As an amateur WWI historian with a focus on Canadian and Australian forces on the Western Front I was immediately drawn to and am now fascinated by Downton Abbey.
It’s a beautiful period piece. Great storylines, well acted, lovely settings, costumes and the attention to detail is warming. Although I still need to check whether there were British Battalions involved in the Aug. 8, 1918 Amiens offensive where Matthew was injured and William subsequently died of wounds.
So, last night, I chanced upon a British movie set during WWI and produced in 1999, with some similar values to and indeed two cast members from Downton Abbey.
It is All The Kings Men and tells the story of the mysterious end of the Sandringham Company on August 12, 1915, during the attack on Anafarta at Gallipoli.
The company of about 200 men was raised from the estate staff of Sandringham – the home of the King George V – and comprised grooms, gardeners, farm labourers and household staff.
King George’s mom, Queen Alexandra, is played by Maggie Smith, known worldwide now for her role in Downton as Lady Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham.
The other All The Kings Men alumni who appears in Downtown is Phyllis Logan, who plays Mrs. Hughes.
Very few of the Sandringham Company survived the attack and for several years afterwards great mystery surrounded the men’s disappearance. This deeply troubled Queen Alexandra, who took an interest in finding out what happened to the men, many of whom she knew personally.
The movie, like Downton touches on the close relationships between the aristocracy and their employees, exacerbated by the devastation any employer would feel if their workforce were wiped out in a day.
The post WWI myth of the Sandringham Company was that the men walked into a mist and simply disappeared.
Several years later, battlefield researchers found many of the men’s remains in and around a Turkish farm. It seems the company moved forward further than they should have, took shelter in the farm and were surrounded and slaughtered.
Some men found in a group in a room had bullet holes in their heads, indicating they may have surrendered and been executed.
All The Kings Men is a very touching movie and a likely resource for the people behind Downton.