Aftermath & Myth
Local papers reported the loss of 5th Norfolk officers soon after the event, where one paper noted,
‘It is with the deepest regret that we publish the list of missing officers of the 5th (Territorial) Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment. At the time of going to press, no further information is available than the bare fact that they are missing.’
The Lynn Advertiser dated Friday 27th August 1915
A little while later casualty lists were recorded for the men who were killed, wounded or missing. In fact, in the succeeding weeks, casualty lists recording the names of the officers and men, wounded, killed, missing and taken prisoner appeared in the local papers.
However, a dispatch, published on 6th January 1916, on the Gallipoli Campaign by Sir Ian Hamilton helped to fuel the mystery thereby helping others to go down a route whereby their fate has been woefully misreported.
‘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.’
The Eastern Daily Press reported on the 7th January 1916, ‘SANDRINGHAM MEN DISAPPEAR.’ The article went on to state that 16 officers and 250 men pushed deep into enemy lines and ‘…were lost from sight and sound. None of them ever came back.’ Directly quoting Hamilton’s after action report.
‘In the county’s principle newspapers the E.D.P. and the Norfolk News, the fate of the 5th Norfolks at Gallipoli was soon taken over by the 9th Norfolks at Loos and the 7th Battalion at the Hulluch Craters as well as the execution of Edith Cavell. Overall the fate of Captain Beck was given no more coverage than many fellow officers after the disaster. The 5th Norfolks soon disappeared into obscurity. Only Colonel Woodwark, brother of Captain E.R. Woodwark continually pressed the War Office for information but to no avail. Obviously there were other approaches to request information, such as through places such as the American Embassy in Turkey, but nothing of great significance as far as I can find from records available.’
From correspondence with Dick Rayner in 2012
And yet accounts reported soon after show that many of the men were killed in small groups defending positions within Turkish lines. But these men do not amount to an entire battalion and many did not disappear and these accounts were reported by men who survived and returned to their own lines.
But interest in their story grew, especially when the King enquired as to their fate. One thing of note at this point in time is that one of the main reasons the King took so much interest in the fate of this unit is because of his estate manager Captain Frank Beck. In a small article printed in the Lynn Advertiser with a picture of Beck it was reported,
‘LOST AT GALLPOLI-Captain Beck, commanding officer of the Sandringham Company of Territorials who charged into the forest at Gallipoli and were lost.’
From the Lynn News
It is partly from this that the legend was built that the entire battalion had all disappeared into the ether and was never seen again. Looking at the history of the Norfolk Regiment that equates to 30 officers and 1000 other ranks!
In a cable sent to Hamilton at some point towards the end of September 1915 the King enquired,
‘I am most anxious to be informed as to the fate of men of the 5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment as they include my agent Captain Frank Beck and the Sandringham Company.’
From correspondence with Dick Raynor
In more recent times, e.g. the present day, it has been mooted that Beck and a number of the men who advanced were summarily executed by the Turks in the farm where a group of them got to. But there are no accounts from the time to corroborate this and we will come onto Captain Beck in a little while. Which means their fate is still written about without actually checking on the facts that are available.
But if we look at all of the evidence objectively we can see that even the press looked at it in a more serious and sensible way and articles help to disprove the myths that have been put forward. For instance, the two officers who were captured were reported as such in local newspapers along with the names of 13 other ranks who also became prisoners. Accounts from men who were there were published soon after, especially in the Yarmouth Mercury and the Lynn News.
One went with the headline,
‘CAPTAIN CEDRIC COXON AT CONSTANTINOPLE’
And then went on to report.
MEN WHO NEVER CAME BACK
LIST OF WOUNDED PRISONERS AND WOUNDED
On enquiry at the Norwich Headquarters of the Territorial Force Association we learn that according to information there compiled 177 men were regarded as missing from the 5th Norfolks after their mysterious adventure described by Sir Ian Hamilton in his report on the Dardanelles operations. Sir Ian, it will be remembered spoke apparently in round numbers, of 16 officers and 250 men. At Norwich the authorities whose business it is to complete the statistical abstracts could not at the outset make the figure any higher than 177. If these 137 are still unaccounted for. There thus remains a balance of 40 men, of whom the following two officers and thirteen men now known to be prisoners of war in Turkey while the remaining 25 are dead or in the hospitals of the Allies, or are known to be otherwise safe…
From the Lynn News
And what is more this account, which appeared in the local press in 1916, actually listed who was accounted for and who was still considered missing. Even the brave action of Private Beales was printed in the local papers and shows that men survived and returned home and from enemy territory. In a small article with his picture, see part 3, it stated,
‘Too much praise could not be given, Lce-Corpl Beales D.C.M., for his heroism at Anafarta,” says a returned 5th Norfolk man concerning the Leziate hero, whose valour was spoken of in last week’s Lynn News, “for by his remarkable coolness and pluck when everything was in a state of confusion he saved many of our men. He did splendidly and those other men would do anything for him since then, in fact, he is idolised.’
From the Lynn News
We also have an excellent article printed in one of the local papers of the time that interviewed a survivor of the battle who described that fateful day quite vividly and on the subject of what happened to the missing he stated,
‘I did not see anything of the missing officers after I got lost. I heard the Colonel call out when we approached the huts I have referred to, but I did not see him then. I did not hear him again afterwards. During the attack I did not see anything of Capt Pattrick. I did not see any wood into which the officers and men could have disappeared, and I certainly did not see them charge into a wood in fact the Norfolks did not charge as far as my knowledge goes. I know absolutely nothing about how the officers and men disappeared. At first, like others, I thought that the officers and men who are now reported missing had returned to other trenches but later I found that this was not the case. I inquired a lot about them but all I could find out was that they had disappeared-vanished. We could only come to the conclusion that they had advanced too far, had been captured and made prisoners of war.
We knew that some of the men had been killed and others been wounded, so it did not seem at all unlikely that these others had been captured by the enemy. I heard no news about the 5th Norfolks charging into a wood until I came home.’
Private Sidney Pooley 1/5th Norfolk Regiment
The only account we actually have of the execution of men on that day comes from a 3rd party account, the sister-in-law of Arthur Webber, who served with the battalion. He stated that he had been saved by a German officer after a number of men had been shot or bayoneted by the Turks. But he told nobody about this until he died in 1969 and the story was not disclosed by his sister-in-law until 1991! I sadly put this in the same category of account as that made by Tom Williamson, (see part 3).
And for this blog I want to include an account that came from a witness who was there and who told his story in the Lynn News in 1916.
‘In my opinion the officers and men of the 5th Norfolks who were in the firing line, who were able to, continued the advance when the other regiments in the brigade had come to a standstill, and were taken prisoners. It seems to me that the greatest mystery about the whole thing is that so many of us got back at all.’
Lance Corporal 2414 Ray Towler
And not only do we have that account from someone who returned to his lines we also have accounts from two men who were captured by the Turks. These interviews were recorded by their captors. The first is quite guarded and comes from an other rank.
‘We, the whole regiment, landed on the northern shores of the Suvla Bay. We were 20 men in a trench on August 12. 17 were shot. Three of us got wounded. We remained in the trench. They took me prisoner.’
Sergeant 1870 Alfred Allen
The other account is far more detailed and comes from one of the men who had been reported as a POW,
The Turkish fire was so dense and decisive that all of the soldiers around me were killed.
Only the Sergeant and I remained. We managed to move forward for another 100 yards. Sergeant was hit, and he fell. I moved forward for 30 yards when I was hit. As I lost too much blood, I hardly pulled myself together. I tried to walk. I do not know how much I walked before falling.
When I came around the stars were twinkling in the sky; the Turks who thought I was dead placed their guns on my body and started to shoot. Were I to move, it would have been my end. I passed out again. When I came around the next time I found myself in the Turkish trenches, which I was trying to seize, full of Turkish sons compassionate faces.
They gave me water and food; and took me to a first aid station on their shoulders.
2nd Lieutenant W G S Fawkes
Now although you can read between the lines in what 2/Lt Fawkes is saying in his account this again proves that men were taken prisoner and not just butchered as others have suggested.
And what of Frank Beck?
He was last seen by Private John Dye sat under a tree with his head leaning over. In Nigel McCrery’s book it is mentioned that his pocket watch was found after the war and after a lot of correspondence it was returned to the family. I really still fail to see what this proves? And what is not mentioned in any account I have read is that some of his personal belongings were found soon after the action! In the Lynn News in 1916 where they interviewed Sergeant William Jakeman who had survived the advance the same article it made note of this and part of a headline stated,
‘CAPTAIN BECK’S POCKET BOOK FOUND’
And goes on to report,
‘Information comes to hand that Capt Frank Beck’s pocket book and also his cheque-book, found on the plain across which he passed in the advance on Anafarta have been found and have been forwarded to Sandringham. The finder handed them over to the military authorities, who forwarded them to relatives.’
From the Lynn News
As with countless engagements in WWI the bodies of the men who fell that day did not have the luxury of a burial detail. In fact they lay where they fell until 1919 when the battalion’s Chaplin the Reverend Charles Pierrepont-Edwards, who won the Military Cross for organising stretcher parties under fire around Suvla Bay, went back to the peninsula with a grave’s registration party. He had been given the task of locating the missing men of the 1/5th Norfolk Regiment. Initially this seemed to be an impossible task but then quite by chance a number of men from the 163rd Brigade were found. Pierrepont-Edwards reported at the time.
‘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 Carter. 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.’
Now that one statement, to me, always blows out all the other theories out of the water altogether. It has been documented time and time again and yet we still go down the route of fantasy and myth. And many of the accounts do not take into account that the bodies of these men would have quickly decomposed, especially in the heat of this area. It would have made the process of identification virtually impossible. And again no mention of summary executions although it is intimated that Pierrpont-Edwards mentioned that the bodies had bullet holes in their heads to a friend after the war. But his ‘official’ written report makes no mention of this!
And again this comment was made as is noted, ‘…some years after the war…’ And yet his report written at the time is extremely scathing of the Turks.
I again put this in the Williamson (see part 3) and the Webber pot of witnesses.
The reason for that being is that Pierrepont-Edwards report on his findings is incredibly scathing of the Turks. In it he states,
‘It was in this ravine that many of the bodies were found and it would appear from this that a portion of the battalion were surrounded in the farm and annihilated.’
He bullet points the following,
1. Almost every grave was desecrated and the Cross or other distinguishing mark destroyed or removed. In some case the bodies had not been re-interred. This explains the difficulty in finding the graves of those who were known to have been buried. In the case of isolated graves it was frequently impossible.
2. Bodies were only bones and all recognizable uniform decayed. A shoulder title, Regimental crest or badge of rank was often the only means of identification and in many cases those were absent.
3. The Turks always robbed the dead of everything of value and made a practice of collecting discs. This accounts for the fact that so many are buried as unknown.
For someone who is openly critical of the Turks in his report I again ask why is it that he left out the fact that every body had a bullet hole in the back of their heads?
The two men mentioned in Pirrepont-Edwards report are Corporal 2624 John Augustus Barnaby who enlisted at East Dereham. John was 24 when he was killed and was the son of John and Georgina Barnaby of 33 South Everard Street in King’s Lynn and Private 1028 Walter Carter who was born in Wretton and who enlisted at Stoke Ferry. Walter was 22 when he was killed and was the son of Sarah Ann Carter Wretton Road in Wretton. Both are now laid to rest in Azmak Cemetery at Suvla.
As we have seen Hamilton lists the total dead for the 1/5th as 16 officers and 250 men, figures which have always been taken as totally accurate and were probably taken from either the 5th Norfolks or the 163rd Brigade casualty returns. The war diary lists ‘22 officers and about 350 men’. However, neither was correct and did not take into consideration men captured, wounded, or those that came in later on. This is especially when it must be reiterated that these men did not just come from Sandringham. We will look at this in the final part of this series.
But as one recent account notes.
‘Many wounded, disoriented and exhausted men returned back to the British lines over the next few days. Surviving the war as Prisoners were at least two officers and thirty-one other ranks from the brigades attack, also adding to the surviving numbers. The final casualty figure for the 1/5th Norfolks was adjusted to fifteen officers and 141 men killed on 12th August, of which only Captain Beck and sixteen men were recruited from the Sandringham estate. This is the fact, not the myth.’
Gallipoli Association Website
The reality of the attack on that day, that I can see, is that the 1/5th Norfolks, along with the 1/5th Suffolks and the 1/8th Hampshires, were at the very outset a very choice target to the Turks having exposed themselves. They then pushed on and advanced into extremely an extremely well defended Turkish front and those that were not killed in the advance wre finished off during a number of Turkish counter attacks. The Norfolks made their own little salient as they advanced and were fired upon from three different directions, front, left and right by an enemy commanding the high ground. History teaches us that this is not the best way to attack and the same fate would befall the 36th Ulster Division on the Somme in 1916. So it is not surprising that so many were lost.
In the final part of this series I will contiune to look at the casualty figures and also tell you why I wrote about the battalion in the first place.
This will be published on 14th August 2015.