the enemy line wasn’t really, that was only pointing forward, we didn’t know, we knew we had to look forward and we had to cover our area in our advance.’
Once the order to advance was again issued there had by now been no end of confusion caused. There then followed a number of orders and counter orders resulting in the company commanders being ordered to press on regardless. Ultimately the Turks were able to spot the Norfolks after only advancing 200 yards. The Norfolk’s advance would initially follow this pattern.
Left flank of the battalion B Company, under command of Captain A Pattrick, followed by the Signals Section under the command of Captain Woodwark. Next to B’ Coy, centrally would be D Company under the command of Major Purdy and next to him, right flank, would be A Company commanded by Captain A Knight. Finally, following Purdy would be C Company under the command of Captain Frank Beck followed by the Machine Gun Section commanded by Lieutenant A Culme-Seymour.
The confusion as to where they were was compounded even further when,
‘At about 3.45 p.m. Captain and Adjutant delivered to me a box of maps and ordered me to distribute them amongst the officers. I did so. There were, however, so many maps that it was impossible to examine them or compare them with the country around and officers found themselves obliged to select those most likely to be useful and leave the rest behind.’
From an account made by an unidentified Norfolk Regiment officer
At 4.40 p.m. the brigade advanced, almost forty minutes after the bombardment had started, and almost immediately was told to halt and move half left in order to rectify their alignment. However, only the 1/5th Norfolks got this message.
‘Major Purdy ordered D Company to halt until he could get something definite. A very irate Brunker appeared on the scene demanding to know why Purdy had halted. On being told, Brunker ordered Purdy to extend D Company, fix bayonets and press on without waiting for the Hants and Suffolks to wheel into line. Captain Knight, who had been on field training and army manoeuvres with the 1st Guards Brigade, halted A Company. For his attempt to support Purdy in engineering the Brigade on to the correct alignment, Knight was roundly cursed by Colonel Beauchamp and ordered to advance. Elements of C Company commanded by Captain Frank Beck, moved up from their position in support, becoming intermingled with D Company.’
From 1/5th Territorial Battalion Norfolk Regiment by Dick Rayner
And as the history of the Norfolk Regiment in the Great War points out,
‘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.’
To confuse and compound matters even further the machine Gun Company received an order from Divisional Staff to refrain from advancing with the support company, this was against an order to advance made by Proctor-Beauchamp himself. The C.O. was furious and Culme-Seymour received a dressing down and was ordered to return. In a situation where he could not win Culme-Seymour positioned himself between the leading companies and C Company, a place where he should not have been. They had to manhandle everything themselves, including the heavy machine guns, and Culme-Seymour succumbed to exhaustion during this advance and collapsed.
Witnesses state that they had advanced no further than 50 yards when it was followed by an order to fix bayonets which, shining like mirrors allowed the enemy to identify every movement. So that,
‘From the hills on the right belched forth a terrific cannonade of shrapnel; from the left came hail like machine gun and rifle fire; and bullets came from machine guns and rifles in front.’
Sergeant T Jakeman C Company 1/5th Norfolk Regiment
The men in the blistering heat of that Turkish summer were ordered to double time. Casualties were incurred by the Turkish response almost immediately. It forced the battalion to rush the enemy in bursts with groups of men dashing forward, taking cover and waiting for other groups of men to join them before the process was repeated. Men began to drop out through heat exhaustion brought on by a shortage of water.
‘I thought I would die from want of water. The thirst was terrible and my tongue and lips were swollen. Once during our advance we were nearly dead; and our officer told us to take just a sip and no more.’
Private Cliff Harrison A Company 1/5th Norfolk Regiment
As the Norfolks pressed on the fire became more intense and they began to disintegrate and the advance became more and more broken. The shellfire had also ignited the dry scrubland and this held up more men. Although the men pressed on their numbers dwindled as more and more fell through withering fire and exhaustion.
It should be noted that in all of this confusion and carnage acts of extreme bravery were being carried out. This is born out by Lance Corporal 1781 Herbert Beales. He won the Distinguished Conduct Medal in this action.
‘1781 Lance-Corporal H. Beales, 1/5th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, Territorial Force. For conspicuous gallantry during operations at Kuchuk Annafarta Ova, Gallipoli Peninsula, on 12th October, 1915. He crawled out two hundred yards under heavy fire and brought in a wounded officer. Later he showed great coolness and presence of mind in assisting to rally the men of his platoon.’
London Gazette dated 22nd January 1916
Given that the date is incorrect, we know that his DCM was won on the 12th August, because the officer he brought in was Second Lieutenant T Oliphant of C Company who was rescued by Beales under fire after he had been wounded.
‘That was coming from; big guns were fired from the hills. The other was as we were nearing the positions of the Turks, we advanced, they was firing, we actually arrived at a place where we could see the Turks and that was before my officer fell down. He was going over this ridge, he fell down wounded and we was told not to look after anybody but I rushed to his side and I took my field dressing and his field dressing out of our tubes and I put one on here and one on the back, he had a wound this low and he said to me, ‘Never mind me Tom’ he called me by my Christian name, he say, ‘You take this platoon over’ what remained and he said ‘Never mind about me’ so with that, I could have stopped with him I think, I could have gained a VC as you might say couldn’t they, if I’d rescued him but I had to do as he told me. I went on and until I was, found ourselves through the Turkish lines, behind the Turkish lines.’
Private 1592 Tom Williamson 1/5th Norfolk Regiment
We know that number of men managed to advance 1400 yards to a sunken road before stopping and awaiting the rest of the unit. Second Lieutenant Fawkes commanded this small group and he was ordered to press on by Colonel Proctor-Beauchamp, virtually all of them were taken down when they bunched up in a gap covered by a machine gun.
A small element of the 1/5th managed to reach a small vineyard and another element managed to get to a group of small cottages.
Tom Williamson’s interview is an important story which also proves that although men died behind the Turkish lines others got back to the British lines, but also helps to compound things that we know are not accurate.
‘…I was shot through the arm, my arm isn’t straight now. That was a long time healing. I don’t know why but immediately that hit me that was like someone hitting you in the muscle and I know I had to get back. I had a section of my men and they all lay still killed.’
Mr Williamson was interviewed by the Imperial War Museum after the war and wrote a book entitled, ‘The Disappearance of the King’s Company (Sandringham) in Gallipoli, the day the hills caught fire’, which was published in 1979 by Stockwell.
And in the interview he is asked a number of questions about the action. For instance he is asked about the type of fire coming from the Turkish lines and where it was coming from,
‘Fire from the front of course, and they had surrounded us. Most of our Battalion went through the Turkish lines unknowingly.’
He then describes how far they had advanced into the Turkish lines stating that they were,
‘…scattered around us, I couldn’t tell how far we’d gone through, we’d gone through they’d supposed to hold a farm near.’
He then continues,
‘Well then of course my only hope was to get back. I knew I was finished as Gallipoli was concerned and I went back and that was when I noticed the E Company, the Sandringham Company, under a Sergeant in a barn, there was a barn and he had these men sheltering in this barn and there was shrub on fire and the snipers and the Turks surrounding, that was how I described that they were reported missing. …they was on our right you see and they was there more or less surrounded by the Turks again in this barn so that was a hopeless position for them to be in really and the Turks surrounded then and they were undoubtedly killed and wounded where they were.’
When asked how many men this was Williamson replied,
‘I found 40, 40 in this particular barn under Sergeant Amos his name was. I can picture him now rallying his men.’
He is then asked to describe this further and goes on to state,
‘When I was quickly coming back, I saw him, that would be on my left coming back, this barn towards the shore and could see him rallying his men in this barn, what, of course he lost casualties going up like any other Platoon but what few were left he was rallying for safety but they were, we were all surrounded at that particular position by the Turks.’
He is further questioned about where the Sandringham Company was at that time,
‘Well I should imagine most of our, most of the 5th Battalion lost 600 men in that advance scattedly, in the approach to the Turks they lost these men, fault through leaders not being with them, through snipers firing from the position which the Germans held, they had full command and full view of our approach. I don’t think we stood any chance whatsoever.’
He then goes on to describe what else he saw and what other troops he saw,
‘They were dotted around wounded, differed soldiers, this chap in particular. Well then I continued my way back and the reserve Battalions, they were in reserve of our whole line, they were following toward us, I should imagine they thought we were the enemy and came across one chap from our section and I helped him to dress his wounds and we went along arm in arm, then I met my own charge hand who was my charge hand in Melton Constable. He was a sergeant Major and he had been dazed and didn’t know where he was and we three marched down to the shore base as far as we were concerned Gallipoli campaign was finished.’
All of the above accounts have been taken from the interview which can be found at the Imperial War Museum, Reference Number, Reel 3 – 9317/4.
As you can see he and the interviewer makes mention of E Company ‘the Sandringham Company’, which by then, as noted in Part 1, did not exist. This is certainly where confusion and misinformation arises in some accounts from veterans. Sergeant Amos cannot be traced in the records now available to me. In fact I can only find a Private 240275 William Cecil Amos who did not serve with the 1/5th Norfolks until 1916. This interview was made a long time after the event and as we will see accounts from the time made by interviews and newspaper accounts from 1916 tend to be far more accurate. He even contradicts himself when the title of his book is partly titled, The Disappearance of the King’s Company (Sandringham)’. This again could lead the reader to believe that everyone came from Sandringham.
So there is danger with interviews made well after the event, which often lead to men stating things that they feel interviewers might want to hear or their memories are fogged by time.
What also contradicts this account is an account made by Private 2941 William Atkins from Great Yarmouth. In an interview with the Yarmouth Mercury in 1916, when he had returned home after being wounded on the day, the newspaper noted that Atkins stated,
‘A Company seems to have been the only one to get in with the bayonet as they charged and took a farmhouse fortified with Maxims. The battalion after a long advance charged a gully in which Turks were sheltering but the enemy ran as they saw them approaching so that they never got to close quarters. This gully represented the furthest point of their advance and here they dug themselves in to resist the counter attack which was delivers from the front and two sides.’
We will look at this again in Part 4.
Another group was joined by Colonel Proctor-Beauchamp and the Adjutant. The C.O. was seen by Private S T Smith to say ‘Hound them out boys!’ It was the last time he was seen alive and probably the last order he ever gave. It was here that the surviving officers managed to take stock of what had happened and Major W Barton and Lieutenant Evelyn Beck led the surviving troops back to friendly lines when it became dark. Had they stayed they would have almost certainly died with the rest.
In the fourth part of this series we will look at the investigation into the 1/5th Norfolks reported disappearance and tell the truth of what actually happened to them.
The fourth part of this series will be published on 13th August 2015.