Monthly Archives: October 2015

Enosis – Union of Greece and Crete. 1st December 1913.

Postcard 1913

Postcard celebrating the union of Crete and Greece, 1 December 1913.

The figure is shown standing on the sea-wall at Canea, the then capital of Crete. Not quite sure how practical that dress is going to be in the Cretan hills….

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Life imitates art….

In 1890, Rudyard Kipling first published his poem ‘Danny Deever’ in which he described the execution of a British soldier in India for the murder of a comrade. In the poem, the murder’s battalion is obliged to watch while the man is hanged, and then to march past the corpse. Although a fictional account apparently based on a real execution, the poem clearly reflected the military practice of the time.

The churchyard of Agios Konstantinos and Eleni in Iraklion, contains the memorials to the majority of the British servicemen who died on Crete during the European Intervention. Inscribed on both the memorial wall and the battalion obelisk of 2/Rifle Brigade is the name of Acting Serjeant F. G. Austin, Number 1774, who died on 16th March 1899, aged 25.

Iraklion memorial wall RB ASC AOC

Memorial Plaque. Agios Konstantinos and Eleni, Iraklion.

 

Rifle Brigade memorial Crete

Rifle Brigade memorial obelisk. Agios Konstantinos and Eleni, Iraklion.

 

What makes Austin different from the other 150 or so servicemen commemorated in the churchyard is that he didn’t die of disease, enemy action or accident; he was murdered by a comrade.

On 26th March 1899, Major General Chermside, Commanding British troops on Crete, reported that on the 24th March, a private in 2/Rifle Brigade, was hung ‘for the murder on the 16th, of a Sergeant in the same battalion.’ Unsurprisingly, no member of the battalion is recorded on the battalion memorial as dying on 24th March and accordingly the name of the murderer remains unknown. The execution of the murderer was carried out in front not only his battalion, 2/Rifle Brigade, but also of the garrison in Candia. A member of 2/Northumberland Fusiliers present recorded the following:
“We had a very unpleasant job that was hanging of a private for the murder of a Sergeant by shotting him for which he was hung in front of the garrison his coffin being in front of him from the cell to the ground where the seafold was erected and the band was playing the dead march. This execution took place on the March 99 at 8am. It was very distressing after he was hung the men marched by his corpse in fours getting the command ‘Eyes is Right’ on which all turned their eyes towards him when in line with him. His body was then cut down and put in a coffin anyhow and put onto a dirtcart from burial; with the grave diggers who were soldiers smoking etc in rear of his body he was buried as a dog.”

[Excerpt from “The Soudan Campaign.”  L/Cpl W. Chippett. E Company, 1/Northumberland Fusiliers. Northumberland Fusiliers Museum Archive 2012:15/2. Spelling and punctuation as original.]

It’s not known if Lance Corporal Chippett was familiar with Kipling’s poem, but it’s clear that, on this occasion at least, Kipling knew what he was talking about.

More on gathering in the guns.

Following the ejection of the Ottoman troops and authorities from Crete in November 1898, one of the first tasks of the British in Candia Province was to disarm the Cretans; both Christian and Muslim. The disarming of the Muslims was a relatively easy task since most of them were concentrated in Candia town itself. Not only were there over 1500 British troops in the town at the end of the year, but the town was also under the guns of the Royal Navy. The bulk of the Christian Cretans however, were in the villages surrounding Candia and in the countryside beyond the reach of the naval guns.
Disarmament of the Christians required junior British officers to go out into the villages and countryside and persuade the Christians to give up their weapons; a task which was carried out successfully. Given the title ‘ District Commissioner’ and living in his District with a minimal staff and a small group of enlisted men, the role of such Officers, rarely above the rank of Captain, at this stage of the Intervention was described by an officer of the 1/Northumberland Fusiliers in early 1899. The unidentified author, an officer on a Commissioners staff, recorded that the Commissioner’s first and biggest job being the collection of rifles; by early January 1899 between 3,000 and 4,000 had already been collected in his District alone, and more were arriving daily. In fact, by December 1898 Major-General Herbert Chermside, commander of the British troops, was reporting that, to that date, 18,007 weapons had been collected, including 200 rifles from monasteries.

In all, nearly 20,000 weapons of all sorts were eventually collected, the majority of them being taken from Cretan Christians.

British Troops collecting guns. Candia Province 1899.

British Troops collecting guns. Candia Province 1899.

Assuming the date of the photograph is correct, the British troops shown are most likely members of 1/ Northumberland Fusiliers who arrived in October 1898 and left in April 1899, and who were recorded as having taken part in arms collections. Alternatively, they may be from 2/Rifle Brigade who were stationed in Crete from September 1898 to October 1899.