August 18 1909, the Powers return

On 23 July 1909, two days before the evacuation of all British and International troops from Crete, the Admiralty issued the following instructions to the Commander of the Royal Navy force in Crete concerning the future role of the stationnaires, the ships that were to remain on station off Crete representing the four Powers:

“The stationnaires will protect the Turkish Flag and the flags of the four Powres (sic) on the Island at Suda bay. In case of disturbances which the local authorities are unable to suppress, the Commanders of the stationnaires will take the necessary steps to restored tranquillity in accordance with the recommendations of the Consuls General…. The foregoing instructions include authority for the Commanding officer of the British Stationnaire to join his colleagues in the use of force in case of need without special instructions in an emergency …”[1]

Similar instructions were issued by their governments to the naval commanders of the other Powers.

Following the departure of the land forces on the 26th July, as had been anticipated the Greek flag was raised above the Firka (Fortress) in Canea and also in Candia.

Flags of Powers Fort Suda July 1909. ILN 28 Aug 1909

Flags of Powers Fort Suda July 1909. Illustrated London News, 28 August 1909.

Text below photograph reads: Much excitement has been aroused in Crete over the question of flags. The Cretans flew the Greek flag at Canea, contrary to the wishes of Turkey, to whom they owe suzerainty, and, on their refusing to lowered it, a combined force from the international squadron landed and hauled it down. It was afterwards raised again but lowered by the Cretans themselves. The five flags in the above picture are those of Great Britain, France, Italy, Russia, (the Protecting Powers) and Turkey. [The photograph appears to show the flags flying on Fort Suda.]

Greek flag flying above the Firka, Canea. July 1909

Greek flag flying above the Firka, Canea. July 1909

Diplomatic efforts by the Consuls General of the Powers failed to persuade the Cretan authorities to lower the flags and in the face of strenuous Ottoman complaints, and the threat of an Ottoman fleet returning to Crete to enforce the removal of the Greek Flag, the Powers agreed to take the matter in hand.

On 15th August Captain Cecil Thursby, H. M. S. Swiftsure, arrived off Crete and the following day, as Senior Naval Officer in Cretan waters, assumed command of all the Powers’ ships. An unsuccessful attempt had been made that morning to lower the flag in Canea but the gendarmes given the task had withdrawn in the face of armed Cretan Christian opposition.  Having discussed the situation with his naval counterparts and with the Consuls General, Thursby ordered that the flag in Canea would be removed, by force if necessary.

At 5am on Wednesday 18th August accompanied by Thursby, sailors and marines from the Powers, the British contingent being men from either H. M.S. Swiftsure or H. M. S. Diana, the  report is unclear, landed at Canea. Here, according to Thursby,[2] they were “… received on landing by the representative of the Colonel commanding the  [Cretan] Troops, who reported the Town quiet and being patrolled by the Gendarmarie while the gates were held by the Militia to prevent armed villagers coming in. he placed himself at my disposal. I therefore informed him that I would relieve the Guard over the Flagstaff, and accompanied by him I proceeded with the mixed Company (under the command of Lt. Boulain (?) of ‘Jules Michelet’  to do so. As soon as the gendarmarie had withdrawn, the Company was fallen in opposite the Flagstaff – the flag had not yet been hoisted. The Staff was then removed, together with the iron fastenings and clamps, so that if could not be put up again. At this time the remainder of the landing Parties were fallen in outside the Fort.”

After about half an hour, there being no reaction from the town, the landing parties were withdrawn, with the exception of a party left to guard the remains of the flagpole.

International force at the Firka, Canea. August 1909

International force at the Firka, Canea. August 1909. British contingent at the front on right.

The Firka, Canea, after the flagpole removed.

The Firka, Canea, after the flagpole removed.

British guard party at the Firka, Canea, after flagpole removed.

British guard party at the Firka, Canea, after flagpole removed.

Italian guard party at the Firka, Canea, after the flagpole removed.

Italian guard party at the Firka, Canea, after the flagpole removed.

Cretan gendarmarie guard party at the Firka, Canea.

Cretan gendarmarie guard party at the Firka, Canea.

Meanwhile, in Candia, the Greek flag had also been raised; only to be lowered after the Power’s actions in Canea, and then raised again. It was finally lowered for good when Captain Thursby made it clear to the Cretan Assembly, via the Consuls General, that the combined naval forces under his command were quite prepared to use force to remove the flag.

In the end, the remains of the flagpole in Canea remained under International guard until 1st September when Thursby and his colleagues came to the conclusion that their point had been made sufficiently forcefully, and the detachment was withdrawn.

The next time the Greek flag was flown on Crete, at least semi-officially, was on 13th February 1913 when the Ottoman flag was removed from it’s last flying place on Suda Fortress by the crew of  H. M. S. Yarmouth. The first time it was ‘legally’ flown was on 1st December 1913 when, at a ceremony on the Firka, Crete formally became part of Greece.


Foot Note. That the matter of whose flag should be flown was a serious one is shown by the fact that when the Greek flag was raised in July 1909, the Ottoman empire threatened to send forces to remove it; a threat which was taken sufficiently seriously for Captain Thursby to draw up instructions for the ships of the Powers under his command, making it clear that any attempted Turkish landing would be forcibly opposed.

[1] National Maritime Museum NOE 10/1. Admiralty to Rear Admiral ‘Duncan’ Canea.

[2] This and subsequent details of the operation in National Maritime Museum NOE 10/1. Ships Copy of Reports of Proceedings Nos 1,2 & 3. Captain Cecil Thursby. H, M. S. Swiftsure, Canea to Senior Naval Officer Malta.


One thought on “August 18 1909, the Powers return

  1. Pingback: Another vanished Cretan flag. | The British in Crete, 1896 to 1913.

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