Monthly Archives: September 2018

HMS Bruizer and the blockade runner.

In early February 1897 the Cretan crisis came to a head. With the dispatch of Colonel Vassos and 1500 Greek soldiers to Crete, the firing by the Greek navy on the Ottoman steamer Fuad, en route from Canea to Sitia with troops and gendarmes, and the imminent arrival in Cretan waters of a Greek torpedo boat squadron under Prince George of Greece, the Powers determined to act to prevent the Greek annexation of the island.

On 13 February 1897 the Admiralty issued instructions to Rear-Admiral Harris, Senior British naval officer off Crete, that, if the commanders of the European ships in Cretan waters were in agreement, the Royal Navy could, ‘oppose by combined action, if necessary, and after employing all means of persuasion and intimidation in their power, an aggressive action by Greek ships of war.’[1] This combined action was interpreted to include the prevention of any further build up of Greek forces on the island.

The British Ardent Class[2] torpedo-boat destroyer H.M.S. Bruizer (sometimes shown as H.M.S. Bruiser) under the command of Lt. Commander A. Halsey was directed by Rear-Admiral Harris, commander of British forces on Crete:

‘…to act under the orders of Rear-Admiral Gualterio [Italian navy] who was watching the western end of Canea Bay in the “Francesco Morosini” on the evening of 20 February to prevent disembarkation of troops, stores &c.

The “Bruizer” observed a steamer creeping up under the land, and accordingly made a preconceived signal to the “Morosini,” who closed, and ordered the vessel to heave-to. The Read-Admiral sent an officer to the “Bruizer” with the request that the vessel might be taken by her to Canea; in the meanwhile, the steamer went ahead and apparently attempted to run down the “Bruizer,” which would have inevitably sunk her. By going full speed astern this was just avoided, and the ship attempted to run. Having speed up for only 10 knots, and the steamer going about 14, the Lieutenant and Commander Halsey fired under her stern, when she stopped. She was then convoyed round to Canea Bay by the “Bruizer,” and a guard placed on board. She was found to contain 300 tents and poles, empty rifle chests, a few rifles and a small quantity of biscuit; examination subsequently proved that a large quantity of biscuit had been recently landed, and the empty arm chests had probably been cleared at the same time.

The steamer was taken to the inner harbour at Canea and her eccentric removed.[3] 

HMS Bruiser arresting Greek ship ILN 13 March 1897

“On the night of 20th February the British torpedo-boat destroyer ‘Bruiser’ received orders to patrol the coast off the Greek position. Observing a Greek vessel endeavouring to land military stores, Commander Halsey fired a shot over her bows, whereupon she attempted to sink the ‘Bruiser,’ but was taken prisoner and placed under a guard from the British flag-ship.”

Italian Ironclad ‘Francesco Morosini’ c.1900

HMS Bruizer. c.1900.

[1] 1898 [C.8664] Turkey. No. 11 (1897). Correspondence respecting the affairs of Crete and the war between Turkey and Greece. Inclosure No.92. Admiralty to Rear-Admiral Harris. 13 February 1897

[2] The Ardent class Torpedo-Boat Destroyers were fitted with two torpedo tubes amidships. Their immediate predecessors, the Daring and Havelock classes, had a third torpedo tube mounted in the bow of the ship. This design was subsequently changed when it was found that having fired the torpedo from the bows, the TBD would often overtake the torpedo and risk sinking itself.

[3] 1897 [C.8429] Turkey. No. 9 (1897). Reports on the situation in Crete. Rear Admiral Harris to Admiralty. Canea February 24 1897.

The Surgeon’s Report.

Writing in The British Medical Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1897 (May 8, 1897), p.1184, Surgeon E. J. Biden, R.N., H.M.S. Scout, wrote as follows:

The Effects of Shrapnel Shell Fire.

During the disturbances in Crete of the last three months I have seen many cases of bullet wounds, chiefly Martini Henry and Chassepot, in the persons of both Greeks and Turks, but have nothing new to remark in connection with these. On March 9th the relief of Candamos [Kandanos] was effected by the Powers, and the next day two Turkish outposts had to be relieved; but the position of the insurgents on the hills was so threatening that the ship’s guns were used to disperse them. The same evening I saw the effect of our last shell on one poor man, about seven hours later. He had been brought into Selino [Paleochora] in an unconscious condition, suffering from concussion, a scalp wound over the right supraorbital region caused, I think, by falling on the rocks, a contusion of the back, a flesh wound of the right thigh, and compound fracture of both legs.

The wound of the thigh was a contused wound, round, and penetrating all the tissues down to the deep fascia; a probe passed freely in all directions for some 2 inches beneath the superficial tissues. In the right leg there was a small cut like wound, with gaping edges over the crest of the tibia at the junction of the middle and lower thirds, from which there was free venous haemorrhage, and fracture of the tibia at the same site. In the left leg there was a large irregular wound with contused edges at the same level as in the right leg, situated rather to the outer side of the crest of the tibia, and both bones were broken; from this there was also free venous haemorrhage.

The shell causing these injuries was a 5-inch shrapnel, Mark iii, fired at a range of 2,500 yards: the shell is charged with 236 round bullets made of 4 parts lead and 1 part antimony, and weighing 14 to the pound. A charge in the base of the shell blows off the head and discharges the bullets in a forward direction. From the shape of the bullets and the nature of their discharge it is of course not to be expected that their penetration would be so great as from a rifle. We were told four men were killed and many injured by our shell fire, and I had arranged to go to Spaniaco [Spaniakos] and Candamos to see them, but the ship was suddenly ordered to join the Admiral at Suda Bay or I should doubtless have had some further observations to make regarding the effects of our shellfire.


The events Biden was referring to took place on 10th March 1897 during the evacuation of Cretan Muslims from Kandanos, via Paleochora, by sailors and marines from the European fleet.

Evacuation of Cretan Muslims from Kandanos. “San Franscisco Call.” 7 Marxch 1897

British Naval 5 inch shrapnel shell Mk. III. c.1898. (Illustration based on

H.M.S. Scout c.1900.

Edward James Biden was appointed Surgeon in August 1881 and served aboard H.M.S. Opal during the Niger Expedition in 1883, under Captain A. T. Brooke, in the affair with the Igah and Aboh natives, and at the punishment of the Solomon Islanders in 1886. He was appointed Staff Surgeon in August 1893 and served aboard Scout in the Red Sea during the Dongola Expedition in 1896 (Khedive’s Medal). He served in China during 1900 as Staff Surgeon of Orlando (Medal), and retired in December 1904. In retirement he served on the Council of the British Medical Journal. He is recorded as receiving a Greenwich Hospital pension of £50 per. annum on 14 November 1922, and shown as having achieved the rank of Surgeon Captain.

The truth of Knossos revealed…… it’s all a fake!

In June 1909 British troops were preparing to leave Crete. In the midst of their preparations for departure at least one of them, quite possibly a member of 2/Devonshires, found the time to visit Knossos. Unfortunately for the future Cretan tourist industry, he was less tham impressed – as this postcard he sent to his father shows.

Knossos. Behaeddin photograph 201.

Knossos. Postcard 1909.

Dear Dad,

The ruins of Knossos are about 4 ½ miles from here. I have been over them but don’t think them very remarkable, but perhaps I am not a judge of such things. To me the greater part of it looked as though it had been faked up a lot. Hope you are all A1 at home. How are the Gardens now?


The Candia massacre 1898; William Sidney Churchill and the search for a scapegoat.



Abstract. In the aftermath of a riot by Cretan Muslims in Candia (Iraklion) in 1898, which resulted in the deaths of several hundred Cretan Christians and 14 British troops, the British military authorities sought to punish those deemed responsible. Among those whose activities, before and during the riot, came under scrutiny was Major W. S. Churchill, a ‘Levantine’ in Ottoman service. This article argues that Churchill made a convenient scapegoat for the failure of British military personnel to anticipate the likelihood of unrest that day, and the short-comings of the British commander on the ground.


By early 1897, following an uprising by Cretan Christians demanding enosis, union with Greece, the majority of the Cretan Muslim population of Crete had fled to the coastal towns, seeking the protection of the established Ottoman garrisons. Upon the arrival of Greek troops and warships on the island and in its waters, the European Powers, Britain, France, Italy, Russia and, initially, Germany and Austro-Hungary, intervened on 15th February[1] to prevent a Greek annexation of the island, sending troops and ships to occupy the major towns and control Cretan waters. European concerns were that the inter-communal violence on the island would escalate to the point that one or other religious group would face annihilation and, more importantly, that a Greek take-over would result in the destabilisation of the Ottoman Empire and the outbreak of a European war over the Balkans. One element of the European Intervention involved the attempted re-organisation of the Gendarmerie, a process that had been underway prior to the arrival of European forces, albeit with little success.

On 1st March 1897, members of the existing Ottoman Gendarmerie on Crete, most of whom were Albanians, mutinied because of arrears in their pay and their replacement by a ‘New Gendarmerie’ comprising mostly of Albanians, Montenegrins and Cretans, officered by Europeans. During the process of the mutiny being put down, the mutineers shot and killed their senior officer. According to the account of the mutiny given by Colonel Bor,[2] the senior European officer of the ‘New Gendarmerie’, one of the European officers who provided ‘all possible assistance’ in putting down the mutiny was a Captain Churchill: Churchill translating for Bor and being one of the men who entered the mutineers’ barracks and ordered them to surrender immediately before firing broke out.[3]

William Sidney (also recorded as Sydney) Churchill was born Constantinople on 26th September 1860. In a report drawn up on 19th September 1898 by the Intelligence Department of the War Office (I.D.W.O.), Churchill was described as ‘…quite Levantine in speech manners and disposition’, about 42 years old and married. He spoke English, French and Greek fluently, Italian well and Turkish moderately. He served as an interpreter in the Cyprus Pioneers in the winter of 1879-80 before being ‘…discharged for indiscretions, not of a serious nature’, upon which he returned to Constantinople. A few years later he ‘…went to Egypt where he obtained employment in the Egyptian Gendarmerie, and served there for from five to seven years, rising to the rank of Captain’,[4] before returning again to Constantinople. He next appears to have gone to Crete, where in February 1897, with the approval of Colonel Bor, he was appointed to the ‘New Gendarmerie’ with the rank of Captain. With the disbanding of the both the ‘New Gendarmerie’ and the ‘Old Gendarmerie’, after the mutiny, Captain Churchill transferred to the replacement, all Cretan, Gendarmerie, under the control of the Ottoman Vali, Governor General, and was promoted to the rank of Major; the senior officer in the Gendarmerie operating in the British controlled secteur of the island and based in Candia, modern Iraklion.[5] (Of undoubted significance to later events, was that while this Gendarmerie consisted of Cretan gendarmes with European officers and hence looked less like an adjunct of the Ottoman occupying forces, so much so that 48 of the 50 Cretan Christians in the force deserted during 1897, several joining the insurrectionists.[6])

Churchill’s appointment had been viewed with satisfaction in at least some, fairly influential, British quarters. In a report date-lined Candia 24th April 1898 and published in the Manchester Guardian on 6th May 1898, Special Correspondent ‘HNB’ (H. N. Brailsford), commenting on the creation of the new Cretan Gendarmerie, rejoiced that they were commanded by:

Major Churchill, a Levantine born in Constantinople who boasts an English father…He is, however, an officer in the Turkish service, and … at present aide – de camp to Djevad Pasha [the Vali] … In three days this Turkish officer, working with his cipher key and Djevad at his back, served by thirty ragged brigands, has done more to restore order in the town of Candia than a British regiment has done in the course of a year.[7]

(However, it should be noted that Brailsford’s piece was aimed as much at castigating Major- General Sir Herbert Chermside, the British military commander, and Sir Alfred Biliotti, the British Consul, for their inaction in resolving the situation in Candia, as at praising Churchill for his ‘energy and success’.)

That Churchill was energetic appears to be beyond doubt for later that year the I.D.W.O. report also stated that he was ‘active and serious,’ before going on to state that ‘…on several occasions in the last year displayed plenty of pluck and coolness when in danger, but he is wanting in discretion’.[8]  He was further described in a letter published by a New Zealand newspaper in 1898, and reportedly written by a ‘surgeon on H.M. S. Revenge’ who claimed to know him well, as ‘…half an Englishman and more Turk than a Turk’.[9] The I.D.O.W. report also mentioned that Churchill had never been to England, and nowhere in the documentation relating to Churchill is his nationality actually mentioned.

The matter of Major Churchill’s allegiances came to the fore because of the events of 6th September 1898.[10]  In spite of concerns raised by some of the British about the possibility of a violent reaction by the Cretan Muslims to moves to take over the taxation system on the island and place it under Cretan Christian control,[11] Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Maud Reid, commander of the 1/Highland Light Infantry, newly arrived commander of the British secteur, received orders from the Council of Admirals to carry out a controversial take over the Dime, the tax office on the harbour in Candia. [12] Accordingly, Reid sought to do so, and when his initial attempt to gain control by negotiation and compromise failed because of the resistance by the Ottoman kaimakam (Town Governor) Edhem Pasha, Reid was instructed to ‘[t]ake possession at once even by force.’[13]

Describing the subsequent events, Reid stated that on the morning of 6th September, with rumours of the impending takeover circulating and Cretan Muslims gathering in the streets, he was brought a message that:

Major Churchill, commanding the Gendarmerie, would like me to send a patrol to the principal street from the Governor’s Palace to the harbour gate. I sent a picket of twenty men under Lieutenant R. J. A. Haldane…

90 minutes later Reid, who it must be remembered was a Lieutenant Colonel and the senior British Army officer in command of all British troops in Candia and Crete, himself lead a small relief party to replace Haldane’s men.[14]

On coming to the corner of the street in which the Austrian post-office stands, close to the gate of the harbour, Lieutenant Haldane reported Major Churchill did not want the picket any more. I, however, told him to remain on duty for the present, and went myself to the Dime Bureau. The door was locked. Major Churchill was there outside. I asked him (as he spoke Turkish, &c., fluently) to find out who had the key.

He said he could not do so, as the office was being taken over quite unofficially.

After a little difficulty the key was produced, the door unlocked, and my officials entered into their offices.[15]

As the British occupied the Dime, they were fired on by Bashi-Bazooks, Cretan Muslim irregulars, shooting from the city walls and the surrounding houses. Several British personnel, Lieutenant Haldane included, having been killed by the gates to the harbour, Reid’s party, including at this stage Churchill, was stranded in the Dime. One of the British party, Lieutenant Kennedy R. E., volunteered to go to the telegraph office to send for assistance and, according to Reid;

At the same time Major Churchill went (? with) him and passed on, leaving me altogether. He never returned, and does not appear to have taken any steps to get me assistance from the Turkish troops, as will be seen later on. I would beg to point out that this officer, although in the Turkish army, is in the pay of the Great Powers.[16]

In a separate report drawn up at the time and based in part on Reid’s report to Captain Hughes-Hallett, the Senior British Naval Officer and representative on the Council of Admirals on the day, Reid furthers states that;

2nd Lieutenant Seagrave reported that he had held the barracks near the telegraph office for some time, that Major Churchill had brought him in two Christians, and told him to look after them, and that he, Major Churchill, had then left him and two minutes later he was fired on from his rear, where a Turkish guard should have prevented Moslems from coming in.[17]

(Seagrave had command of a piquet at the telegraph office before they were forced out of that position, retreating to join Reid in the Dime.)

While from subsequent evidence, Churchill appears to have spent the rest of the afternoon in the konak (town administration offices), Lt. Colonel Reid also removed himself from the scene; sometime after 5p.m, he and his party were withdrawn from the harbour by a boat from H. M. S. Hazard. Reid then remained on the Hazard throughout that night, out of contact with his men, transferring to H.M.S Camperdown when she arrived on station the following morning. In spite of the Camperdown landing her detachment of marines, albeit with some difficulty, to reinforce the HLI,[18] Reid considered the weather and sea conditions too unsafe for him to land and he was still on board Camperdown on the morning of 8th September.[19]

Churchill’s alleged actions, or rather inactions, on that day are significant because 14 British personnel were killed between about 14.00, when the fighting commenced, and 17.15 when the Ottoman authorities finally intervened to put an end to the attacks: Also killed during the rioting which lasted into the night, were several hundred Cretan Christians and a handful of Cretan Muslims. The clear implication on the Reid’s part, from both his formal and informal reports, is that Churchill could have, and should have, used his authority over the Gendarmerie, and his position as a senior Ottoman officer, to take steps to prevent or mitigate the effects of the riot.

British, and other European, reinforcements poured into Candia over the next few weeks; Lt. Colonel Herbert Chermside, the previous British army commander, returned to take up command of the British land forces again, and Rear Admiral Noel, on-board HM.S. Revenge, arrived to assume his role as Senior British Office on the island and British representative on the Council of Admirals. With stability restored, came the search to identify and punish those responsible. However, while a number of ‘low-level’ culprits were swiftly found and ultimately punished, the role of the higher ranking Ottoman officials, Churchill included, was less clear cut.

According to Major R. H. Bertie, 2/Royal Welsh Fusiliers, who chaired the Court of Inquiry set up by the British to look into punishing those implicated in the murders and disorders of 6th September;

The conduct of Churchill Bey, the head of Gendarmerie, is noteworthy. Both he and Edhem Pasha were apparently at the custom-house when the insurrection commenced and left almost at the same time. The former, though careful to guard his own house, failed to safeguard those of others. Remaining stationary at the konak, he issued orders instead of personally superintending and directing his police in the Christian quarters which were denuded of them, and thus left them at the mercy of the rioters.[20]

The Inquiry’s ‘Summary of Evidence against Churchill Bey’[21] states:

Churchill Bey, a Levantine, was the Chief of the Gendarmerie in Candia and on the 6th September, accompanied Colonel Reid to the custom – house, when he went to take over the Dime Office. He placed difficulties in the way of doing this, saying that he had no orders &c. That he had previous knowledge of the impending outbreak is probable from the fact of his having given hints to British officers in the camp, but it seems doubtful whether he realized the lengths to which matters would go as it was not until after the firing broke out that he took steps to insure the safety of his own family.

When the first attack was made on the British picquet on the quay, he was near the harbour gate, where the picquet was drawn up, and soon afterwards went by a circuitous route to his office in the konak, where he arrived about 2.15 A. M. From there he sent gendarmes to bring his family to the konak, and mounted a guard of twenty over his own house. At 7.30 P.M., he was still in his office and told his brother-in-law that he had not left it all the afternoon.

In front of the Inquiry, Henri Benci, Secretary to the Gendarmerie and Churchill’s brother-in-law, gave evidence that;

[He] can swear Churchill did all he could with ninety gendarmes to stop the riots. Was at konak giving orders when witness returned at 7.30 P.M., and said he had not left since he left custom house early in the afternoon.

However, to further complicate matters, contradicting this evidence of Churchill doing what he could to stop the riot, another witness before the Inquiry, Sami Bey, a Moulazim (Lieutenant) of Gendarmerie, retracted part of his earlier written deposition given to the Ottoman court of inquiry; a deposition apparently given at a meeting allegedly attended by Edhem Pasha and Churchill. In a verbal statement to the British he is reported to have said:

My deposition before the Turkish misstated the […] facts. He was told to say under pressure, that had not Major Churchill been on the spot, the whole town would have been burnt out.[22]

A further accusation was leveled at Churchill. Hughes-Hallett’s report, previously referred to, contains an allegation that:

An officer of…[H.M.S.] Astrea states, and is willing to give evidence that, on 2nd September he heard Major Churchill boasting that if the English tried to land during any row he could place men in every window and destroy them, that he was a Turk and would die with the Turkish flag round him.[23]

In spite of the enormity of the accusations against Churchill and the apparent formality of the investigations carried out by the British, it does not appear that Major Churchill was afforded the opportunity to respond to any of the allegations made about his conduct or his loyalties; no evidence appears to exist of him making any statement to the British authorities on the events of that day or his allegiance with respect to the Ottoman Empire. In the end however, the investigations appear to have uncovered no evidence, other than hearsay, that Churchill had committed any crime. Unsurprisingly, no record appears to exist as to what, if any, action was taken against Major Churchill by the British authorities, or for that matter by the Ottomans; although a somewhat plaintive report from Admiral Noel to the Admiralty on 3rd December concluded with the submission that:

“…the criminal behaviour of the Governor and his officials and soldiers may be brought to the notice of the Turkish Government, with the request that due punishment may be inflicted on the principal offender, Edham Pasha, and his associates…”[24]

Edhem Pasha. Canea 1898

The British were clearly faced with a dilemma as to what to do about Churchill; he hadn’t obviously broken any law, and any accusation of dereliction or default in his duty would have to be dealt with by the Ottoman authorities since he was a member of the Cretan Gendarmerie and subject to Ottoman discipline. The British difficulty over Churchill was acknowledged in a memo from the Foreign Office to the Secretary of State for War which alludes to the suggestion that ‘…if the charges against him [Churchill] are substantiated upon enquiry steps should be taken for stopping his pay and procuring his dismissal by the Turkish government.’[25] While the memo doesn’t state what, if any, charges were being contemplated, it does make it clear that the consequences of such charges being proven were unlikely to be onerous, other than possibly financially.

That it was considered necessary by the British to replace him was minuted as early as 12th September at a conference held on board H.M.S. Revenge, and attended by Reid, Hughes-Hallett, Biliotti and, presumably although he is not mentioned in the minute, Rear Admiral Noel, whose flagship it was and who had arrived in Crete that day. The minute records, in a comment which appears to have been made by Reid, that ‘Churchill should not be removed till there is a man to replace him.’ Discussion then took place as to a suitable replacement for Churchill; the two names mentioned were ‘Son of Sir Henry Forsythe, was at Smyrna. 35 years of age, fit to replace Churchill. No experience of Gendarmerie work’ and, in a marginal note: ‘Woods at Constantinople. Both speak Greek and Turkish.’[26]

In the event, the deaths of the British servicemen on 6th September triggered, within a few months, the forced evacuation of all Ottoman forces from the island, and Churchill would have appeared to have gone with them. The Gendarmerie was once again disbanded: Its place being taken in the British secteur by a force of 30 men of the Cyprus Gendarmerie, seconded to Crete for a three-month period who arrived in November,[27] and by December, by a Garde Civique consisting of 187 Muslim Cretans and 376 Cretan Christians.[28]

While the evacuation of the Ottoman forces undoubtedly solved a political crisis that had been facing the occupying European Powers, namely how to grant Crete a degree of autonomy within the Ottoman Empire while thousands of Ottoman troops remained on the island, the British military had to account for their shortcomings leading up to the events of 6th September. Shortly prior to that date, the British forces had been subject to constant changes of command. On 23rd June Colonel Sir Herbert Chermside who had been the British Army commander on the island since the arrival of British troops in early 1897, left Crete to go on a period of extended leave, his role being taken over initially by Lieutenant Colonel R. Mainwaring, commanding the 2/Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Mainwaring was shortly after replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Reid, 1/Highland Light Infantry. According to one account, Mainwaring’s replacement was because of his showing too much sympathy for the plight of the Muslim refugees in Candia,[29] although in reality, the replacement had more to do with troop rotation; in August, the Highland Light Infantry relieved the Welsh Fusiliers, the Highlanders having to be sent from the depot in Britain there being no troops available in Malta.[30] Arriving on 3rd August, Reid, described by a marine officer who met him while Reid was en-route to Crete as: ”[A] Colonel who explained how he would have dished Napoleon long before Waterloo had he been in Wellington’s boots…,”[31] appears to have been somewhat out of his depth. Writing to Biliotti shortly after his arrival Reid admitted:

Of course you will appreciate the difficulty under which I labour for I am quite new to the work and have had practically no papers for my guidance handed over to me nor do I really know what the Council of Admirals is doing as beyond sending me copies of the Séances [meetings] I get no communications from them.[32] 

To further complicate matters, for reasons which are not apparent in the archives, the Foreign Office were not informed until the end of August that Reid had taken over as British Commander, finding out only when they received copies of private correspondence between Mainwaring and Chermside, three weeks after Reid’s arrival on Crete.[33] Although as the commander of the British troops attacked that day Lieutenant Colonel Reid was mentioned in despatches, he retired from his regiment, and the army, in 1899. Re-joining the army after the outbreak of the Great War, despite his previous regimental affiliation he never again held a commission in a Scottish regiment nor commanded men in action; serving his time in training or labour battalions.


From the naval point of view matters were little better, the Royal Navy’s resources had also been run down, having ‘…fallen to three ships – one battleship, the captain of which, having a seat on the [Admiral’s] Council, generally remained at Suda, one cruiser, and one gunboat.’[34]

Of significance, is the fact that the commander of the remaining British Battleship H. M. S. Camperdown, was Captain Hughes-Hallett who, as a Captain, was outranked by the three other members of the Council of Admirals. Although the Council was theoretically operating on the basis of unanimous consent, Hughes-Hallett clearly did not feel sufficiently confident in his role as the junior member of the Council to veto the proposed takeover of the Dime; a takeover which was always going to be more difficult in Candia given the much larger number of Cretan Muslims in the town than in the other secteurs. (In the later publication attributed to him, Hughes-Hallett wrote: ‘A wish expressed by the doyen [of Admirals] at the council board invariably met at once with a corresponding wish on the part of his junior officers to fall in with his views as far as possible, out of respect for his rank and position…’ If these are the views of Hughes-Hallett, they go some considerable way to explain his failure to stand up more forcefully against the takeover of the Dime.)[35]

Significantly, immediately after the riot, the Royal Naval contingent in Cretan waters was placed under the direct command of a Rear Admiral: Rear Admiral Noel who was to remain on station until the dissolution of the Council of Admirals in December 1898.

Privately criticised by his superiors for apparently spending too much time writing despatches and for not anticipating the disturbances,[36] albeit probably unfairly since he did in fact warn of the consequences of the takeover of the Dime, Captain Hughes-Hallett was placed on the retired list in October 1899.

The seeds of the riot had ultimately been sown in July when the Council of Admirals had effectively handed over the control of the administration of the island, beyond the occupied cities, to the Christian Assembly;[37] a body made up of the remaining Christian delegates of the now defunct General Assembly and insurrectionary leaders.[38] This body had no remit within the towns occupied by European forces and hence no tax gathering capabilities within the major population areas. The decision to transfer the Dime to Christian control was one which should have been anticipated to have been highly unpopular with Cretan Muslims; particularly those who had fled to the towns as refugees. One of the few remaining effective sources of raising revenue on the island was being handed to the Cretan Christians, and since in effect only Cretan Muslims in the towns were paying any taxes on the island at this juncture, the latter viewed this as them having to pay for a rebellion carried out against them. Additionally, Christian control of the Dime meant a loss of Muslim jobs, and the status attached to them, in a town overcrowded with penniless Cretan Muslim refugees.

Given the overcrowding in Candia caused by refugees fleeing the countryside, the unpopularity of the transfer of the Dime, the rundown of British troop numbers in the town and the apparent confusion in the command structure of the British troops, the fact that there was an outbreak of rioting on September 6th is not unsurprising. Consequently, the criticism of Churchill smacks of the desire to find a scapegoat for the failure of the Council of Admirals to anticipate the likely reaction of the Cretan Muslims to the takeover of the Dime, and for the shortcomings of Colonel Reid.

If Churchill had had some intimation of the possibility of an outbreak of violence when the Dime was to be taken over, and had ‘given hints to the British officers in the camp,’ why had the British officers not acted on those hints, and why did Reid go off to the Dime with a minimal escort?

Since Reid had put himself in a position whereby he was caught up in the middle of events and unable to exert any influence or control over his men, other than those within shouting distance, the implication in the British Inquiry report that Churchill should have left his command post at the konak to get involved on the street seems to be somewhat disingenuous. Indeed, it is difficult to see what Churchill, with his handful of gendarmes, nearly all of whom would have been Cretan Muslims, could have done in the face of an armed, rioting, mob when Edhem Pasha, who had control over all the Ottoman military forces in the town including both the Gendarmerie and regular military, so pointedly declined to take any action until late in the day. It must be borne in mind also that the Bashi-Bazooks were not the only ones rioting; evidence given to the British Inquiry indicated that while a small number of gendarmes were seen looting, three instances being cited,[39] much larger numbers of regular Ottoman troops were seen looting and firing upon both British troops and Cretan Christians, 48 such incidents being recorded.[40] Even given the disparity in numbers between the Ottoman regulars and the gendarmes, the latter being outnumbered by at least 30 to 1 by the regulars,[41] this might seem to indicate that, whether he was present to control them on the streets or not, Churchill’s gendarmes were the better disciplined body; although at least one of them, Nedjib Toulianos, was sentenced to hard labour for life by the British Military Tribunal for his part in the riot.[42] Indeed, in spite of his experiences, Reid, at a conference on board H.M.S. Revenge on 12 September, is recorded as stating that ‘[the] Gendarmerie behaved quite well. 115 in no. Paid by us.’[43]

Churchill had the additional attraction as a scapegoat in the fact that, while he wasn’t ‘Turkish’, he clearly was clearly seen as not being wholly ‘British’ either. The references to his being ‘Levantine in speech manners and disposition’, ‘half an Englishman and more Turk than a Turk’ and the mention of the fact that he had apparently never been to England would suggest that the inherent racism of the British army of the late 19th century may also have played a role in his condemnation: The British forces in Crete at this time made little effort to hide their contempt of all the parties involved in the island’s convoluted affairs. Additionally, given the British public reaction to the reports of Ottoman atrocities towards Christians in other parts of the Ottoman Empire over the previous 20 years, and the casualties suffered by the British army and the Cretan Christians during the 6th September rioting, the Ottomans, and those working for them, were clearly targets for punishment/retribution. In the aftermath of the riot between 14th September and 2nd December 209 Cretan Muslims were arrested or detained by the British; in total 17 were hanged for the murder of British troops and British citizens, a further two were shot by International forces for the murder of Cretan Christians, and others received sentences of up to 20 years penal servitude.[44]

The responsibility for the loss of British lives, more than were killed at the battle of Omdurman, clearly lay principally with the Cretan Muslims who carried out the killings. However, leading up to the riot were a series of failures on the part of both British politicians and military. The British Government initially sent the military into Crete to support the status-quo in the shape of the Ottoman governance of the island. That aim having been achieved without serious bloodshed, the troops were then left there without any clear objective other than to ‘keep the peace’ between the Christians and the Muslims. While at no time had the number of British troops on the island been sufficient to make any other than a token response had either the Ottoman or Cretan Christian forces made a serious effort to evict them, by September 1898, their numbers had been so reduced as to make any meaningful action on their part almost impossible. Confined, in effect, to operate within the range of the guns of the Royal Navy, in Candia they were surrounded by a hostile population who having once looked on them as in some sense ‘allies’ sent to protect them from the Greeks, now saw them as a part of those forces determined to overturn Cretan Muslim political dominance. Meanwhile, the Foreign Office, having, in conjunction with the other Powers, determined that the island would become an Autonomous State, showed no urgency in resolving the issues surrounding that decision: Little notice was taken in Britain of the growing unrest among Cretan Muslims, in spite of warnings sent by the British Consul, Sir Alfred Biliotti. There were failures also on the part of British military intelligence – in both senses of the word. Although aware of the potential for, and likelihood of, disorder should the takeover of the Dime be ordered, neither of the British commanders on the island proved adequate to the task. Hughes-Hallett allowed himself to be over-ruled at the Council of Admirals in spite of his misgivings. This error was compounded by him remaining in Canea on the day appointed for the takeover; had his ship, H. M. S.  Camperdown, a pre-Dreadnaught battleship, been present off Candia rather than H. M. S. Hazard, a small torpedo gun-boat, a much clearer signal of the British determination to carry out the transfer of power would have been sent. On the army side, evidence in Hughes-Hallett’s report previously referred to, clearly suggests that it was known, or at least believed, from what Churchill had allegedly said, that there was the likelihood of significant unrest. Yet, in spite of this, Lt. Colonel Reid took no steps to alert his men to the possibility of trouble before leaving them and, with only a token force, going carry out an operation he knew was likely to provoke a hostile response.

Irrespective of who was ultimately responsible for the events of 6th September, in spite of the criticism, both implied and explicit, of Churchill’s behaviour, he was beyond the reach of the British authorities and he left the island without action being taken against him. Although little appears to be on record concerning Churchill’s later career, his actions on Crete did not appear to have adversely affected him. According to entries in the Ottoman Archives catalogue held in the Prime Ministry archives in Istanbul, Churchill remained in Ottoman service and was promoted to Colonel in 1907 while working as a council member in the Gendarmerie Directorate (Jandarma Dairesi Azasý). The last entry about him in this source concerns his planned assignment to Pera (Beyoðlu) Police Directorate, which was dated 3rd September 1912.[45]

Churchill Bey in Pera c.1912. Photograph courtesy of David Barchard.

Churchill died in Constantinople on 30th July 1918 and was buried – together with his wife Elisabeth Benci – in the Catholic cemetery of Feriköy in a grave belonging to his wife’s family.


Post Script.

An internet search carried out in early 2017 failed to produce any photograph of Churchill. However, as mentioned above, he is known to have been involved in the suppression of the Gendarmerie mutiny, acting as an interpreter.

Two illustrations, both in the Illustrated London News of 20th March 1897, show this event. These illustrations have the clearly identifiable figure of Major Bor and, associated with him and in close proximity as would be expected of an interpreter, a European figure dressed in Gendarmerie uniform but wearing a tasselled fez.

Bor and Churchill in the barracks of mutineering Gendarmes.

Major Bor, second left with right arm forward, in Gendarmerie barracks. According to the very faint and only just legible, artist’s description on the illustration, Captain Churchill, right hand raised, is immediately behind him.

Bor haranguing mutineers prior to their removal from Crete. Churchill behind him.

Major Bor in centre with hand raised haranguing the mutineers prior to their deportation from Crete. Churchill behind him to his left.

Major Churchill with Welsh troops overseeing a market.

The above photograph, supplied by Mr Ron Phillips, provenance unknown, shows Major Churchill, and members of 2/ Royal Welsh Fusiliers, attending a market outside Candia. Markets were instituted by the British in early 1898 in an attempt to build up confidence between the two rival communities. The original hand-written description on the photograph reads: “The market. G Dickson with a pair of semaphore flags. Major Griffets. Major Churchill.”






[1] Dates are given as per the Gregorian calendar in use at that time in Britain and most of Europe; the calendar in use on Crete in 1896-1899 was 12 days behind that used by most of the European Powers. Hence, in Crete, the events of 6th September 1898 are usually referred to as having taken place on 25th August.

[2] James Henry Bor was a substantive Major in the Royal Marines Artillery. On secondment to the ‘New’ Cretan Gendarmerie he held the Gendarmerie rank of Colonel. On the disbandment of the ‘New ‘Gendarmerie he reverted to the rank of Major before being give the honorary rank of Colonel when placed in command of the multi-national force at Fort Izzeden, Suda Bay in April 1897. Bor died in 1914 in Ireland, having reached the rank of General in the Royal Marines.

[3] National Archive   ADM116/89 Colonel Bor to Governor General of Crete. 3 March 1897

[4] National Archive   ADM 116/93 Vol.2. ‘Antecedents of Major Churchill of the Cretan Gendarmerie, from information supplied by Major Bor, R.M.A.’ Compiled by Staff Captain Forester Walker. I.D.W.O. 19 September 1898. Churchill is listed in ‘Annuaire Egyptian adimnistratif et commercial’ as serving as an Officer Commandant in the Cairo Police in 1891/1892.

[5] By late 1898 The overall governance of Crete was in the hands of a Council of Admirals consisting of the Senior Naval Officers from each of the occupying Powers. The island was divided into four secteurs, each occupied by and under the control of a European Power. The Italians in Selinos, the Russians in Rethymno, the British in Candia, and the French in Sitia. The then capital, Canea, was occupied by a mixed force.

[6] Rodogno D. (2012) Against Massacre: Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire, 1815-1914. Princeton University Press. F.N. 37. Chapter 9. p.331.

[7] Manchester Guardian.  May 6, 1898, p.10

[8] National Archive ADM 116/93 Vol.2. ‘Antecedents of Major Churchill of the Cretan Gendarmerie, from information supplied by Major Bor, R.M.A.’ Compiled by Staff Captain Forester Walker. I.D.W.O. 19 September 1898.


[10] 25th August by the Cretan, Julian, calendar in use on the island at the time.

[11] Both the Senior British Naval Officer on the island at the time, Captain Harry Francis Hughes-Hallett, and the British Consul, Sir Alfred Biliotti, as well as the Russian and Italian Consuls, had reservations. However, the Council of Admirals’ views predominated. National Archive ADM 116/93, Vol.2. Despatch 11 October 1898, p.2. Telegram No.64 Biliotti to Lord Salisbury, 30 September 1898.

[12] The word Dime referred to both the tax levied on certain exports and the building in which the tax was collected.

[13] National Archive ADM 116/93, Vol.2. Despatch 11 October 1898, p.2. Telegram No.64 Biliotti to Lord Salisbury, 30 September 1898

[14] National Archive ADM116/93 Vol 2. Report of Lt. Col Reid to Captain Hallett. Candia 7 September 1898. Inclosure No 1 in No.1, Consul Biliotti to Salisbury 7 September 1898.

Reid, who by his own admission ‘was quite new to the work’ and had ‘practically no papers to guide [him]’ has been criticised for taking a ‘subalterns command’ and getting stuck in the Dime and out of contact with the bulk of his forces for nearly 24 hours, rather than being in a position to command the whole of the British troops in the town.


[16] National Archive ADM116/93 Vol 2. Report of Lt. Col Reid to Captain Hallett. Candia 7 September 1898. Inclosure No 1 in No.1, Consul Biliotti to Salisbury 7 September 1898.

[17] National Archive   ADM116/93 Vol 2. Extracts referring to the behaviour of Major Churchill of the Cretan Gendarmerie during the recent outbreak. In No.1, Consul Biliotti to Salisbury 7 September 1898.

[18] Drury W.P. In many Parts: Memoirs of a Marine. T. Fisher Unwin London 1926. ps.168-171

[19] National Archive ADM 116/93 Vol.2. Lt. Col Reid to Secretary of State for War. H.M.S. Camperdown 8.10a.m., 8 September 1898.

[20] National Archive FO421/178. Inclosure No.2 in No. 448. Major Bertie to Rear National Archive  ADMiral Noel, 14 November 1898

[21] National Archive FO421/178. Inclosure No. 5. Summary of evidence against Churchill Bey.

[22] National Archive FO421/178 Inclosure No. 8. Detailed evidence taken by Court of Inquiry against (a) Edhem Pasha (b) Churchill Bey.

[23] National Archive   ADM116/93 Vol 2. Extracts referring to the behaviour of Major Churchill of the Cretan Gendarmerie during the recent outbreak. In No.1, Consul Biliotti to Salisbury 7 September 1898.

[24] National Archive FO421/178 Admiral G.H. Noel to Admiral Sir J. Hopkins 3 December 1898. In Incl.1 in #448.

[25] National Archive ADM116/93 Vol 2. Memo, Foreign Office to Secretary of State for War. 15 October 1898.

[26] National Maritime Museum, Noel Papers. NOE10/1.  Notes on Conference on board Revenge. 12 Sept.1898.

[27] National Archive ADM 116/93, Vol.2 Inclosure No.2. in No.1. Chermside to Salisbury, 6 December 1898. Diary of events.

[28] National Archive ADM 116/93, Vol.2 Inclosure No.1. in No.1. Chermside to Noel, 6 December 1898.

[29] David Barchard, ‘The Fearless and Self-Reliant Servant. The Life and Career of Sir Alfred Biliotti (1833-1915), an Italian Levantine in British Service’, Studi Miceni ed Egeo-Anatolici, 48 (2006), 36.

[30] National Archive WO 33/149. No. 122. Commander in Chief Malta to Secretary of State for War, 19 August 1898.

[31] Drury W.P. In many Parts: Memoirs of a Marine. T. Fisher Unwin London 1926. p.161. However, this was written some 28 years after the meeting.

[32] National Archive, Foreign Office file FO 78/4934. Ottoman Empire: Correspondence with Consul Sir Alfred Biliotti, Canea [Chania]. Diplomatic correspondence. Despatches 46-85.] Lieutenant Colonel Reid to Biliotti 16 August 1898.

[33]Ibid. Memorandum. G. Fairholme, 25 August 1898.

[34]National Maritime Museum, Noel Papers NOE10/1. ‘A Naval Officer.’ The Admirals and the Navy in Crete. 7. According to Prichard, this article was written by Captain Hughes-Hallett. See:  Prichard, R. J., ‘International Humanitarian Intervention and Establishment of an International Jurisdiction Over Crimes Against Humanity: The National and International Military Trials on Crete in 1898’, in  J. Carey, W. V. Dunlop & R.J. Pritchard (eds.), International Humanitarian Law Vol. 1 (Transnational Publishers: New York, 2003), p.2. Hereafter Pritchard.

[35] National Maritime Museum, Noel Papers NOE10/1. ‘A Naval Officer.’ The Admirals and the Navy in Crete. 13.

[36] Prichard, F.N. 35, p.31.

[37] National Archive FO 78/4933. Ottoman Empire: Correspondence with Consul Sir Alfred Biliotti, Canea [Chania]. Diplomatic correspondence. Despatches 1-45. [Hereafter; FO 78/4933] Biliotti to Salisbury, 28 July 1898.

[38] Şenişik, The Transformation of Ottoman Crete, 180 & 185-193.

[39] National Archive FO421/178. Inclosure 11 in No. 448. Detailed evidence taken by Committee of Inquiry relative to Turkish Gendarmerie.

[40] National Archive FO421/178. Inclosure 9 in No. 448. Detailed evidence taken by Committee of Inquiry relative to Turkish Troops (Regulars) and FO421/178. Inclosure 7 in No. 448. Summary of evidence against Turkish Troops (Regulars)

[41]National Archive FO421/178 Return showing number of Troops &c. from Crete, disembarked at Salonica, between October 31 and November 11, 1898, indicates at least 1206 regular Ottoman troops can be identified as having left from Candia.  FO421/178, Inclosure in No. 264, Rear Admiral Noel to Admiralty, 11 November 1898, puts the number at between 800 and 900, while the Revenge Conference minutes estimates their number in Candia during the riot at 3,000. National Maritime Museum, Noel Papers. NOE10/1.  Notes on Conference on board Revenge. 12 Sept.1898.

The maximum number of gendarmes as indicated by the sources quoted in the text above, was 115.

[42] National Maritime Museum, Noel Papers. NOE10/1. List of Moslem Cretans arrested between 14 Sept. ‘98 and 2 Dec. ’98. (inclusive), for complicity in the events in Candia on 6 Sept. 98, with results of trials etc.

[43] National Maritime Museum, Noel Papers. NOE10/1.  Notes on Conference on board Revenge. 12 Sept.1898.

[44] National Maritime Museum, Noel Papers. NOE10/1. List of Moslem Cretans arrested between 14 Sept. ‘98 and 2 Dec. ’98. (inclusive), for complicity in the events in Candia on 6 Sept. 98, with results of trials etc

[45] Personal e-mail correspondence to author 29 October 2015