Monthly Archives: November 2014

Oh dear…The French got there first.

On 24th March 1897, the first detachment of the British army landed in Crete – British sailors and marines having arrived on the island the previous month. Once the political decision to send British troops had been taken, the troops allocated the task were the 1st Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, then stationed in Malta. After some logistical difficulties – shortages of gaiters and helmets were  reported, steps were taken to minimise the cost of the expedition by hiring local transport rather than bringing army mules and requests were   made for smallpox vaccine – on 22nd March they left Malta for Crete on the steamer S.S. Clyde, arriving at Canea on the 24th. The troops were disembarked from their ship in Royal Navy cutters, an experience which was not always straightforward given the difficult seas off the northern coast of Crete and which in at least one case later in the Intervention, resulted in the loss of a British battalion’s two Maxim guns.

Moreover, to add to their difficulties, according to the unofficial unit diary kept by Captain Egerton, ‘D’ Company, 1/Seaforth Highlanders:

“Canea Tuesday 24 March 1897.
Landing after French: 8th Regiment of French Marine Infantry patrol harbour.”

French Troops landing. 1897

French Troops landing. 1897

Egerton’s reaction, and that of his men, to having to come ashore after, and be protected by, French troops is not recorded.

After a brief stop in barracks shared with both Ottoman and French troops, the Seaforths moved to tented accommodation in the Canea Municipal Gardens; a move greeted with some pleasure by at least one Seaforth Officer who recorded: ‘… It has been a great relief to be out of the Nazimen Barracks – and clear of the dirty Turk soldiers – also clear of the French who might in time prove a great nuisance; but as it was we got on with them very well – and the men fraternised with them immediately.”

(As if landing after the French wasn’t bad enough, the pride of the British army was again dented when, shortly after their arrival on Crete, it was discovered that the smallpox vaccine provided to the Seaforths was ineffective against the strain of the disease on the island. While waiting for a  supply of the correct strain to be sent out from London, the army was obliged to ‘borrow’ suitable vaccine from their most bitter enemy – the Royal Navy.)


Royal Marines arrive in Canea.

According to The Times correspondent present, at 3.15 p.m. on the 15th February 1897, a launch from H. M. S. Revenge, the flagship of the British Mediterranean Fleet, entered Canea harbour in the charge of Lieutenant Nelson and Sub-Lieutenants Addison and Hunt, landing a detachment of marines who then drew up upon the quay.

Royal Marines on HMS Revenge before landing for the occupation of Crete. The Illustrated London News, 6 March 1897.

They were met by British consul Sir Alfred Biliotti and Vice-Consul Cassimati, as well as Major Bor, British Commander of the ‘new’ Gendarmerie and Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Chermside; the latter on the island since 1896 in his capacity as a member of the Gendarmerie Commission, the Concert-lead Commission for the reorganization of the gendarmerie. Launches from H. M. S. Rodney and H. M. S. Barfleur followed shortly afterwards as did French landing parties; boats from the Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Italian ships arriving later.

Royal Marines landing in Canea. 15 February 1897.

Royal Marines landing in Canea. 15 February 1897.

The wording below the illustration, from the Graphic of 6th March 1897, reads:

With the consent of the Turkish authorities Canea was occupied by detachments from the foreign warships, consisting of 100 British, 100 Russians, 100 French, 100 Italians, and 50 Austrians. The British detachment coming from Revenge, Rodney and Barfleur landed first. Shortly afterwards the French landing parties arrived and they were followed by the Austrians, Russians and Italians.

Royal Marines in Canea. 15 February 1897

Royal Marines en-route to quarters in in Canea. 15 February 1897

Taken, again, from The Graphic, the illustration’s title reads;

‘The occupation of Canea by the Great Powers: British Marines on their way to quarters.’

There is no record as to whether or not the Marines went commando.