As you explore the peaceful church at West Newton, look for a beautiful Arts & Crafts stained-glass window commemorating Captain Frank Beck and ‘E’ Company, 5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment. Formed in 1906, the company was made up of gardeners, farm hands, grooms and household staff from the King’s estates. These men grew up together, drank beer and played cricket on summer afternoons, never dreaming they were destined to become one of the First World War’s strangest legends. On 12th August 1915, far from home under the blistering Gallipoli sun, the men of the Sandringham Estate marched into a barrage of machine gun fire. “On the Norfolks, on” shouted Frank Beck, as the Sandringhams charged forward into the smoky mist…and disappeared. No bodies were found, no prisoners were taken. They had simply vanished.
Perhaps to spare their families’ pain, some said they’d been transported straight to heaven, but at the request of Queen Alexandra, in 1918 the War Graves Commission searched the sunbaked battlefields and found a Norfolk Regiment cap badge. Later, Rev Charles Pierrepoint Edwards, ‘The Fighting Parson’, discovered 122 bodies, each with a single bullet wound to the head. There’s little doubt the Sandringham men were captured and executed. So take a moment to remember those doomed sons of Norfolk and the terrible grief of quiet villages they never saw again. And if you’d like to know more, Frank Beck is beautifully played by David Jason in the moving BBC drama All the King’s Men (2005).