Monthly Archives: April 2020

The Seaforths go forth.

On April 18th, following Vassos’ ‘annexation’ of Crete and large-scale Greek incursions into Ottoman Macedonia, the Ottoman Empire declared war on Greece. In Canea, on April 19th an international detachment under command of Captain Egerton consisting of 75 Seaforths, 75 Austrians, 75 French, 90 Italians and 2 Italian guns, was sent to be part of a guard at the neck of Akrotiri peninsula, remaining there until June.

According to Egerton:

‘The orders given by the Council of Admirals …were to guard the neck of the Akrotiri peninsula and prevent a large body of insurgents encamped therein from breaking out, and equally to prevent any body of Turks or Bashi Bazouks from the mainland from breaking in and attacking the insurgents. The two chiefs of the insurgent bands on Akrotiri were Messers Fourmis [sic] & Venezelos [sic], both Athens’ educated natives of Crete, who spoke and wrote excellent French.’

Activity at this post was apparently limited and Egerton clearly had no great opinion of his allies, continuing his narrative in the first person he stated:

‘Nothing serious ever happened, but for the two months that I was in command at Akrotiri Lt. Campion and myself, took it in turn every night to visit the sentries and patrol the neighbourhood, after 12 midnight. I did not trust the Italians a yard, and had no great confidence in the French, but my Austrian detachment Officers and men, were reliable to the last degree. The Italians were very fond of the English and were ready to black our boots, and they have never forgotten how much we assisted towards a united Italy. The Austrians were on very friendly terms always, their Officers were nearly all gentlemen, which was not certainly the case with most of the other foreign Officers. The Russians we saw little of, they were mainly kept outside of Canea, on account of their rowdy habits. Their Colonel was an ex-Guardsman exiled for St. Petersburg for his numerous crimes. He was often seen drunk.
The move to Akrotiri coincided with the European takeover of the Izzedin fortress overlooking Suda Bay and of a number of smaller blockhouses in and around the Bay. Command of the fortress and the outlying posts was given to Major Bor, who ‘to give him the necessary authority over his foreign colleagues [was given] the honorary rank of Colonel.’

The Illustrated London News of April 24th 1897 reported: “Captain Granville Egerton, of the Seaforth Highlanders, who is in command of one of the detachments of British troops now in Crete, has seen some years of active service. He received his commission in 1879, and proceeded at once to Afghanistan, where he was seriously wounded before the year was out in the operations around Cabul. He subsequently took part in the advance on Candahar, and distinguished himself in the battle there fought. In the Egyptian Campaign of 1882 he was Adjutant to the Ist Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders, and took part in the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir.”

On leaving Crete with in November 1897, the Seaforths, including Egerton, went on, via a spell in Malta, to take part in the campaign in The Sudan. Here, Egerton was mentioned twice in despatches, his first such mention having been during the campaign in Afghanistan in 1880. He eventually went on to command the 52nd Lowland Infantry Division at Gallipoli, surviving the war and retiring from the army with the rank of Major General in 1919. He died in 1951.

Major General Granville George Algeron Egerton.

H.M.S Nymph in Sitia. February 1897.

The confused state of inter-communal relations on Crete in February 1897 was illustrated by the situation faced by Commander C. L. Ottley, Captain of H.M.S. Nymphe, a composite screw sloop.
Arriving off Sitia on 11th February 1897 he was informed by both the Kaimakam, the Ottoman appointed town governor, and the Italian Eastern Telegraph Company operator that the town was in a state of panic; Christian insurrectionists surrounding the town and its inhabitants, both Christians and Muslims, each fearing that the others were about to attack them. Ottley initially interviewed Muslim leaders, finding:

“[I]n some ways remarkable as a complete reversal of the very prevalent idea, that it is only the Christians in Crete, who have reason to dread the indiscriminate massacre of their men, women and children at the hands of Musselmens.”

At a later interview with Christian chieftains, it was they who expressed their fear of massacre. Ottley eventually arranged for women and children of each religion to be placed in separate caiques moored alongside H. M. S. Nymphe, under the protection of her guns.[1]On the 14th February, landing under a flag of truce and delivering a message to the insurrectionists from the consuls in Canea to the effect that they would be held responsible for any unlawful acts committed by their men, Ottley arranged for Christian and Muslim chiefs to meet in his cabin to organise a 48 hour armistice. His justification for the breach of orders ‘not to get involved as an intermediary’ [2], was that there was considerable British and foreign property at risk in the town, and there were no European consuls present:

“Several of the principal local functionaries have fled, including the Kaimaken,[sic] and so far as I am aware, the Captain of the Port. The Head of the judicial branch of the government here has, I am informed, gone mad (he yesterday murdered a Mussleman woman).”

His efforts to broker a cease fire were successful and the situation within the town remained calm pending the arrival of Ottoman and European (French in this case) troops to keep the peace.[3]

H.M.S. Nymphe c. 1896.

Foot notes.
[1] National Archive, Admiralty Papers. ADM 116/89, Crete – Letters from C. In C. Mediterranean. No. 32. Commander Otley to Rear Admiral Harris, 14 February 1897.
[2] ]bid.
[3] National Archive, Admiralty papers. ADM 116/89, Crete – Letters from C. In C. Mediterranean. No. 33. Commander Otley to Rear Admiral Harris, 16 February 1897.

 

 

The Royal Welsh Fusiliers arrive

The first tranche of 2/Royal Welsh Fusiliers, consisting of HQ and four other companies, arrived in Candia on 8th April 1897, the remainer of the batallion arriving in August that year. They remained on Crete until August 1898, when they departed for Egypt. However, they returned again to the island the next month as part of the British reinforcements sent after the riots of 6th September; finally departing for good in December 1898.

Their arrival in 1897 was witnessed by a correspondent sent by the London newspaper, the Standard:

From our own correspondent. Candia Friday [9 April 1897]

I arrived here at dawn to-day on board the transport Malacca, conveying a company of the Seaforth Highlanders and a battalion of the Welsh Fusiliers. The disembarkation of the Highlanders was begun at once, with the assistance of the Bluejackets from the Bruiser and the launches of the Trafalgar. The work was favoured by perfectly calm weather, and all arrangements had, as far as possible, been made beforehand, even to the building of ovens and the preparation of kitchens by fatigue parties of the Highlanders already here. The Company of the Seaforths marched up to the barracks about four o’clock, but the Welsh Fusiliers will probably remain on board until to-morrow. The Malacca has brought five hundred tons of extra regimental stores, and as another canteen ship arrived simultaneously, the men need not be afraid of running short of personal comforts, although they have plenty of work before them. The Fusiliers will be camped along the ramparts to the north-west of the Highlanders, and will take over almost one-half of the ground hitherto patrolled and guarded by the latter.
Admiral Canevaro came over here this after noon, in consequence of exaggerated reports that the Turks had attempted to pillage the Catholic Church, during the fire that occurred recently close by, notwithstanding that the building was guarded by Italian sailors. It is so difficult in this part of the world to get at the truth of things, save by making exhaustive personal inquiries, that it is only with the utmost reserve that I give what are, lam told, the actual facts. It seems, then, that an Italian sailor dropped a revolver while engaged in extinguishing the flames, and that it was picked up by a Turkish soldier. The action was misconstrued, and gave rise to a short dispute, which, however, was speedily settled by the Italian and Turkish officers.
Yesterday nearly the whole of the Turkish garrison turned out, after requesting the Foreign troops to patrol the town while they engaged the Insurgents. A tremendous fusillade was kept up till sunset, resulting in the loss of a single horse on the Ottoman side. Meanwhile, Captain Grenfell landed all the Bluejackets that could be spared, and marched them round the ramparts.
The small-pox is, I am sorry to say, on the increase, and the streets are full of people in various stages of the disease. Most of the Seaforth Highlanders have been vaccinated afresh, but comparatively few of them “took.” The men are now fairly comfortable, though it is rather provoking to see the Turks fighting, or pretending to fight, every day, while they themselves are confined to barracks — not a man being allowed to go into the town except on duty, nor even the officers, unless they go in twos and threes.
Sir Alfred Biliotti arrived here about noon. Colonel Chermside, the British Commandant, has so far recovered from his recent indisposition as to be able to resume his outdoor duties.

 

Working party of 2/RWF entrenching camp on ‘Canea bastion’ Candia. April 1898.

RWF throwing up new earthworks on Venetian Ramparts, Candia. April 1897.