The Norfolk Regiment in August 1915: The Territorials in Gallipoli

Each month staff at the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum look back to what the Norfolk Regiment was doing 100 years ago, and tells their story through objects from the museum’s collection. See previous blog posts here.

The First Fourth and First Fifth Norfolk Battalions, known as the Territorial battalions, fought in the disastrous Campaign in Gallipoli in 1915. The 1/5th Battalion was recruited in north Norfolk, and included one company from the Royal Estate at Sandringham.

Sandringham Company in tropical uniform, 1915

Sandringham Company in tropical uniform, 1915

Almost a hundred years ago, on the 12th August 1915, this Battalion was part of an attack on Turkish positions inland from Suvla Bay. They received conflicting orders and advanced beyond the point where they could be supported by other troops. It was a calamity for British high command. The 1/5th were surrounded and suffered heavy losses. Their unmarked graves were found in 1919.

Shortly after the action, the King expressed a plea for information on the Norfolk Battalion in a letter to Sir Ian Hamilton (commanding the expeditionary force at Gallipoli). The King was anxious for news of the Sandringham company and their Captain in particular.

Letter from King George

Letter from King George

If it were not for the King’s interest, the 5th Norfolks (particularly the Sandringham Company) would never have received mass publicity.  Despite the facts being published immediately after the war, the fate of the 1/5th Battalion has given rise to all kinds of wild speculation and myths. They are still known by many as the “Vanished Battalion”.

The remaining soldiers from these battalions were brought up to strength by reinforcements, and went on to fight in Egypt and Gaza, advancing north towards Jerusalem where they remained until the end of the War. The 1/5th Battalion, including many Sandringham men, suffered more slaughter along the way but received nothing like the amount of attention as at Gallipoli; The disastrous action in August of 1915.

Companies of the 1/5th marching into Cairo, 1918

Companies of the 1/5th marching into Cairo, 1918. Some of these men had fought at Gallipoli three years earlier.

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The Norfolk Regiment in July 1915: Captain Hammond’s letters

Each month staff at the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum look back to what the Norfolk Regiment was doing 100 years ago, and tells their story through objects from the museum’s collection. See previous blog posts here.

Correspondence with his men's families after their death meant a great deal to Captain John Hammond, seated furthest right

Letters from grieving family members meant a great deal to Captain John Hammond, seated furthest right

Within the Museum collection is an extremely touching set of papers that once belonged to Captain John Hammond of the 7th Battalion.

As a Commanding Officer in the First World War, one of Hammond’s duties was to write to the families of men who had been killed or were missing. Included in these papers today are letters from grieving families in reply to his original bad news.

In July 1915 the the 7th Battalion moved into the Ploegsteert Wood ( known wryly as “Plugstreet Wood” to the Tommies) at the Southern tip of the Ypres Salient. At this time one of Hammond’s men, Private A. Nobbs was killed by a shell. In the Museum collection today, Hammond’s correspondence following this action still survives. A deeply moving letter, sent to Captain Hammond by Reverend Smith of Walpole St Andrew reads;

Dear Sir

I write on behalf of the mother of Pte A. Nobbs in your Coy [company] who was killed by a shell last July.   She would be very grateful if you could furnish her, at your convenience, with some further information as to his end, whether his death was instantaneous, whether his body was buried with the Rites of the Church, with a distinguishing mark over his grave, and whether any small effects left by him will in due course be forwarded to her.   The Mother was greatly upset by the sad news so considerately conveyed in your letter, which contained a most comforting statement of your opinion that ‘he was a good man and a brave soldier’.

I have known him for many years and he was formerly one of our choir boys.

I remain, Dear Sir

Yours truly

Reginald Smith

Hammond002

Hammond001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These letters offer a startling insight into the thoughts of many families in the immediate aftermath of their loss, and show in a small way their impact within the community. The polite, deferential language commonly used make them all the more touching. Moreover, their very existence today tells us a great deal about Captain Hammond too. These letters meant a huge amount to him, and are cherished by the museum.

The Norfolk Regiment in June 1915: Robert Millington Knowles

Each month staff at the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum look back to what the Norfolk Regiment was doing 100 years ago, and tells their story through objects from the museum’s collection. See previous blog posts here.

Robert Millington Knowles' letters. Now at the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum in Norwich Castle

Robert Millington Knowles’ letters. Now at the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum in Norwich Castle

Contained in this leather-bound volume are the letters of perhaps the most eccentric officer to have ever fought in the Norfolks; Robert Millington Knowles.

Knowles was born into a rich mine-owning family. He spent his childhood at the 200-acre Newent Court Estate in Gloucestershire before moving to Tavernham Hall, just outside Norwich. In his teens, Knowles went to Dulwich College public school and Trinity Hall Cambridge. He enjoyed riding his motorbike and playing golf, and was a keen member of shooting clubs. He played in the Cambridge freshers rugby match and raced his Rolls Royce at Broadlands.

Knowles14 RMK on bike

His spirit of adventure would not be curtailed and at the outbreak of War he left Cambridge to take a commission in the Norfolks. After training with the Special Reserve Battalion he joined the 1st Battalion and left for the Western Front.

Knowles 8 RMK in uniform, 1918

His letters home give us a startling insight into his daily life. He regularly thanks his mother for the Fortnum & Mason hampers she sends him, and in a letter to his sister dated 1st June 1915, writes;

“If you’ve got time will you please run down to the Golf Club and ask Donald for 30 (or as many as he had got) old golf balls.  Will you please send these out to me together with my Mashie I want to keep up my golf and intend practicing Mashie shots into the Deuchers trenches!  If you tell Donald whom and for what purpose they are for he will probably let you have them quite cheap!  I should like them as soon as possible.  (Am quite serious about  the above, and am not ragging)”

Knowles golf

Knowles was later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, a dream of his for a long time, where he won a Military Cross for bravery. He died on 1st June 1950.