December 9 2013 Latest news:
The stained glass window at West Newton Church in remembrance of the Sandringham estate workers from C Company of the Norfolk Regiment's 5th battalion who died at Gallipoli. Land agent Frank Beck who led the men is depicted as St George. Photo: Denise Bradley Copy: Elaine Maslin For: EDP Archant Norfolk pics © 2007 (01603) 772434
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
It was one of the defining moments of the first world war – during which a Norfolk regiment played a major part.
When Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, proposed that Britain help launch a major assault on the Gallipoli peninsula in the hope of capturing the Ottoman capital of Constantinpole, it was the 4th and 5th Battalions of the Norfolk Regiment who were sent in to lead the battle.
Yet many of the men, mainly from Dersingham, Sandringham and the surrounding areas, were never to return as their opposition took advantage of poor leadership, a lack of planning and bad luck to inflict one of the heaviest Allied defeats of the war.
Now the son of one of those who fought in the famous Battle of Gallipoli between February 1915 and January 1916 is to hold a memorial service to mark their sacrifice.
John Crowe’s father, Robert Crowe, an ex-worker on the Sandringham Estate, was one of those fortunate enough to survive a conflict in which some 214,000 Allies and 300,000 Turks lost their lives.
“I grew up knowing he had been there but never researching or knowing anything about it until much later,” recalled Mr Crowe.
“I was busy going out of my motorbike, chatting up girls and doing what teenagers do. I now realise I missed out on many opportunities to have discussed it with him. When you are young, it is not something you think about.”
Mr Crowe now organises the annual Gallipoli Memorial Service, which started at West Newton Church in 2004 but was transferred to the larger St Nicholas Church in Dersingham three years later due to its increasing popularity.
“Many of those who went to Gallipoli would have come from Dersingham, so it could be held anywhere in that part of Norfolk in terms of remembering the men who went off to Gallipoli,” Mr Crowe explained.
Mr Crowe’s father was a corporal under Captain Frank Beck, who was portrayed by the actor David Jason in the film All the King’s Men, which depicted the disastrous Gallipoli invasion.
“At 54, he was a bit too old to go off and be a foot soldier,” Mr Crowe said of Captain Beck.
But his insistence on leading the men, despite his age, was one reason the mission did not succeed – but there were many other contributing factors.
“It was a failure, no question about it,” Mr Crowe said. “However, it is easy to judge an event afterwards.
“It is a great shame it ever happened. We had given them lots of signs we were interested in fighting in Gallipoli. They had lots of time to prepare and that is why they proved so difficult to beat.
“It could be argued that a much smaller force could have been more successful.”
He also said many of the men in the battalions were “amateurs”, adding: “They had not really been in combat before. It was very difficult.”
Mr Crowe said he never really knew what his father’s views were about Gallipoli, although he did recall him being against the intervention in Suez in 1956.
Despite surviving Gallipoli Mr Crowe’s father did not escape unscathed, suffering a shrapnel wound in his back.
However Mr Crowe said the injury “probably saved his life”, as it meant he had to leave Gallipoli early before the death toll stacked up. He later went on to fight more successful battles in Africa.
The memorial service is to be supported by a range of organisations including the Royal British Legion, the Royal Norfolk and Royal Anglian Regiment Associations, the Britain-Australia Society and the Gallipoli Association.
There will also be representatives attending from Australia, New Zealand and Turkey. It is to be held at St Nicholas Church in Dersingham on Saturday at 2.30pm. People are invited to gather in the church hall for tea and biscuits afterwards.