‘The Vanished Battalion’ or the ‘Lost Sandringham’ was a group of soldiers from the 1/5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment that allegedly became lost during the Dardanelles Campaign of World War I. A certain mystique developed around the loss of these soldiers following the war. They allegedly disappeared in a mysterious mist that hovered on the battlefield of Kuchuck Anafarta Ova, Gallipoli.
Some claim their loss had something to do with a supernatural occurrence. There is also the fact that a loss of such a large group of soldiers with no survivors is exceedingly rare, if not unheard of. However, skeptics wondered if they were ‘lost’ at all, or if their bodies were simply never properly identified.
Most of the members of the ‘Vanished Battalion’ came from the E Company of the Norfolk Regiment. Often referred to as the Sandringham, they obtained their name because they had all come from the staff of the Royal Estate at Sandringham. In 1908, the King ordered a company of military men formed from his staff there.
It was a volunteer force. The men, all originating from the King’s estates, most likely knew each other well. They were a tight-knit group of men from the same social class and consisted of grooms, gardeners, farm laborers, and household staff. In February 1915, the E Company merged with the C company to make it a 4 company battalion. The C Company, now called the King’s Company, shipped off to war on 30 July 1915.
On 10 August of 1915, the Sandringham and the other members of the Norfolk Regiment arrived in Sulva on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. They were under the command of Colonel Horace Proctor-Beauchamp.
They saw action, for the first time, on August 11, 1915. The Allies were attempting to advance on Turkish positions on the peninsula and they were part of the struggle for advancement. The fighting was intense and the Allies were taking heavy losses.
The following day, August 12, the 5th Norfolks met heavy enemy fire after receiving orders to advance.
They fought through the heavy smoke, machine-gun and sniper fire with their comrades. Within a short period of time, they were all gone.
Reports of a Mysterious Occurrence
General Ian Hamilton, Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, recounted the event five months later. His remarks created quite a stir.
In the course of the fight… there happened a very mysterious thing. Amongst these ardent souls was part of a fine company enlisted from the King’s Sandringham estates. 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.General Ian Hamilton, London Gazette. 6 January 1916
It is important to note here that the number of men lost was not, in fact, a full battalion. It was rather close, but the moniker is a misnomer. There were 250 men and 16 officers in the group.
The mystery of the Vanished Battalion took an ominous and paranormal angle when in 1965, three New Zealand veterans from the battle said the men walked into a formation of ground-level clouds and vanished right before their eyes.
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The veteran’s account and General Hamilton’s report fueled tales ranging from UFO abductions to a theory that Turkish forces captured and executed the men as prisoners.
What Really Happened
Battalion Headquarters gave the order to advance at 1600 hours for the hills marked Tekke Tepe and Kavak Tepe. A subsequent confusing order directed the Norfolks to hunt for snipers. Captain Frank Beck commanded the Sandrigham C Company. The A, B, and D Company of the Norfolks joined them in the advance.
A rain of artillery and cannon fire targeted the Norfolks within 50 yards into their advance. Many of them unknowingly crossed the Turkish lines.
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The Norfolks realized their only option was to continue forward. Between heat exhaustion and being picked off by weapons fire, the Norfolks didn’t have a chance. Those who survived the advance became captured and executed. Only a few made it back to safety.
Private Tom Williamson, who survived the battle, provided the final clue to what happened. He reported witnessing the Sandringham company sheltering at a nearby farm. Shrub fire and Turkish soldiers surrounded the company. Williamson realized their precarious situation and assumed they all perished.
How the Vanished Battalion legend began is a mystery all to itself. Reverend Charles Pierrepont Edwards examined the battlefield immediately following the war. He found a Norfolk’s cap badge as well as the remains of 180 bodies. According to Edwards, 122 of them had 5th Norfolk’s uniform markings.
Of course, there are many people who still believe the ‘cloud story’ and think that something supernatural occurred on that day in 1915.
Historic Mysteries staff updated this article on 17 October 2020.