Keeping British troops occupied and out of mischief was clearly a major task of the British authorities. The perils of drink were ever present on Crete and although the men were limited to one pint of beer a day, unsurprisingly, ways were always being sought to circumvent this limit. In 1899, the Northumberland Fusiliers regimental magazine, the St. George’s Gazette, reported that in one of their outlying camps, ‘the richest tradesman in the village…[who] used to bring bread into the camp to sell, … took to bringing in the accursed native liquor, whereby several soldiers were grievously stricken.’ The entrepreneur in question was given 7 days hard labour for his sins.* Recourse to illicit alcohol also resulted in at least three fatalities. In 1897, the year that saw one soldier hospitalised three times for morphine poisoning, ‘…a man broke out of barracks after dark, and brought back a large quantity of native liquor which he drank almost at once. He was discovered insensible at “reveille” the following morning, and died immediately after being taken to hospital.’ In 1899 a further two deaths by alcohol poisoning were also recorded.**
One answer was to keep the men busy with sporting activities. While the officers could indulge in cross country paper chases on horseback and sailors indulge in gymkanas and other such activities, the infantry were left to make do other less expensive sports. The St. Georges Gazette, details an extensive range of sports laid on for men serving in Crete in 1898/1899, including Battalion Aquatic Sports which featured a swimming race open to the Garrison and Navy, Water Polo and an aquatic Tug-of War. There was also, inevitably, football – a competition for the ‘Chermside Cup’ being won by the Royal Welsh Fusiliers – tug of war, putting the shot and hockey. Regimental sports days were held in the ditch below the ramparts at Candia, events including a ‘stone and bottle race.’ Additionally, on one occasion the Sergeants of the Northumberland Fusiliers challenged their Regimental Warrant Officers and the Petty Officers from H.M.S. Fearless to a ‘double match’; a competition involving football and whist.
I can find no record of the Cretan reaction to the British indulging in ‘stone and bottle’ races.
*Northumberland Fusiliers Regimental Archive. St. George’s Gazette, 31 January 1899, page 6. ** House of Commons Command Paper 1898 [C.8936] Army Medical Report for the year 1897. Volume XXXIX, p.80, and Command Paper 1899 [Cd.521] Army Medical Report for the year 1899. Volume XLI, p.75.