Monthly Archives: March 2017

The French in Canea

Although for the most part based in and around Sitia, the easternmost of the four secteurs into which the Europeans divided Crete, French troops were initially involved in military action around the then capital, Canea. As with the British intervention, the first French forces were Marines, landing in March 1897.

French troops arriving at Suda Bay, 1897

Arrival of French Marines. Canea, March 1897.

French troops with mountain guns. International parade, Canea, 1897.

In one particular instance in early 1897, French troops were responsible for providing assistance to the local Ottoman forces to repel attacks by Greek troops and Cretan Christians on Fort Subachi, the fortress guarding the main source of water to Canea.

Fort Subachi/Butsunaria/Perivolia.

However, the British/ Scottish troops, had a rather low opinion of their allies as the following account from 1/Seaforth Highlanders indicates:

Monday 30 March  “ This morning an international expedition marched to Sebachi, a fort s.w. of the town and about 3 miles distant, to protect the watering place. There were, so B[ea]uman (a correspondent) informs us 5 shots fired in the air  as signals by the Insurgents – this appears to have much excited the Froggies – who with many ejaculations of [?] – Sacre Blue etc. etc. entered the fort and immediately sent an official report saying that they had been fired on – poor excitable little men, no doubt they imagined they had fought to gain an entrance – these French paraded with I should say no less than 40 lbs on each mans back, with them went wine to refresh them – and after the wine they had feather beds on which they couchied – they seem to do the thing with some idea of comfort.” [Campion]

[11 April] Last night at 6.30 p.m. the International Force at Soubaschi fired 5 shots from the 9 pdr. The fire –eating Perignon[?] who commands will someday if he irritates these fellows too much, bring Vassos about his ears – Vassos’ outposts are only about a mile away. –G.E. “

12 April “Fire –eater Perignon much in evidence on Fort Soubachi – where he delights in annoying the insurgents by firing on them, whenever he sees a man appear- We don’t want the force there to get a licking, but we should be glad to see Perignon kicked by Col. Vassos:- We are told that this excitable little Frenchman spends his days at Soubachi, penning an official tissue of lies to Amoritti, who luckily I believe does not believe all of them.”

French troops and Fort Subachi.



European views of Cretan Christians

It’s unlikely that too many of the British and other European enlisted/conscripted troops sent to Crete in 1897 had much idea about who they would be involved with on their arrival on the island. However, British and European civilians, and presumably some of the Officers, were being ‘informed’ about the parties involved in the fighting on Crete – albeit the information given often had to do more with the fanciful thinking of the journalists and illustrators rather than what was actually happening.

The massacre in Canea. as imagined by Le Petite Parisien, 1897.

(It may safely be assumed that the illustrator of the above had never been to Canea, the city isn’t in the middle of impossibly tall mountains, furthermore, turbans were banned throughout the Ottoman Empire in 1829. )

Cretan Christian Insurgents as seen by Le Petite Parisien 14 March 1897.

Insurgents lighting signal fires in the mountains. Illustrated London News, 23rd March 1897.

A band of Cretan Insurgents at Tsiliphe. Illustrated London News, 6 March 1897.

Insurgents. Illustrated London News, 1897.

The illustrator above was clearly using his imagination when it came to the armament carried by the Christians.

Cretan Christian Insurgents at Acrotiri – outside Canea.

The above group could have been some of those described by Capt. Egerton 1/Seaforths:

“……I took out about 25 men, and we marched through Halepa to the extreme Turkish outpost below Akreterion. The Insurgents showed much interest in our movements, and we were all very anxious that they should send a shot or two at us when I should have smacked in two volleys at them for firing on the British Flag, which we carried in front of us.

But though we trailed our coats all along the front of our position they were too wise to let off their “bundooks[?]”. We had to put in 4 hours out of door somehow, so we loafed about under the olive groves, passing the time of day to Turkish Officers on the outpost, and generally had rather a good time of it.”

Cretan Christian Insurgents 1897.

The uniformed soldiers on the right hand side appear to be Russians, possibly indicating that the photograph was taken in the Rethymnon  area; the Russian Secteur of the island.

Cretan Christian Insurgents 1897.

The legend on the flag reads: Enosis H Thanatos – Union (with Greece) or Death.