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

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s