Monthly Archives: January 2018


In a recent blog I made note of the fact that in 1903, British troops on Crete were drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco. It appears that the rot had set in much earlier!

The following was taken from page 43 of The Highland Light Infantry Chronicle, published in 1906.

‘When stationed in Canea in 1898, the Sergeants of the Detachment were entertained to a smoker by the 5th Infanterie de Marine (French). The concert was held in a broken-down house, about fifty yards from our Barracks. The whitewashed walls were rather neatly decorated by such mottoes as “Kick politics out of the window,” “Long Live Scotland,” “Queen Victoria very good,”  etc.

The songs were delightful – more so as we could not understand each other -and the applause would have delighted a Gibson Girl*. Dumb toasts, where liquor was freely consumed, were greatly in evidence. About 10p.m. the company became rather boisterous, so signs were made that, as we were so close to the Barracks, we had better adjourn to a neighbouring vin shop, kept by the ubiquitous Greek. When there, the fun became fast and furious, and, naturally, uniforms were changed, the writer feeling quite French in a kepi and tunic (blue). A certain fat colour sergeant, with a bald head, was singing “I like the Frenchy girls,”** when the concert was brought to a very abrupt ending by the entry of a very excited French sergeant, who, with many gestures, yelled out, “Patrol, Patrol, Francaise!” All exits were speedily used. The writer saw his white jacket, (worn by a French sergeant) disappearing up the chimney. I sat still, rather confused, and, the doors being forcibly opened, I beheld the officer of the patrol. I wish I could understand what he was talking about. I know that he hardly paused to take a breath, and I am sure I got a good wigging. At last he stopped, and I thought it time to say something. So I stood to attention, and, pointing to my tartan trews,*** said, “I am very sorry, but I am unable to speak French.” The officer again became very talkative. The only word I remember was one that sounded like “fraternise.” He allowed me to go home, for which I thanked him.”                           W.T.

Unfortunately, Sergeant W.T.’s full name is not recorded.

While the majority of British troops were based in Candia (Iraklion), a small detachment was stationed in Canea, the then capital of the island. While the Canea secteur was under the control of the Italian contingent, the town itself was under the joint control of all the Powers. W.T. was presumably one of the senior N.C.O.s in the British contingent at this time.


*The Gibson Girls were an American cartoon personification of what was considered a shockingly  ‘modern’ women in the late 1880s.

* *An internet search failed to find the lyrics of ‘I like the Frenchy Girls.’

***At the time of the European Intervention, the Highland Light Infantry were the only Highland Regiment to wear trews rather than kilts.  In spite of their name, most of their recruiting took place in the Lowlands of Scotland, particularly in, and around, Glasgow.

French Marine Infantry c.1885.

French Marine Infantry c.1895

Sergeant, Highland Light Infantry in hot weather uniform c.1905. Douglas N. Anderson.


Fancy a Chancer?

The detail on the board at the feet of this group is difficult to make out; it appears to read ‘Chancer’s Club, Crete, 1903’. According to Eric Partridge’s  ‘A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, Volume One’,  a ‘Chancer’ was a slang term for ‘…a liar; also an incompetent, or one too confident in his ability….’ The term was apparently in use in the British military by 1914 and dates from approximately 1870.

I have to admit I have no idea whatsoever what the ‘Chancer’ (?) Club is or was, but, judging by the photograph, it would appear to have involved the consumption of alcohol and cigars at some stage or other. Notwithstanding, these three members of the Royal Army Medical Corps, and their colleagues, seemed to have enjoyed participating in the Club’s activities in Candia it in 1903.

Chaucer’s Club. RAMC Candia 1903.

Exact numbers of RAMC personnel on Crete at any given time are difficult to find; most records refer to ‘detachments’ of the Corps without giving numbers. However, in 1903, they would have been responsible for the health care of 2/Cameron Highlanders, until March, and 1/Royal Dublin Fusiliers from March onwards. During 1903, with an average strength of 410 men and 510 hospital admissions, 222 of which being for Malaria, only one British soldier died on the island.[1]


According to British Army Proficiency Badges by Denis Edwards and David Langley, the Red Cross badge was worn on the upper right arm by other ranks of the Army Hospital Corps from 1874, then by the Army Medical Staff from 1888 and by the RAMC from 1898.  The only other units to wear it were Volunteer units where it indicated proficiency as a medical orderly.  The RAMC officially stopped wearing it in 1926. (Many thanks to Bruce Bassett-Powell at Uniformology for the above information.)

[1] 1905 [Cd.2434] Army Medical Department Report for the year 1903. Volume XLV.

A Photogenic Lot

When not involved in the maintenance of order, and collecting pets, for some reason the 2/Royal Sussex appear to have attracted a more than usual interest from the local photographers. While there are a number of postcards showing named British battalions, the Royal Sussex postcards seem to have been best sellers – at least if the number of such cards on offer are anything to go by.

Band of 2/Royal Sussex Crete.

Drummers 2/Royal Sussex -note the Ibex.

2/Royal Sussex Signallers. Note the signalling flags, heliographs and spotting telescopes.

Sergeants, 2/Royal Sussex

D Company, 2/Royal Sussex

G Company, 2/Royal Sussex. Note the difference in the ‘uniforms’ between the photographs of D Company in Candia, and G Company out in the field!

2/Royal Sussex encampment on the walls of Candia.