THE KING'S MEN

The King’s Men: The Sandringham Company & Norfolk Regiment Territorial Battalions, 1914-1918

Author: Neil R Storey

Publisher: Pen & Sword, 257 pages, 150 illustrations

Published: Jan 2020

Price: £25.00

ISBN: 9781526765116

Neil Storey's book is a welcome edition to the story of the 4th and 5th Battalions of the Norfolk Regiment, the two Territorial battalions that went overseas during the Great War. Of these the 1/5th Battalion is probably the most well-known due to their tragic exploits on 12 August 1915 at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli. This ill-fated attack led to the myth of ‘the missing Norfolks’ with continues to receive focus on the vanished men of the Sandringham Royal Estate. The seed for this myth was sewn by General Sir Ian Hamilton himself in his 1916 Despatches that included the myth making words “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.” Ever since, the vanishing myth has been perpetuated in books like ‘The Vanished Battalion’ by Nigel McCrery (1992) and the 1999 TV drama that was based on the very same book, re-titled ‘All The King’s Men’. As a TV drama it was awful, despite a sterling performance by actor David Jason who portrayed the King’s Agent Captain Frank Beck. Filmed in Spain it was never going to look like Turkey, and the old myths of the battalions disappearance, Turkish war-crimes and female snipers were just a few reasons for this. Storey tells this story in a more accurate way and goes a long way to dispel these myth’s. They did not disappear but advanced too far, cut-off and many were killed or captured. Many more did return to the British lines to fight another day. Of course you never want the truth to get in the way of a good story.

Storey’s book is more than just this action and the background into Norfolk before the Great is interesting to read. It was the gardeners, grooms, gamekeepers, foresters, shepherds, saw mill workers and general labourers that would be the makeup of the Norfolk battalions as they went off to war.  The following chapters go on to give background in to the creation of the Territorial Force, the ‘Sandringham Company’, mobilisation, training and the move to foreign shores. By the time of Gallipoli it is worth noting that the ‘Sandringham Company’ was no more, but Storey annoyingly keeps on referring to this title later in the book. Admittedly the Sandringham legacy was still strong in the newly created ‘C’ Company. Another niggle is that of female Turkish snipers being used. It is proven fact that the Turks did not use female snipers, and it would have been nice to see Storey challenge the associated soldier’s accounts that have been included. Post Gallipoli the book looks at Palestine during 1917-18. Whilst it was pleasing to see a fair amount of detail on Gallpoli, the Palestine chapter was fairly short and it would have been nice to have read more on the battles of Gaza and what was life was like for the Norfolk men in the desert. These points in no way let the book down, which I found was very well written. It will be an important gap filler in the history of the 54th Division, which incidentally doesn’t appear to have a history.

This book will be of interest for those in local history, the Norfolk Regiment, Gallipoli, Palestine and the Great War in general. It is interesting to note that the author has dedicated the book to the memory of his Great Grandfather, a 5th battalion man, so goes to show that they did not all disappear. A good book, with excellent photographs and narrative. Recommended reading.