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Honour paid to heroes of Gallipoli

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh with their wreaths.
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh with their wreaths.

17 January 2005 20:31

They were proud volunteers to a man, who willingly left a secure and peaceful existence on Norfolk's royal estate to take up arms for king and country.

And for many, that unquestioning loyalty and sense of national duty would require them to pay the ultimate price.

Yesterday, the Sandringham soldiers who lost their lives at Gallipoli were paid a special honour as the much-documented campaign prepares to mark its 90th anniversary.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh laid wreaths at the war memorial erected by George V and Queen Mary on the estate to commemorate the 77 local men killed during the Great War.

Eighteen of them, all members of C Company of the Norfolk Regiment's 5th Battalion, led by Sandringham's land agent, Captain Frank Beck, perished during an ill-fated allied expedition which aimed to capture Constantinople and open up a Black Sea supply route to Russia in August, 1915.

The landing at Suvla Bay on the west coast of the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey resulted in heavy losses.

On August 12, as part of an attack on Turkish positions, the 5th Norfolks, including Capt Beck and his men, moved forward under their commanding officer, Sir Henry Proctor-Beauchamp.

In the face of ferocious opposition, the advance quickly turned to confusion but they pressed on resolutely into dense clouds of smoke raised by burning scrub.

They veered away from the central thrust of the attack, their fate only becoming clear in 1919 when War Graves Commission clearance parties discovered the remains of more than 120 British soldiers well behind the former Turkish main line.

Although only two were positively identified, it was clear these were officers and men of C Company.

At 53, Capt Beck, who died with his two nephews, was theoretically over the age for active service overseas, but insisted on embarking with his men.

An inscribed gold watch presented to him by Queen Alexandra as a mark of her respect, which he carried into battle, was recovered from a Turkish officer after the war and returned to his family.

In another tribute to his bravery, he is depicted as St George in a striking stained glass window at West Newton Church on the estate.

Yesterday, members of the Gallipoli Association attended morning service with the royal party at the church of St Mary Magdalene, Sandringham, which was led by the rector of the Sandringham group of parishes, the Rev Jonathan Riviere.

Afterwards, the Queen walked the short distance to the memorial with Prince Philip, who is patron of the association.

Wreaths were also laid by association chairman Captain Christopher Fagan and Major Dean Stefanetti of the Royal Anglian Regiment, into which the Norfolk Regiment was merged and whose soldiers furnished a guard of honour.

Prayers were said by Mr Riviere and a blessing given by the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev Graham Dow, who was the preacher at the church service.

Association committee member Colonel Michael Hickey said other events would be held during the year to mark the anniversary but yesterday's ceremony had offered the only opportunity to involve the Queen and the Duke.

"We are so glad that the sovereign has agreed to attend," he said. "It's a great honour to us in the association and the people who served there.

"Every man was a volunteer - there was no conscription. Many of them had never left the country.

"It is so sad when you think of all these wonderful men - salt of the earth - who had lived on the estate here as keepers, farm labourers, stewards and all the jobs connected with the estate, and had an undying loyalty to their employers.

"And their employers looked after them. There was no welfare state in those days and the loyalty went both ways, up and down."

"It may have been 'the bad old days'; it may have been that everybody had to tug their forelock and defer but it came naturally, and nobody knew any differently.

"I am still so moved by what that generation endured and suffered - and the way they were treated by the politicians afterwards."

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1 February 2005

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