Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Ottoman reaction to Cretan autonomy.

In 1898, spurred on by the massacre of Cretan Christians and the murder of British troops in Candia, the European Powers in control of Crete determined to grant the island autonomy, albeit nominally under Ottoman suzerainty. This was a compromise solution given that Great Power rivalry and the fear of the knock on effect on other European Ottoman territories, precluded allowing Greece to annex the island, the preferred solution the Cretan Christian insurrgents. The alternative, allowing the Ottoman Empire to regain control of Crete by means of force, was politically unacceptable to most of the European Powers, particularly given the outcry over the relatively recent Ottoman mistreatment of their Christian subjects in Bulgaria and Armenia.

However, while the Cretan Christians, and a minority of Cretan Muslims, welcomed the imposition of the new regime, the former seeing it as a stepping stone to union with Greece and the latter as at least bringing peace and stability to the island, feelings in the Ottoman Empire were, not unaturally, less favourable about the forced removal of Ottoman territory and the consequent injury to Ottoman patriotic pride.

Ottoman feelings were summed up in caption of the (undated but post1898) postcard shown below: The Ottoman Empire has not given up its most shining star.

However, in reality the Ottomans HAD lost their `shining star’, although it wasn’t until the end of the second Balkan War in 1913 that Crete finally became united with Greece.



Crete: The Ottoman view

Crete: The Ottoman view


British Justice in the Cretan Countryside: 1900 style.

Writing in Accidents of an Antiquaries Life, published in 1910, David Hogarth, an archaeologist who worked briefly with Arthur Evans on the excavations at Knossos, described from first hand experience, the role carried out by the British officers charged with the administration of justice in the British secteur of Crete.   Allowing for the then customary bias held by British archaeologists against the British military, the former, Evans in particular, often accused the latter of a pro-Ottoman approach to the situation on Crete, and didn’t believe that they, as Europeans, should be subject to military restrictions, the brief account below does give an impression of what the British officers were up to out in the Cretan villages in 1900.

“The land still showed ghastly wounds of its late long fight. Many villages lay gaunt skeletons of ruin; and where olive groves had been, blackened stumps and pits bore witness to the ethnicidal fury of religious war in the Near East, which ever uproots the staple of a foeman’s life, after it has killed the mother and her babe.

Burn Olive trees. Crete Photograph David Hogarth,1898

Burn Olive trees. Crete Photograph David Hogarth,1898

In the East of the island the French were still guiding the new rulers with the ready sympathy of Latin for Latin, and nearer to Candia the government had been committed to the honest but ruder hands of British subalterns. I spent a day or so with one of these. He knew no word of Greek, and it was told of him that when he arrived on a polo pony to be a father to some twenty villages, the local Bishop called in state, bringing, as the ingratiating custom is, a turkey or two and a clutch of eggs. Our young law-giver, nosing a bribe, put him into the street, eggs, turkey, and all.

I sat one morning in his court-house to hear justice done to the people. The judge presided in knickerbockers and a cricket shirt –for the day was warm – and smoked his best loved briar. A peasant, whose sheep had been driven off, had heard, after many days, a tinkling by night on a distant hillside, and claimed he knew his bells again. Did then one sheep-bell so differ from another? Solomon put it to the test. He sent his soldier servant to collect bells from the village shepherds, and on his return locked him in an inner room, while they waited in court. After a jangle behind the door, the judge asked whose bell had tinkled, and, on the witness of the servant, the shepherds were right every time. The shepherd got back his sheep.

Then a woman stood forth to accuse a man of trying her door by night with foul intent: but since he had never prevailed nor spoken with her, and it was black dark, how had she known what man he was? It came out in evidence that this had not been his first visit, nor had he been used to find the door barred and the lady all unkind. Promptly he was fined a few piasters for disturbing the village peace, while the coy accuser was sent to hoe the Bishop’s potato-field for a fortnight of working days. “Ah! This is Justice,” said the delighted Head-man to me. “We have not known it before in Crete!”

Fortunately, the  approach to an accusation of sexual harassment whereby the accuser is sentenced to hard labour and the accused receives a small fine, is no longer be acceptable, but it should be remembered that this was the early 20th century. Additionally the ‘judge’ would have been unlikely to have had any training in dealing with civil legal issues; particularly those coming under a legal system still based on that left over from the Ottoman occupation.  The officer meting out justice on this occasion would probably  have been from 1/Lancashire Fusiliers who were the only British Infantry on the island throughout 1900.

Missing Ammunition

The standard infantry weapon carried by the British army during the intervention in Crete between 1897 and 1909 was probably either the Lee Metford Mk1 or, in the later stages, the Lee Enfield Mk1. Since this is the exact period when the army was moving from black powder to smokeless powder several different types of rifle were in use, all of which were, externally, very similar.

British Infantry rifles c.1898

British Infantry rifles c.1898.                                                                                                                                                  Top: Magazine Lee Metford Mk.II.  Middle: Magazine Lee Enfield Mk.i. Bottom: Magazine Lee Enfield Mk.I*

However, irrespective of the weapon used, all were designed to fire a .303 round and, according to the Army accounts of 1911, clearly some of these went astray. If they were stolen, it’s unlikely that they were sold to the Cretans since their rifle of choice for them appears to have been the single shot Fusil Gras Modèle 1874 M80 adopted by the Greek army in 1877.

Fusil Gras Modèle 1874 M80

Fusil Gras Modèle 1874 M80

Photographs by courtesy of  “A History of military equipment of Modern Greece (1821 – today)

Since the Gras fired an 11mm round, the British ammunition would have been of little or no use to them. However, the ammunition went missing and someone had to pay.

“On the evacuation of Crete in July 1909 a deficiency of small arm ammunition, valued at £39.18s., was discovered. It was decided that the Ordinance Officer was not altogether free from blame, and he was called to pay the sum of £5. 16s. 4d.”

(Treasury; Army Appropriation Account 1911 (B). Claims abandoned for pay etc.)

Quite how, or why, the poor Ordinance Officer was deemed to have been to blame for losing £5. 16s. 4d worth of ammunition, rather than the whole £39. 18s worth, must remain a mystery.


Flags …yet again

In 1898 the European Powers imposed upon the newly autonomous Cretan State a High Commissioner of the Powers’ own choosing: Prince George of Greece. The Cretan people were not consulted. George’s arrival was delayed by a dispute over the nature of the flag for the new state but he eventually arrived in December 1898.

While the photograph below showing the High Commissioner being escorted through the then capital Canea by an escort from three of the four Powers, is undated, it’s unlikely to be Prince George. In the first place there aren’t that many people around and secondly there are no British troops in sight. It’s more likely to be the High Commissioner who succeeded George in 1906; Alexandros Zaimis, a former, and future, Greek Prime Minister. According to the annotation on the photograph, the escort appears to consist of French gendarmes, Italian Carabinaire, Russian troops and, leading the parade, Cretan gendarmes.

What is of interest also, given the controversy about the Cretan flag, is the presence of two Greek flags in the bottom right hand corner of the picture. This is highly unusual since the Powers would eventually take extreme exception to the flying of the Greek flag; as would the Ottoman Government. Indeed, such was the objection to the official flying of the Greek flag during the period of the Cretan State, that on one occasion the Powers intervened not only by taking down the offending flag, but also by destroying the flag pole so that it couldn’t be raised again.

Parade through  Canea

Parade through Canea