One of the strangest stories of Gallipoli is that of the ‘Lost Sandringham Company’. In the summer of 1915 the Gallipoli campaign had ground to a halt, and the army command decided to start a new push to the north of the main landings, at Suvla Bay. Most of the soldiers were to come from ‘Kitchener’s Army’ – men who had signed up following the ‘Your Country Needs You’ advertising campaign.
Amongst the soldiers was a very unusual group, made up entirely from workers on the Royal Estate at Sandringham in Norfolk. They were ‘Territorials’ – part-timers who trained at evenings and weekends. In charge of the company was 54 year old Capt. Frank Beck, the Land Agent, whose job was to manage the whole Sandringham Estate.
The senior estate staff – butler, head gardener, gamekeeper – were sergeants and corporals, while the estate labourers were the rank and file. The company was part of the 5th Battalion in the Norfolk Regiment and set sail for Gallipoli on July 30th 1915. They landed there on 10th August and two days later were sent into battle. That’s the last anybody heard of them – they simply vanished.
Well, that was the story anyway.
Myths began to build up about the Sandringham Company, including one that said the whole Battalion had been swallowed by a mysterious low flying cloud! However, after the war a large group of bodies was found in the area where the Battalion disappeared, behind the Turkish lines. The bodies were never identified, but 122 of them were wearing the Norfolk Regiment’s shoulder title. The mystery is still unsolved. What we do know is that Frank Beck and 16 of his staff never came back.
The Gallipoli Centenary Education Project has ‘re-opened the case’. Well, not literally, but we have started discussing educational activities with two schools on the Sandringham Estate, introduced to us by none other than today’s Land Agent. One of the schools – Sandringham and West Newton Primary School – is next to the church where Frank Beck’s memorial plaque can be seen today. We will be exploring local links with the Gallipoli campaign, and perhaps finding relatives of the original ‘Lost Sandringhams’. Watch this space for more news.