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.)

 

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