Monthly Archives: December 2016

Every picture tells a story…but not necessarily a true one.

Following the events of 6th September 1898 which resulted in the deaths of 14 British troops and several hundred Cretans, British justice was swift and in October and November, 17 Cretan Muslims who had been convicted of the murder of the British troops and British citizens, were publicly hanged from the walls of Candia. In spite of the barbarity of the public executions they do appear to have been conducted with some small degree of dignity. According to one eye witness, albeit writing some 25 or so years later:

Upon the wall … now rose against the clear sky of dawn a great structure on beams and planks surmounted by a box-like hut. Within the walls of the latter, invisible to the spectators, stood an executioner with an axe and block complete. Like a medieval headsman this brawny Victorian Highlander leaned upon the instrument of vengeance, grimly awaiting the signal to launch a dozen blood stained miscreants into eternity. And there the medieval parallel ended, for no victim’s neck was to be laid on the block, no blood would stain the axe. Despite the Tower Hill suggestion, justice was to be administered in strict accordance with modern ideas. Over the block was stretched a rope, the key rope of a tangle which upheld the fateful platform; and on the platform, bound, a noose round each neck, stood the first batch of murderers accountable in all for some 700 lives. In England a public execution is unthinkable; as an example to the fanatical hordes of the East it is often imperative for the common safety.  The gallows was of a design set up on the highest point of the city where none could fail to see it. Grimly impressive to spectators standing aloof on ships’ decks, the scene must have daunted guilty onlookers within the city walls. The row of doomed sinners silhouetted against the sky, the wailing of the Moslem women, the poignant notes of the “Last Post,” all in sharp contrast with the brilliance of the morning, I see and hear them again as though it were yesterday.

Hark! The clarion call of the bugle, clear and resonant on the morning air. So pregnant with doom are its two ascending notes that even the wailing of the women is momentarily hushed in an awe stricken silence.

“Lights out!” Save perhaps the stroke of the avenging axe it is the last sound heard by the ragged morituri ere they drop into the unknown.[1]

The photographs below show the preparation for one of the three public executions carried out by the British, the lower photograph showing the bottom of the ‘box-like hut’ on top of the scaffold.

Preparations for the execution of rioters involved in the murder of British troops or citizens. Candia 1898.

Preparations for the execution of rioters involved in the murder of British troops or citizens. Candia 1898.

The execution of rioters involved in the murder of British troops or citizens. Candia 1898.

The execution of rioters involved in the murder of British troops or citizens. Candia 1898.

While the photographs, and a number of British magazine illustrations, give what one can assume is a fairly accurate impression of these particular events, the need for accuracy didn’t seem to apply to the reportage in at least one Italian magazine.

Italian view of the the execution of rioters involved in the murder of British troops or citizens. Candia 1898. La Domenica del Corriere

Italian view of the the execution of rioters involved in the murder of British troops or citizens. Candia 1898. La Domenica del Corriere

That the British are displayed as acting in a particularly brutal manner is, on the face of it, surprising given that there appears to have been little or no friction between Italian and British troops on Crete, unlike the relationship between French and Italians. The explanation is related rather to the geo-political aspirations of certain parts of the Italian press and polity. Although only finally united as a nation-state since 1870, there was a distinct Italian movement seeking the creation of an Italian Empire and expansion into Ottoman controlled territories bordering the Mediterranean, a movement which would in time result in the Italian-Ottoman War of 1911/12 and Italian occupation of Libya and the Dodecanese. Back in the 1890s though, parts of the Italian press were clearly supportive of the Cretan Christian insurgents – as their illustrations of the supposed events in Crete showed – which makes the anti-British illustration showing some sympathy for the Cretan Muslims, all the more unusual.

Surpression of gendarmerie mutiny. llustrata della domenica. 14th March-1897

Supression of gendarmerie mutiny. llustrata della domenica. 14th March-1897

For the record; the firing during the mutiny of the Gendarmerie took place inside the building, one Italian seaman was wounded.

Italian view of conference with Colonel Vassos. La Tribuna Illustrata 28 March1897

Italian view of conference with Colonel Vassos. La Tribuna Illustrata 28 March1897

For the record; In spite of the apparent warmth with which the Admirals are greeting Colonel Vassos, the purpose of the meeting was to deliver an ultimatum to Vassos to withdraw his men from Crete or to face the consequences.

Italian view of hand to hand combat in Crete 1897. La Tribuna Illustrata 28 December 1897

Italian view of hand to hand combat in Crete 1897. La Tribuna Illustrata 28 December 1897

For the record; Few, if any encounters between Cretan Christian insurgents and Ottoman regulars are recorded as involving involved close quarter fighting; mostly it was a case of the insurgents opening long distance fire on the regulars, be they Ottoman or later, British.

Garibaldians in Candia. La Tribuna Illustrate Della Domenica 11th April 1897

Garibaldians in Candia.
La Tribuna Illustrate Della Domenica 11th April 1897

For the record; While there were rumours that a small number of ‘Garabaldians’ had gone to Crete to fight for the Cretan Christians, there is no apparent record of them taking part in any action, let alone getting involved in the conflict under an Italian flag.

 

 

Footnote: The photographs of the executions were taken by a commercial photographer R. Behaeddin, turned into postcards and subsequently sold to British soldiers. While it could be expected that these macabre souvenirs would be bought by those there at the time of the executions in 1898, they were still in circulation among British troops as late as 1906/07, one being bought by a member of 2/Royal Sussex while serving in Crete at that time.

[1] W.P.Drury.  In many Parts. Memoirs of a Marine. T.Fisher Unwin Ltd. London. 1926. p.181

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Christmas in Crete

The 1/Inniskilling Fusiliers spent the Christmas of 1907 in Crete. In the midst of their other duties, one of the battalion at least managed to find the time to send home an appropriate Christmas card.

The 1/Inniskillings' Christmas card, Crete 1907

The 1/Inniskillings’ Christmas card, Crete 1907

One of them at least had some idea of the climatic conditions awaiting them over that Christmas. A member of the battalion named Sid, referred to in previous posts, purchased a commercially produced postcard, apparently taken in 1906 or earlier, which, according to his annotation, shows snow on the Officers’ Mess in Candia.

British Officers' mess in Candia in the winter.c.1906

British Officers’ mess in Candia in the winter.c.1906

According to The Army Medical Department report for 1907,[1] the huts used as accommodation for the men in Candia were ”commodious and fairly comfortable, but in some cases falling into disrepair.”  The Officers’ huts were no better, being “…mostly old, badly constructed, and afford[ing] scanty accommodation, most of the rooms[…] not provided with stoves, and some of the junior officers hav[ing] to occupy EP [Enlisted Personnel] tents through the greater part of the year. “

The class distinction between officers and men was brought out well in the report: “ The detachment at Canea, consisting of 3 officers and 55 to 65 men, is somewhat better accommodated [than those in Candia] in three houses, of which that occupied by the officers is well situated and arranged. The two houses occupied by the men seem to offer hardly enough accommodation for the large number above stated, and it is considered by the Senior Medical Officer that the detachment should be kept constantly at 50.”

[1] 1908[Cd.4057] Army Medical Department report for the year 1907. Vol. XLIX p.60.

Inniskillings in Crete

 

Between February 1907 and February 1908, the 1/Inniskilling Fusiliers were stationed in Crete. A series of postcards, annotated in the same hand and apparently written by a member of the Battalion who signed himself ‘Sid’ have recently appeared. Most are commercially produced, but at least one appears to be privately taken photograph which was then turned into a postcard.

Some of these images are shown below with as much of the annotations as are possible to transcribe, with the spelling and punctuation as the original.

Arrival of Inniskillings in Candia

Front text: Taken on the arrival of the of A Coy. (advance party) Feb.24th 07 We came us here later on. As

canea-gate

Text on reverse of postcard: This is a view of the ramparts you can see how we overlook the town, the Canea Gate is closed every evening at Sunset and Sentries are posted outside the gate and inside along with a Quick Firing gun.

 

inniskillings-candiaFront text: our look out station, we have a full view from this point.

mosque-candiaFront text: Where the priests pray to the Sun & Stars [???}

(This would tend to suggest the writer possessed a rather limited knowledge of the Muslim religion.)

constantine-helen-cemetery

Front text: another portion of the Cemetery (Greek) + (Armenian)

Reverse text: our Cemetery is railed off from the Greek and Armenian portion. Sid.

 

The time in Crete was not all spent sight seeing – the instability  of the political situation on the island was still apparent and the British soldiers’ views of the Cretan insurrectionists were not necessarily complimentary.insurgent-chief

Reverse text: Lionis is a gentleman we should like to meet. he causes more trouble than 20 other chiefs. He is said to be worth £24,000.000. (from plunder. I suppose.)

malaxa-insurgents

Reverse text: Another group of insurgents who were caught on the hills – many of them lived by Brigandage.

X Mousthopher Khapussain a noted Brigand chief who also stirred up the people to revolt, he was shot about a month or so

The above was a professionally produced post-card which apparently dates to around 1897 when Cretan Christian Insurgents attacked the Ottoman outpost at Malaxa, above Canea. This was 10 years prior to the arrival of the Inniskillings on Crete.

 

As well as the main garrison in Candia, British troops also manned smaller outposts throughout the British Secteur. While the privately produced photograph below doesn’t specify where it was taken, one of the commercial postcards refers to Pediada, one of the main outposts, and it is possible that it was taken at the outpost there.d-co-inniskillings-on-outpost

Front text -Vertically on left hand side: [Water] Tank

Front text on top: No.1 Section, ‘D’ Company” INNISKILLING.S. (OUTPOST) (After a good mornings work)

Quite what had constituted a ‘good mornings work’ in this case is anyone’s guess. However  the soldier on the extreme left is holding what appears to be an air-gun or small rifle, certainly not the standard infantry rifle in use at the time, while others are armed with planks of wood, pick-axes and pick-axe handles; this might suggest they’ve been on a rat-hunt.

 

inniskillings-in-campFront text on top: A portion of our camp. Note the tanned faces of the troops

Front text on bottom: North end of the Camp

While sport was obviously a means of keeping the soldiers occupied, culture was not ignored, as this souvenir of a trip to Knossos testifies. (It’s not clear if the Battalion photographed was the Inniskillings, but the postcard was part of ‘Sid’s’ collection.)inniskillings-knossos

Front text: One of our Signalling Stations   This was Taken outside the city walls

ploughing-pediada-inniskillings

Front text: Note the primitive ploughs

Reverse text: The women do almost all the work here, while the “men?” go in for drinking + fighting or Brigandage

a-rare-turk-working-inniskillings

Front text on top: A rare sight here, is to see a Turk working   they generally give the women that pleasure.  Front text on bottom front: No such thing as a horse here (PTO)