Did a British regiment really vanish mysteriously at Gallipoli?
Gallipoli, August 28, 1915.
The following is an account of a strange incident that happened on the above date, in the morning, during the severest and final days of fighting, which took place at Hill 60, Suvla Bay, ANZAC.
The day broke clear, without a cloud in sight, as any beautiful Mediterranean day could be expected to be. The exception, however, was a number of perhaps six or eight “loaf of bread” shaped clouds — all shaped exactly alike — which were hovering over “Hill 60”. It was noticed that in spite of a four or five mile an hour breeze from the south, these clouds did not alter their position in any shape or form, nor did they drift away under the influence of the breeze. They were hovering at an elevation of about 60 degrees as seen from our observation point 500 ft. up. Also stationary and resting on the ground right underneath this group of clouds was a similar cloud in shape, measuring about 800 ft. in length, 200 ft. in height and 200 ft. in width. This cloud was absolutely dense, almost solid looking in structure, and positioned about 14 to 18 chains from the fighting, in British held territory. All this was observed by 22 men of No 3 section of No 1 Field Company NZE, including myself, from our trenches on Rhododendron Spur, approximately 2,500 yards southwest of the cloud on the ground. Our vantage point was overlooking “Hill 60” by about 300 ft. As it turned out later, this singular cloud was straddling a dry creek bed or sunken road and we had a perfect view of the cloud’s sides and ends as it rested on the ground. Its colour was a light grey, as was the colour of the other clouds.
A British regiment, the First Fourth Norfolk, of several hundred men, was then noticed marching up this sunken road or creek towards “Hill 60”. However, when they arrived at this cloud, they marched straight into it, with no hesitation, but no one ever came out to deploy and fight at “Hill 60”. About an hour later, after the last of the file had disappeared into it, this cloud very unobtrusively lifted off the ground and, like any fog or cloud would, rose slowly until it joined the other similar clouds which were mentioned at the beginning of this account. On viewing them again, they all looked alike as “peas in a pod”. All this time, the group of clouds had been hovering in the same place, but as soon as the singular “ground” cloud had risen to their level, they all moved away northwards, ie, towards Thrace. In a matter of about three quarters of an hour, they had all disappeared from view.
The Regiment mentioned is posted as “missing” or “wiped out” and on Turkey surrendering in 1918, the first thing Britain demanded of Turkey was the return of this regiment. Turkey replied that she neither captured this regiment, nor made contact with it, and did not know that it existed. A British regiment in 1914-18 consisted of any number between 800 and 4000 men. Those who observed this incident vouch for the fact that Turkey never captured that regiment nor made contact with it.
We, the undersigned, although late in time, that is at the 50th Jubilee of the ANZAC landing, declare that the above described incident is true in every word. Signed by witnesses: 4/165 Sapper F Reichart, Matata, Bay of Plenty, 13/416 Sapper R Newnes, 157 King St, Cambridge, JL Newman, 73 Freyberg St, Otumoetai, Tauranga.
There was also a postscript provided by Reichardt:
The above described incident was observed by 22 men of No 3 section of 1st Div. Coy. NZE. And others, including myself, from our trenches on Rhododendron Spur, a distance of about 2500 yards. From this vantage point about 5,000 ft up we had a perfect view including both sides and ends of the cloud as it rested on the ground. (Owing to the elevation of the observers.)
A complete statement of this incident as given here is included in one of the official histories of the Gallipoli campaign. Also incorporated are descriptions of the disappearance of a British platoon in the fighting in the Sudan about 1898, under similar circumstances, and the mysterious disappearance of a company (could have been British Engineers) during the fighting on the North West Frontier of India and Afganistan [sic]. This happened in the Khyber Pass area. On search parties being sent out to investigate the disappearance of both these units, it was found that the tracks ended suddenly, the footmarks all pointing straight ahead, but nothing beyond, sideways or backwards. The above description of the disappearance of troops on Gallipoli is absolutely correct as I witnessed the event, and the other two events I have read about, contained in one of the history books of which I cannot give the name, but which contains full description of all three incidents. (signed) F Reichardt
Origin Of The Story
Although signed by three Gallipoli veterans, the prime mover in the affair was Frederick Reichardt. He attended a public meeting in Rotorua to discuss UFOs early in 1965, after seeing it advertised in the local newspaper. After the meeting, he approached organiser Gordon Tuckey and “intimated that he had a story of his own to tell”. A meeting was subsequently arranged at a private home, and Reichardt told his story. He refused to allow a tape recording to be made, but some weeks afterwards provided a written statement.
“It was in his own handwriting,” recalls Tuckey,” and was signed by himself and the other two alleged witnesses.” Tuckey never met the latter. He forwarded the original statement to Henk Hinfelaar, editor of Spaceview magazine, though keeping a copy which he had made (and had signed by Reichardt). In signing this copy Reichardt provided the postscript quoted above.
Frederick Reichardt was a sailor when war was declared in 1914 — indeed, had arrived in France the day before. He subsequently became a member of the British Section, NZ Expeditionary Force (Regimental No 4/165A) on 8 October 1914.
When he arrived in Egypt, he was posted as a sapper to No 3 Section, 1st Divisional Field Company, NZ Engineers. He embarked for Gallipoli on 12 April 1915 and was with his unit until 29 October, when he was admitted to a field hospital suffering from illness. He returned to duty on 6 November.
He served later in France and was repatriated to New Zealand in 1919. On 15 October 1964, when he applied to the Ministry of Defence for replacement ribbons for his war medals, he was living at Matata in the Bay Of Plenty. He died on 6 November 1978.
Roger Newnes left New Zealand with the Expeditionary Force on 16 October 1914 as a trooper in 4th Squadron, Auckland Mounted Rifles. (He was never a sapper, as he signed himself in the statement in 1965). He proceeded to the Dardanelles on 9 May 1915 and was with his unit until 21 August, when he reported sick (diarrhoea) and was evacuated to hospital at Mudros (where he was admitted on 23 August). He did not return to Gallipoli.
Thus, if he saw an incident it could not have been on 28 August 1915, the date given in the statement.
J.L. Newman embarked for Gallipoli on 12 April 1915. On 5 August he was hospitalised at Lemnos, suffering from gastro-enteritis. He rejoined his unit on 20 September but did not return to Gallipoli.
The statement was apparently signed at the 50th Jubilee of the ANZAC landing, held at Rotorua on 24-26 April 1965; if so, it was among Newman’s last acts for he died on the 26th.
According to Reichardt’s statement, the incident happened “in the morning” of 28 August, though he admitted he might have been wrong as to the exact date, as he “lost count of time during the week of severe fighting.” In referring to the incident in a conversation in 1977, however, he noted three disappearances of units: at Khartoum in 1885, a Scottish company of engineers in the Khyber Pass (no date given) and the Sherwood Foresters at Hill 60, Gallipoli. Finally, in the statement he claims it was “a British Regiment, the First Fourth Norfolks…” which was seen to disappear.
There are no mysteries surrounding either the 9th Sherwood Foresters or the 1/4th Norfolks at Gallipoli, though the former did take part in a disastrous and costly attack on Scimitar Hill, not far from Hill 60, in swirling mist on the evening of 21 August 1915.
A Real Lost Battalion
The 1/5 Norfolks, on the other hand, was often referred to as the “Lost Battalion”. This description arose from the account given by General Sir Ian Hamilton, commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, of its attack in the later afternoon of 12 August 1915. He noted the decision to have 163rd Brigade, of which the 1/5 Norfolks were part, attack and make good Kuchuk Anafarta Ova, preparatory to the 54th Division assaulting the heights of Kavak Tepe-Teke Tepe at dawn on the 13th.
So that afternoon the 163rd Brigade moved off, and, in spite of serious opposition, established itself about the A of Anafarta…, in difficult and enclosed country. In the course of the fight…there happened a very mysterious thing. The 1/5th Norfolks 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 wooden 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 16 officers and 250 men, still kept pushing on, driving the enemy before him. 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 and sound. Not one of them ever came back.”
This despatch was published in a British parliamentary paper in 1917, long before any investigation on the ground was possible.
Reichardt, in his statement, claimed that “on Turkey surrendering in 1918, the first thing the British demanded was the return of this regiment” and that the Turks replied they had neither captured nor made contact with it. His source for these assertions is not known; in any event, the Turkish authorities now advise that the attack was wiped out by two reserve companies of the Turkish 36th Regiment “during a bayonet counter-attack”.
On returning to his farm after the evacuation, a Turkish farmer later claimed to have found the whole place covered with decomposing bodies of British soldiers, which he threw into a nearby ravine. The corpses were later exhumed by the British Graves Registration Unit sent to Gallipoli following the war. “We have found the 5th Norfolks”, its commanding officer reported on 23 September 1919, “…there were 180 in all, and we could only identify two…”
The bodies were scattered over an area of one square mile, about 500 yards behind where the Turkish front line had been. 122 were eventually found to be Norfolks. Two officers of the 1/5th Norfolks were taken prisoner and repatriated following the end of hostilities; there is no record of their making any statement about a supernatural occurrence on 12 August 1915.
Assuming that 267 men of the 1/5th Norfolks did go missing — Hamilton himself suggests that a number of men broke off from the attack and found their way back to camp during the night — this leaves 143 unaccounted for. Most of them were probably thrown into ravines or mass graves not located by the Graves Unit or taken prisoner, only to die from wounds or maltreatment.
The Sherwood Foresters, on the other hand, were never assumed to have disappeared. They took part in the major British offensive on 21 August, an operation which was greatly hindered by unseasonable mist, which resulted in the attacking British units standing out in sharp relief against the misty background and therefore suffering heavy casualties.
Shortly after dusk, the Foresters attacked Scimitar Hill. They disappeared into the mist and were cut to pieces by the Turks.
Which Incident Did Reichardt See?
The problem of which incident, if either, Reichardt and his “witnesses” saw can be examined under two headings: a) how does their story compare with the known facts and b) were they in a position to see the events.
Reichardt is specific as to the place — Hill 60. Neither Norfolk nor Sherwood attack was on Hill 60, though the latter was on a position sufficiently near (Scimitar Hill) for it to have perhaps become confused in Reichardt’s memory. Further, his statement does not suggest a major assault, rather it gives the impression of a body of men marching in close order and not under fire.
Newman could not have seen either incident, for he had left Gallipoli on 5 August. Newnes also left on 21 August, so it is conceivable he saw the attack by the Foresters. However, he was not a member of Reichardt’s unit, and was stationed at Eden Gully until at least 23 August.
His memory can hardly be regarded as infallible: he had forgotten which unit he was in, and he was a trooper not a sapper!
Reichardt’s section had moved up Chailak Dere and began preparing positions until 31 August. Reichardt is specific about his location at the time of the incident (on Rhododendron Spur), yet assuming the war diary of his unit to be correct, he was not on the spur on either 12 or 21 August, or, for that matter, on 28 August.
What, then, did Reichardt see if it were not the attack of either the 1/5th Norfolks or the Sherwood Foresters? Spaceviews editor (after perusing some 17 or 18 volumes on the Gallipoli campaign) suggested the unit might have been the 10th Hampshires as “it was bound to make for the spot where the witness saw the cloud'”. The Hampshires were on the left flank of Hill 60 on 21 August.
However, this explanation suffers from the evidence that Reichardt was not on Rhododendron Spur at the time, and the assumption that a unit was unlikely to be moving into position at such a late hour. Reichardt might have seen a unit march through some ground mist at some time while he was on the spur between 13 and 20 August, perhaps while it was moving into the line opposite Hill 60.
On the other hand, there were no significant operations in this area during the week ending 20 August and his statement implies there was an attack in progress.
The most likely explanation is he saw a unit march through some ground mist at some stage during his service on Gallipoli. Probably, he heard accounts subsequently of the battle on 21 August, in which several British battalions in the Suvla Bay part of the offensive became “lost” and inclined too far to the north.
He may have heard, after the fighting eased, a persistent rumour said to have gone the rounds that “a company of Sherwood Foresters completely disappeared in a cloud of smoke and [that] apparently no trace of them was ever found.”
Finally, he probably also read accounts of the “Lost Battalion” at Gallipoli — the 1/5 Norfolks. As time passed, his memory became confused and he may have convinced himself that he had witnessed the “mysterious” disappearance implied in Hamilton’s despatch. This explanation is given weight by the importance which Reichardt attached to the account of the incident, along with two earlier “disappearances”, which he claimed to have seen “in one of the official histories of the Gallipoli campaign”.
No official history recounting such events can be located. More probably, Reichardt saw accounts of them in a popular book dealing with unidentified flying objects or military mysteries and mistakenly decided that they were authoritative accounts. He was not a well-read man, and possibly fell victim of one of the more sensational descriptions of the disappearance of the 1/5th Norfolks.
According to Tuckey, he had “linked the happening, in his own mind, with his religious beliefs. (He was a British Israelite). He fully expected the missing troops to be returned presently to help fight the Battle of Armageddon.”