The Cubitt family and 5th. Battalion, The Royal Norfolk Regiment
which became known as "The Vanished Battalion"
The 5th. Battalion of "The Norfolks" was one of the First World War Battalions of the British Army which were called "Pal's Battalions". These occured in many regiments, and were comprised of men who were recruited during the war from men with a close civilian connection. They might have been from the same district of a city (or even a number of streets situated close together), or could have been working for a particular employer at the outbreak of war. The men of "The 5th" were unique in that nearly all of them were employed by The Royal Family on their Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, or had family connections to Sandringham. This battalion was therefore originally dubbed "The Sandringham Battalion".
The 5th. later became known as "The Vanished Battalion" because they were seen by men of other units to march into battle against the Turks at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli on 12 August 1915 and were never seen again. The Dardanelles Campaign on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey was abandoned in December 1915 and all British and Commonwealth troops were evacuated. The bodies of "The Vanished Battalion" were not found until after the war, in 1919. Even then, the details of their fate remained largely unknown.
Further mystery about the 5th. arose when, several years after World War 1, two Gallipoli veterans firmly stated that they had seen those men march into a "strange cloud" which hid them from sight, and when it then lifted and dispersed, the men of the battalion had just "disappeared". This tale passed into legend. Eventually a book was written about the incident, "The Vanished Battalion" by Nigel McCrery (published by Simon & Shuster in 1992). This book eventually led to a BBC-TV documentary drama production called "All The King's Men", and to another documentary about The Sandringham Battalion produced by His Royal Highness Prince Edward.
The Commanding Officer of the 5th. Battalion, "The Sandringham Battalion", The Royal Norfolk Regiment was Colonel Sir Horace G.P. Beauchamp, Bart., C.B.; a Baronet and Companion of the Order of the Bath. He had served in the Sudan and South African Campaigns, and retired from the Army in 1904. Ten years later, in 1914 he returned to his regiment to serve in 'The Great War'.
Amongst his officers were three sons of Edward George Cubitt, J.P. (Justice of the Peace) of Honing Hall, Worstead, Norfolk and his wife, Christabel M. Cubitt. Those officers were Captain Edward Randall Cubitt (born 1870, known to family and friends by his second forename), Lieutenant Victor Murray Cubitt (born 1888), and Captain Eustace Henry Cubitt (born 1889). Taking into consideration the custom of the time of passing certain family forenames down from generation to generation and also of using women's maiden surnames as forenames (where sons were concerned), it is likely (but not certain) that Christabel Cubitt's second initial of M refers to the name Murray, used before her married surname. This may be a clue to the family's Irish connections.
The three men on the left were all killed on 12 August 1915 at Suvla, Turkey (aged respectively 27, 19 and 45 years old), together with 264 other colleagues of "The Vanished Battalion"
2nd. Lieutenant Randall Burroughes (born 1896) was a cousin of the Cubitt brothers, and also served in the 5th. Battalion of The Royal Norfolk Regiment. His parents were Francis George Burroughes and Anne Kathleen Julia Burroughes of 120 Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, London.
Another Cubitt who served in the Norfolks during WW1 was Private Edwin John Cubitt (Service No: 200607) of Brooke, Norfolk; son of James and Hannah Cubitt of Gingleford, Norwich. He served in the 4th. Battalion, died on 5 December 1917 (aged 23); and is buried in Grave C 23 at Port Said Memorial Cemetery, Egypt. Private Edward Cubitt (Service No: 355), served in the 9th. Battalion of The Royal Fusiliers, and died on 25 December 1915, also aged 23. He is buried in grave I G 7 of the British and Indian Cemetery at Pas de Calais, France. He was the son of Edward and Matilda Cubitt, of 7 Annadale Road, Chiswick, London. His low Service Number (355) is a strong indication that he was a career soldier who had enlisted in the British Army several years before World War 1, and had probably served overseas in The British Empire prior to 1914. Due to the unusualness of the Cubitt name, either or both of these men may have been related to the Cubitts of Honing Hall, Norfolk.
Randall Burroughes, together with his cousins Edward and Victor Cubitt, 13 other officers and 250 men of the 5th. Battalion, disappeared on the battlefield at Suvla on 12 August 1915, together with their Colonel. The Commanding Officer of the 5th. Battalion, Colonel Sir Horace Proctor Beauchamp, Bart., C.B., had served in the British Army Campaigns in Sudan, (Suakim), and in South Africa fighting against The Boers. He had retired from the army in 1904, and returned to serve in his regiment when the war in Europe broke out in 1914. Captain F. R. Beck was formerly King George VI's Estate Agent at Sandringham, in charge of the administration of the royal estate there, before commanding The Sandringham Company of The Norfolk Regiment.
The total casualties of the 5th. Battalion on 12 August 1915 were stated in the War Diary compiled by officers of the 4th. Battalion, Norfolk Regiment as having been 22 officers and about 350 men (killed and wounded). The 16 officers of the 5th. Battalion noted as actiually being killed were Colonel Sir H. P. Beauchamp, Captain A. E. Ward; Captain E. R. Cubitt, Captain F. R. Beck, Captain A.D. Pattrick, Captain A. H. Mason, Captain A. G. Coxon and Captain E. R. Woodwark; Lieutenant E. A. Beck, Lieutenant V. M. Cubitt, Lieutenant E. Gay, Lieutenant T. Oliphant ; 2nd. Lieutenant Adams, 2nd. Lieutenant M. B. G. Beauchamp, 2nd. Lieutenant R. Burroughs, 2nd. Lieutenant Proctor. These officers, plus Captain A.G. Coxon and 2nd. Lieutenant W.G.S. Fawkes were all initially posted as "missing", together with about 250 of the enlisted men of their battalion, because no bodies were found on the battlefield. Those men, who all suddenly disappeared together in battle at the same time, became known as "The Vanished Battalion".
Captain A.G. Coxon and 2nd. Lieutenant W.G.S. Fawkes were both wounded during the advance of 12 August 1915. They were taken as prisoners by the Turks and held in prison until after The Armistice in 1918. Major T.W. Purdy, and 2nd. Lieutenants M. Oliphant and A. R. Pelly were wounded but not missing. They and 150 enlisted men had managed to make it back though the lines by dawn on August 13th. to a place of safety on the Anafarta Ridge held by the 4th. Battalion of The Norfolks and the 4th. Battalion of The Essex Regiment.
Sir Ian Hamilton, Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces in Turkey, in his despatch of December 11, 1915 referred to the unknown fate of the 'disappeared' men of the 5th Norfolk Battalion as " a very mysterious thing." He wrote:
" The 1/5th. Norfolk were on the right of the line and found themselves for a moment less strongly opposed than the rest of the brigade. Against the yielding forces of the enemy, Colonel Sir H. Beauchamp, a bold, self-confident officer, eagerly pressed forward, followed by the best part of the battalion. The fighting grew hotter, and the ground became more wooded and broken. At this stage many men were wounded, or grew exhausted with thirst. These found their way back to camp during the night. But the Colonel, with sixteen officers and 250 men, still kept pushing on, driving the enemy before them. ... 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."
The word "forest", used in the above report, gives a clue to the possible fate of many of the 5th. Battalion from sniper fire. Behind the beaches of Suvla Bay was a plain upon which "scrubby oaks" grew, gradually thickening into dense forest as the land rose towards inland ridges. These oaks were not such large and tall trees as European oaks tend to be. In fact, they are likely to have been of the same species as Holm (Evergreen) Oak. A British officer's report on the Suvla Bay area stated:
"Beyond the plain a number of stunted oaks, gradually becoming more dense farther inland, formed excellent cover for the enemy's snipers, a mode of warfare at which the Turk was very adept. Officers and men were continually shot down, not only by rifle fire from advanced posts of the enemy, but by men, and even women, behind our own firing line, especially in the previous attacks. The particular kind of tree in this part, a stunted oak, lends itself to concealment, being short with dense foliage. Here the sniper would lurk, with face painted green, and so well hidden as to defy detection. Others would crouch in the dense brushwood, where anyone passing could be shot with ease. When discovered, these snipers had in their possession enough food and water for a considerable period, as well as an ample supply of ammunition."
Captain E. W. Montgomerie, who was at the time in command of The Norfolk's 4th Battalion due to the absence of the C/O, Colonel Harvey, wrote on 15th. August 1915:
"All we could do was to keep down the fire of the snipers by shooting into the trees. Rumour has it that some of these snipers were tied to trees, with water and food within reach. Women snipers have been caught within our lines with their faces, arms, legs, and rides painted green."
The Suvla action of 12 August 1915
This report of the 5th. Battalion's action of August 12th 1915 is as recorded in the regimental War Diary. Additional information comes from rough pencilled notes taken on that day by Captain E. W. Montgomerie :
" 12th August. - Had to meet guides from 5th Norfolk at 6 a.m. We started off at 5.40 for the mile walk, arrived at rendezvous, but no guide. Waited with battalion quarter of an hour, and then I left with Adjutant to find 5th Norfolk. Eventually found them, only to find (Colonel) Sir H. Beauchamp had just left. Learned where I was expected to be, so sent for the battalion. Busy digging all morning. We were about to complete trenches when we were ordered to move and go in reserve to the Brigade in an advance. The advance started 4 p.m. My orders were to follow on the left flank, as that one was unprotected. The three battalions advanced rapidly and all seemed well until I came to the top of a hill which overlooked the valley on the other side of which were Turkish trenches. I could see that they (" they " here evidently means the British) were under shrapnel fire and seemed to be in trouble. I saw Captain Fisher just behind and sent him forward with "B" company. "A" company on left had already gone forward, and half "D" company also on extreme left; half "C" company on my right had wandered off to right and had gone to support of The Hampshires. Seeing that it was useless to send more troops into the valley, with no other troops coming up in rear, I halted there and prepared for all eventualities. It soon became apparent that the Brigade was in difficulties. An officer of the 5th Suffolks came rushing back, asking for support and saying the enemy were surrounding him. He could not tell me anything definite. After he had cooled down a bit, he said that the enemy were getting round their right flank. It then appeared to me that the enemy must be retreating across the front of the Hampshires and 5th Norfolk. I sent him back with a few men and told him to let everyone know I was ready to help them from my hill. It was very difficult to absolutely locate their position. I sent a message telling the Brigade Head-quarters that I was going to hold the ridge overlooking the valley, but it was a long time before I could find them. I, later, saw the Brigade Major, who told me they were having an awful time in front, and would probably have to retire, and that I must be prepared to help them back. All through the night men were coming in who had lost their units, and I think I had 200 men with me next morning. I gave them water, of which they were in great need."
The bodies of the " Vanished" 5th. Battalion were not discovered until 1919 when The Commonwealth War Graves Commission were working in Turkey to consolidate and record graves dating from the 1915 Dardanelles campaign. On September 23, 1919 the officer commanding the Graves Registration Unit in Gallipoli wrote in a report:
"We have found the 5th Norfolks - there were 180 (bodies) in all; 122 Norfolk and a few Hants and Suffolks with 2/4th Cheshires. We could only identify two - Privates Barnaby and Cotter. They were scattered over an area of about one square mile, at a distance of at least 800 yards behind the Turkish front line. Many of them had evidently been killed in a farm, as a local Turk, who owns the place, told us that when he came back he found the farm covered with the decomposing bodies of British soldiers which he threw into a small ravine. The whole thing quite bears out the original theory that they did not go very far on, but got mopped up one by one, all except the ones who got into the farm (house)."
Of the 267 soldiers of "The Vanished Battalion" who 'disappeared' on 12 August 1915, the bodies of only 180 were subsequently found. Together with their 'lost' colleagues, they are commemorated (including Edward and Victor Cubitt and their cousin Randall Burroughes) on Panels 42 to 44 of the Helles War Memorial, Turkey.