Monthly Archives: September 2015

Canea 1897. Two views of the bastion.

Canea Bastion 1897

Canea Bastion 1897 Photograph showing the flags of the occupying Powers.

Canea bastion. Illustrated London News. 20 March 1897

The Turkish Bastion in Canea with the flags of the  six Powers flying. Illustrated London News. 20 March 1897

Shows that, if nothing else, the photographer and the illustrator had the same idea about what made a good viewpoint.

Inter-communal violence… good for chocolate sales.

Bashi-bazouks mutilating corpses. 7 March 1897.

Bashi-bazouks mutilating corpses. 7th March 1897.

Bashibazouks Akrotiri 1897 propaganda

Reverse of card.

Shown above are both sides of a trading card purporting to show Cretan Muslim Bashi – bazouks – irregular volunteers – mutilating the bodies of Cretan Christians in Canea in March 1897. The attacks on Cretan Christians which took place at the time, and subsequent the burning of a large part of the capital, Canea, were the incidents that lead to the beginning of the European Intervention on Crete; the landing of European sailors and marines.

Seemingly, in the late 1890s, graphic depictions of violence were deemed suitable for the selling of chocolate: The cards were issued by a French chocolate company; one originally founded by Trappist monks.

More rather violent chocolate cards, followed by some pretty birds, 1/3 down the page here.



Not so reliable allies

Upon arrival on Crete in February 1897, the International forces were, in effect, reluctant allies of the Ottoman Empire. The European objective at that time was to bring a halt to the inter-communal strife brought about by the Cretan Christian insurrection and to prevent the annexation of Crete by Greece.

While part of the European peace keeping strategy was to proclaim a blockade of the island to prevent both Greek and Ottoman reinforcements arriving, and hence exacerbating an already volatile situation, they still had to co-operate with the existing Ottoman garrison of the island. This garrison consisted to two elements, regular Ottoman Army units and locally raised volunteers; Bashi-bazouks, a term originally applied to irregular mercenary troops within the feudal Ottoman Empire.
The regular Ottoman soldiers on Crete, though often treated with disdain by the British, had at least a recognised, and recognisable, command structure. However, the Bashi-bazouks on Crete at this time, in part raised, armed and paid for by the Ottoman authorities as a sort of Muslim home guard, and formally on the ration strength of the Ottoman army, were much less formal and, apparently, nearly totally undisciplined.

Bashi Bazouks 1896. Note the regular Ottoman troops in the background giving the lie to the suggestion that bashi bazouks were merely groups of armed Cretan Muslims.

Bashi-bazouks 1896. Note the presence of regular Ottoman troops,  giving the lie to the suggestion that Bashi- bazouks were merely groups of armed Cretan Muslims.

Bashi bazouks, Fort izeddin

March 1897. Romanticised view of Bashi-bazouks. Fort Izeddin, Suda bay, in the background.

BazibazouksWith the events of 6th September 1898 any pretense that the Bashi-bazouks were in any sense allies of the British had gone, and the murders carried out by them in Candia, coupled with the failure of the regular Ottoman troops to take action to stop them, resulted in the Ottoman eviction from the island.

Royal Artillery in Candia.

Royal Artillery, Candia Ramparts. 1897

Royal Artillery, Candia Ramparts. 1897

Although undated and giving little or no information other than it’s the English in Candia, the photograph has been provisionally identified as members of the Royal Artillery manning 2.5 inch Rifled Muzzle Loading guns, mounted on Whitworth carriages. This being so, it shows the No. 4 Mountain Battery, Royal Artillery sometime between 26th April and late December 1897, the only time during which the Royal Artillery served on Crete. (The final departure date is illegible on the original record, but the H.Q. Company left on 21st November 1897 and the whole detachment were in Malta  by 21st December.) Capt. Brian Payne R.A. retired, to whom many thanks go for his assistance with this post, pointed out that the picture is obviously staged in that there is no ammunition visible and the guns are not run up to the embrasures. Had they been fired in this position there would have been rather a lot of debris flying about!

According to the Battery diary, their time was split between peace keeping duties and parades. In pursuit of the former, in addition to manning the guns on the ramparts of Candia, on at least one occasion they sent a detachment out into the Insurgent controlled area for 5 days to support the Seaforth Higlanders given the job of repairing the aqueduct supplying the bulk of Candia’s water. No hostile activity is recorded on this occasion. However, on 31st  July , “[p]reparation  [was made] for anticipated by Turkish Irregulars” – the word ‘mob’ is struck through on the original. Later, on 4th August the “O/C Battery was stoned by [the] mob.” Their final ‘action’ appears to have occurred in December when a detachment “…accompanied Sir Herbert Chermside  to outposts, and [was] fired on for 1/2 hour by [Christian] Insurgents.” In spite of the provocations from both sides, and it seems that they were taking an even handed approach to the Cretan situation and upsetting both sides equally, there is no record that at any time that the Royal Artillery were required to use their guns in anger.

On a more peaceful, but no less martial, note, the Battery participated in two big parades alongside detachments from the other International forces. On the first, which took place on 4th May 1897,  they ” [t]ook part in [a] General Review order parade, held in honour of Italian troops, who marched past and were saluted by each British unit.” Then on 22nd June they “[t]ook part in a special parade held in honour of Her Majesty the Queen, having completed her 60th year of reign, and was inspected by the Admirals of the French, Russian, Austrian, Italian and English Fleets, and Russian and Italian Military Commanders.



Those who remain in Crete.

Around 175 British military personnel died on Crete between 1897 and 1913; the actual figure is difficult to determine because of the lack of a central army record and lack of detail in the naval records. The bulk of those who died on the island are commemorated at two sites: 24 in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site at Suda Bay and the remainder in British memorial graveyard located in the cemetery of Agios Konstantinos and Eleni, 42 Odos Knossou, Iraklion. One further member of the 1/Seaforth Highlanders is listed on the Seaforths’ memorial in Edinburgh as having died in Crete, but his name does not appear on either of the island’s memorial sites.

British military cemetery, Iraklion. Date unknown.

British military cemetery, Iraklion. Date unknown, early 1900s.

British Cemetery Iraklion 2015

Gate of British Cemetery Iraklion. 2015.

British Cemetery Iraklion. 2015. The memorial wall at the rear lists names of those originally interred here.

British Cemetery Iraklion. 2015. The memorial wall at the rear lists names of those originally interred here.

Of those for whom the cause of death can be identified, only 14 died as the result of ‘enemy action’, all these deaths occurring during the riots of 6th September 1898. (One member of the 2/Rifle Brigade, Rifleman J. Smith, is listed on the Rifle Brigade memorial obelisk in Iraklion as being ‘Killed in Action’ on 2nd September 1898. However, the battalion didn’t arrive in Crete until 22nd September that month so it’s possible that either he died in Crete of wounds received in the Sudan Campaign or it’s an error in the listing.)

Of those who died of other causes, an examination of the records from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission relating to Suda Bay, the Parliamentary returns from the Army Medical Department and the memorials in Iraklion shows the following causes of death for British military personnel: Five died of drowning, four in one incident, one murdered by a colleague, one suffered a judicial execution, three suicides, one ‘dislocation of the spine after a fall in a ditch’, one died of appendicitis, one of ‘internal strangulation after an operation’, and three died of alcohol poisoning. The overwhelming majority of the remainder died of disease.
The main killer was Enteric Fever – Typhoid. This accounted for 53 deaths overall, 38 of them in 1898 with the influx of troops following the September riot; many of these troops coming straight from the Sudan Campaign. (The 2/Rifle Brigade and 1/Northumberland Fusiliers are recorded as suffering in particular as a result of this campaign.) Dysentery and Malaria were the next highest killers inflicting 11 and eight fatalities respectively. However, the figure for fatal cases of Malaria belies the reality that this disease was the greatest medical drain on the British Armies resources in Crete; nearly 5,000 hospital admissions for Malaria alone being recorded between 1897 and 1909.

Guarding the Ottoman Flag

Lowering the Ottoman Flag on the Firka, Canea.

Lowering the Ottoman Flag on the Firka, Canea.

This photograph is undated, but the last time the Ottoman flag flew on Crete, other than the retention of a symbolic flag on Fort Suda in the middle of Suda Bay, and possibly one at Fort Izzedin, was probably on or about 21st December 1898 when Price George of Greece arrived to take up the post of High Commissioner of the newly created Cretan Autonomous State. The nationality of the troops in the photograph above is unclear, but they are possibly Italian since Canea was the base of the Italian occupied secteur.

Following the arrival of the International troops in 1897, the Ottoman flag flew on the Firka under international guard in order to reinforce to the Cretan Christians the determination of the European Powers that Crete should not be united with Greece. On 3rd November 1898, on British orders, the Ottoman flag was hauled down in Candia in order to make it clear to the Ottoman authorities that their time on Crete was over. However, it was allowed to be flown again on 6th November after the eviction of all Ottoman troops and officials from the island: this time in order to show to the Cretan Muslim population that their rights were to be respected even though their co-religionists were no longer in power.


Raising the Greek flag, Suda bay 1913.

Raising the Greek flag, Suda Bay 1913.

By 1913 the political situation had completely changed and, as a result of the Balkan Wars, on 1st December that year Crete was finally legally united with Crete. Prior to enosis, one of the last acts of the International Intervention was undertaken by the Royal Navy when on 13th February 1913, the crew of H. M. S. Yarmouth hauled down the last remaining Ottoman flag, flown as a symbol of the Sultan’s suzerainty over Crete, from its flagpole in the fortress in the middle of Suda Bay and handed it over to the British Consul for safe keeping. (The whereabouts of that flag is currently unknown.) Immediately following the departure of H.M.S Yarmouth, the Greek flag was raised on the flagpole; this time guarded by Greek sailors.*

However, the Ottoman symbol displayed on Fort Izzedin, on the opposite side of Suda Bay to Suda Castle, was not what might be expected. An article published in 1937 stated that by 1912 the nominal Ottoman authority over Crete was “… represented by a Turkish flag, in painted tin, discoloured beyond recognition.” Arguably an apt metaphor for the end of Ottoman rule.**


*Robert Holland and Diana Markides. “The British and the Hellenes; Struggle for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1850 – 1960.” O.U.P. Oxford 2006. p.159

**Demetrius Caclamanos, “Reminiscences of the Balkan Wars’, The Slavonic and East European Review, 16 (1937), 117