Author Archives: Mick McT

About Mick McT

Now, allegedly, an academically qualified historian; hence be able to say, if asked a question about history, 'Sorry, it's not my period.' I don't actually know much other than some stuff about modern Cretan history...and the fact that goats is evil and plotting to take over the world.

Postcards from Crete

In 1905, or before, someone had the bright idea of making a souvenir postcard featuring the then High Commissioner, Prince George, and representatives of the four military forces then occupying Crete. (Never mind that l’Angleterre is actually un Écossais).

1905. Prince George Souvenir postcard.

Unfortunately, by late 1906 Prince George had gone home and been replaced as High Commissioner by Alexandros Zaimis; a situation which could have proved catastrophic for the Cretan postcard industry.

However, with typical Cretan ingenuity, a solution was soon found – just change some of the pictures on the card and it’s business as usual!

1906, or later. High Commissioner Zaimis souvenir postcard.

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The Theriso Revolt (and the decline of British standards).

In March 1905 a rebellion broke out on Crete. Headed politically by Eleftherios Venizelos, one of the intentions of the revolution was to force Prince George, the European appointed High Commissioner of the island, to change his policy and to promote the cause of enosis, union with Greece. (Given that the Powers had granted Crete semi autonomy in 1898 specifically to prevent such a union, the chances of the Theriso revolt achieving this particular aim had to be considered to be somewhat slim.)

The majority of the disturbances occurred in and around Canea and Retymno, the Italian and Russian secteurs, the British secteur, based on Iraklion (Candia) was relatively quiet; only three occurrences of violence directed against British troops being reported.  Army medical records indicate that there were two admissions to hospital of soldiers with gunshot wounds recorded as injuries received in action. In addition to their ‘normal’ outpost and patrol duties, British troops also had to provide guards for the two civil prisons in Candia ‘…as the local gendarmerie are insufficient for the purposes.’[1]

However, the suppression of the revolt clearly resulted in the lowering of the standard of dress of at least some of the British troops, as is shown by the photograph of these members of the 1/King’s Royal Rifles (60th Rifles).

Members of 1/King’s Royal Rifles with an insurgent. The Sphere, 26 August 1905.

A similar, rather relaxed, attitude to uniform standards was displayed by members of 2/Royal Sussex, the other British battalion on Crete at that time.

G Company, 2/Royal Sussex.

In October 1905 the revolt came to a negotiated end. While it failed to achieve enosis, it did effectively bring an end to reign of Prince George who left the island in September 1906.

European trtoops (possibly Russian?) escorting arms surrendered by insurgents at Theriso.

 

[1] 1906 [Cd 3213] Army Medical Department Report for the year 1905. Volume XLVII. Pp.105 & 106

The Wrong Cretan Flag

Prince George of Greece arrived on Crete in December 1898 to take up his role as the High Commissioner of the island. As well as choosing a High Commissioner for the Cretans, the European Powers also chose a flag for the island.  The three blue quarters of the flag and the white cross were considered to represent the Cretan Christian majority on the island, while the remaining red quarter, containing within it a five-pointed white star, represented the Cretan Muslim minority and the continuing de-jure claim to the island by the Ottoman Empire.

While the political implications of the status of the island proclaimed by the flag was, and in some quarters still is, contentious, flag makers and postcard producers were, and still are, quick to cash in on the opportunity to make money by selling souvenirs.

Flag of Cretan Autonomous State. On sale on eBay July 2018. (Sorry for the quality!)

 

Most of these, though somewhat tacky, at least managed to get the details of the flag correct.

Not so the post-card shown below. Produced by ‘The Publishers of a Thousand Curiosities’ in Canea at an unknown date, it shows a photograph of the Prince’s offices in Kastelli, above the port in Canea, surmounted by a, rather crude, six-pointed star. Quite why such an elementary error was made remains a mystery.

 

The palace of Prince George and the, incorrect, flag of the Cretan Autonomous State.

The Revolt of the Cretan Gendarmerie

On the face of it, any government seeking to control a troublesome population must first ensure the loyalty of those forces it will rely on to keep the population in check and ensuring that these forces actually get paid would probably, by most, be considered to be a priority. Unfortunately for the Ottoman authorities on Crete in March 1897, they had neither the money, nor possibly the will, to pay the ‘old’ gendarmerie, a paramilitary force of Albanians specifically recruited to serve on Crete to maintain law and order. (Lack of money may be accounted for in part by the actions of Djordje Berovich Pasha, the previous Vali, the Ottoman Governor-General of Crete, who on 14th February 1898 with the Cretan state in crisis after the landing of Greek troops, “…having paid himself and Christian followers out of the public chest the amount due to themselves as salaries, took refuge on board the Russian iron-clad “Nicholas I”, and subsequently fled to Trieste in the Austrian Lloyd’s steamer which left that evening.”[1])

Djordje Berovich Pasha, the runaway Vali.

Complaints of the inefficiency of the Albanian gendarmes had resulted in 1896, in the recruitment of a ‘new’ force of Montenegrin gendarmes, initially under the command of Major J. H. Bor, Royal Marine Artillery. With this intake  the ‘new’ gendarmerie consisted of three companies under the command of seven European officers; a total of 225 men made up of ninety six Albanians,  eighty Montenegrins, fifty Cretan Christians, forty eight of whom promptly deserted to the rebels when the insurrection broke out, and thirty Muslim Cretans.[2]

European Offices of the International Gendarmarie Commission. Major Bor  front row middle

Proposals to reform the gendarmerie in order to make it a more representative body consisting of Cretan Christians and Muslims, agreed as a part of the Halepa Pact in 1878 but never implemented, were also being discussed by 1897 and any such reform would undoubtedly have impacted particularly on the jobs of the ‘old’ gendarmerie; another possible cause of the Albanians’ discontent.

On the morning of 1st March 1897, Bor reported to the acting Vali that some forty men of the ‘old’ gendarmerie had refused to do their duty and were demanding that they receive their arrears of pay.[3]  A British reporter in Canea at that time, Ardern George Hulme–Beaman, stated in his diary that the dispute was the fault of ‘a few ruffians’ and that the arrears in question were some 18 months pay.[4] During that day Bor saw a number of the mutineers individually and tried to persuade them to return to work, promising that they would be paid. On two occasions that day he also went to the gendarmes barracks, in the company of Colonel Suleiman Bey, the Albanian commander of the gendarmes, to speak to the men en masse in an attempt to persuade them to resume their duties, but to no avail: On the latter occasion an altercation broke out between Suleiman Bey and one of the mutineers when Suleiman Bey pushed the man who was being insubordinate and talking excitedly; an altercation which came to an end when the mutineers grabbed their rifles and said ‘they would have no force used.’ [5] The mutineers also attempted to kidnap one of their own officers, Major Mehmeh Agha, who had to be rescued from the barracks by Major Craveri, an Italian officer serving in the gendarmerie.

The following morning, 2 March, Bor was summoned to meet the Admirals of the Great Powers and went to the Italian Battleship ‘Stromboli’ to do so.  In his report to the Governor-General, Bor states that the Admirals approved his suggestion that, there being rumours of the mutineers intending to commit acts of violence in furtherance of their pay dispute, the gendarmes be disarmed at bayonet point by troops from the Great Powers. Accordingly Bor returned to the gendarmes barracks accompanied by a force of Italian and Russian sailors under the command of the Italian Captain Amoretti. On reaching the barracks Bor first went inside, accompanied by  Hulme–Beaman, and attempted once more to persuade the mutineers to return to work, promising them three months pay at once if they returned to their duty. This offer was refused.

Bor and Colonel Sulieman Bey then went outside and only at this point did Bor inform Suleiman Bey of the plan to disarm his men. Having collected the International troops Bor and Suleiman Bey then re- entered the barracks, Bor going with one file of men to the refectory on the left hand side of the door, Suleiman Bey with his troops going to the one on the right. According to Bor’s account, three shots were fired at them almost immediately on their entering and the foreign sailors immediately returned fire from outside the doors. The gunfire continued for about a minute until the gendarmes retreated from the room and called out their surrender. The gendarmes, having suffered five wounded, one of whom later died, were then taken out of the barracks one by one and disarmed, this presumably being done by gendarmerie offices since Bor states that the foreign sailors did not enter the building.  One Italian seaman was wounded but probably the most significant loss was the death of Colonel Suleiman Bey who was fatally wounded during the shooting and who died half an hour after.

Supression of Gendarmes’ mutiny. Illustrated London News 20 March 1897 Mutinous gendarmes

Suppression of Gendarmes’ mutiny. Soliel du Dimanche. 4 April 1897.

Suppression of Gendarmes’ mutiny. La Tribuna Illustrata Della Domenica. 14 March 1897.

Bor concluded his report by stating that in spite of the failure of the original plan to disarm the mutineers at bayonet point, the cause of the shooting was the mutineers firing on the foreign troops and he was happy with the arrangements made by the Italian and Russian officers.[6] Hulme-Beaman’s account gives a slightly different version of events. According to him, Major Craveri, described by Hulme-Beaman as Lieutenant Craveri,[7] lead the Italian sailors into the first room and there grabbed one of the mutineers standing guard by the door. At this another mutineer fired at Craveri where upon the hence Italian sailors returned fire. Hulme-Beaman alleges that the Italians, owing to”… the natural excitability of the Italian character” were the only foreign troops to open fire, the “…more phlegmatic Russians” not doing so since their orders were to use their bayonets only. Hulme-Beaman’s disdain for the Italians’ actions is further shown when he states: “…I scarcely need to say however that we did not get the Iron Cross for Valour awarded by King Humbert to several others who, I believe, were never inside the [barracks].”[8]

The mutiny signalled the end of the Ottoman gendarmerie on Crete and within days the existing gendarmerie, both “new” and “old”, were disbanded; the British Foreign Secretary George Curzon reporting to the House of Commons: “We understand that the Gendarmerie Commission, consisting of English, French, and Italian members, paid off the new Gendarmerie on the 11th instant. There still remain in Canea the Mussulman Gendarmes of the old organisation, numbering 49 officers and 535 men.”[9]

The majority of the mutineers were exiled from Crete but not before being harangued by Major Bor!

Major Bor haranguing captured mutineers prior to their removal from Crete. Illustrated London News, 20th March 1897.

Their place was initially taken by four separate bodies, one for each of the sectors of European rule, until in 1899, Crete by now being an Autonomous State within the Ottoman Empire, the High Commissioner, Prince George, ordered a further reorganisation. The four bodies were subsequently merged into one modelled on the Italian Carabinieri and commanded by Major Craveri.

 

 

 

[1] Rear Admiral Harris to Admiralty 24 February 1897. House of Commons Papers. [C.8429] Turkey. No. 9 (1897). Reports on the situation in Crete. p.2

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

[3] Colonel Bor to the Governor –General of Crete 3 March 1897. In inclosure No.3 Captain Custance to Rear Admiral Harris.  House of Commons Papers. [C.8429] Turkey. No. 9 (1897). Reports on the situation in Crete. p.12.

[4] Hulme-Beaman.A.G. (1898) Twenty Years In The Near East. Metheun. London. p.258.

[5] Colonel Bor to the Governor –General of Crete 3 March 1897. In inclosure No.3 Captain Custance to Rear Admiral Harris.  House of Commons Papers. [C.8429] Turkey. No. 9 (1897). Reports on the situation in Crete. p.12.

[6] Ibid.p.13

[7] This is not the first instance of Hulm-Beaman ‘demoting’ an officer. Throughout his account, he refers to Colonel Bor as Major Bor; the latter being his substantive British rank, the former his rank within the gendarmerie.

[8] Hulme-Beaman.A.G. (1898) Twenty Years In The Near East. Metheun. London. pp.260-262.

[9] House of Commons Debate. Hansard 16 March 1897 vol 47 cc764-8

 

The British depart.

On 26th July 1909, the 2nd battalion, the Devonshire Regiment departed Candia en-route to Malta on board S.S. Rameses; the last of the British garrison on Crete until 1941. (British sailors and marines did revisit the island on 18th August 1909 in connection with the removal of the Greek flag, and the flagpole, from the Firka in Canea.)

The 2nd. Devonshires leaving Candia.

‘The regiment marching out of Kandia. (Photograph by an old soldier from Exeter.) Devon and Exeter Gazette, Friday 20th August 1909.

Devonshire’s leaving Candia harbour.

‘British troops leaving Crete. A batch of 200 British troops left Crete for Malta at the end of last month and received a very cordial send-off. The quay was lined with Cretan militia and there was erected an arch with portraits of the King and Queen.’  The Graphic, 15th August 1909.

A Creto-British Entente.

‘Each man was presented with a sprig of olive and (myrtle), tied with a ribbon on which was an inscription in Greek and Englishas shown above.’ The Graphic, 15th August 1909.

British officers’ quarters and mess; Candia 1909.

‘The officers’ quarters and mess of the British garrison in Crete, showing the Union Jack flying for the last time. The protecting Powers are to withdraw all of the International troops before the end of July.’  The Graphic, 17th July 1909.

The Devonshire’s had arrived on Crete on 18th January 1909 and, while on the island, had suffered two deaths from amongst their number, one from liver failure, the other from a ‘digestive disease’.  Little appears to have been recorded of their stay, but they were, clearly, involved in to some extent in the training of the Cretan Militia; the training of the Cretan Gendarmerie being, by this time, the responsibility of Greek offices and instructors.

2/Devonshires’ with Cretan militia and Greek officers. 1909

The Graphic 14th August 1909.

Meanwhile, in Canea, other International troops were pulling out of the island. The majority of the troops shown below would have been Italians since the Canea Secteur of the island was their responsibility.

Canea, departure of International troops, July 1909.

International troops depart, Canea 1909

Canea harbour, International troops depart. July 1909.

International Flags, Suda Bay. July 1909

The Graphic, 17th July 1909.

Lowering the British flag for the last time. 26th July 1909.

Kastelli Kissamos

While European forces concentrated on the major towns on the northern coast of Crete, in the early stages of the Intervention the smaller town of Kastelli Kissamos, on the north western coast of Crete, was occupied by Ottoman forces. Partially because of the presence of smallpox in the town[1], the European role appears to have consisted of providing naval support for the Ottoman garrison.

In March 1897 H.M.S. Rodney, under Austro-Hungarian command, the Austro-Hungarians still being part of the concert at this stage and responsible for naval activity around the western side of the island, became involved in discouraging Cretan Christians attacking the Ottoman garrison of the town. On 29th March 1897, the Captain of H.M.S. Rodney, W. Hewitt, reported to Admiral Harris that on the 28th after firing two rounds blank from her 6 pounder, the Rodney opened fire on Cretan Christian insurgents attempting to mine the walls of Kastelli Kissamos. In total some 13 rounds were fired at a distance of 2100 yards, with Rodney’s steam pinnace contributing a further four rounds from her 2 pounder gun.

Over the following day two days, landing parties consisting of 200 British sailors and marines and 130 Austro-Hungarians went ashore to pull down the house near the Ottoman fortifications.[2] The accompanying text to the illustration below, taken from the Graphic of 24 April 1897, states that three houses were demolished to prevent their use by the insurgents.

Demolition of houses in Kastelli Kissamos.

A month later, on 9th April, the Royal navy was again in action off Kissamos. In company with, and under the command of S.M.S. Sebenico, H.M.S. Fearless, a Scout Class Torpedo Cruiser captained by Commander Charles E. Gladstone, was involved in evacuating women and children from the Ottoman fort when their boats were fired on by insurgents. Both the Austro-Hungarian and the British ships opened fire to cover the embarkation. Over the next few days two Ottoman blockhouses were evacuated and one set on fire to destroy it, the other apparently had nothing flammable in it.  It was then decided to destroy the blockhouses by naval gunfire.

“All ships present opened fire on the east block-house, distant 3,800 yards, and expended a considerable amount of ammunition. The result was that the walls were knocked down to a certain extent, but the ruins remain just as effective as a protection for riflemen as they were before, and it would be an impossible task to level the building to the ground by gunfire.” [3]

H.M.S. Fearless.

[1] National Archive. ADM 116/88. Enclosure 142. Rear Admiral Harris to Admiralty. 6th April 1897.

[2] National Archive. ADM 116/92. Enclosure 146.6. Captain W. Hewitt to Rear Admiral Harris. 29th March 1897.

[3] National Archive. ADM 116/92. Enclosure 185. Commander Gladstone to Rear Admiral Harris. 14th April 1897.

Letters from Crete

Much of the information used in these Blogs comes from official sources; mostly British. These reflect the official view, usually from British officers, of what they considered was happening in Crete at that time, and what they considered worth reporting. These original sources would then have been archived, and what is now accessible in those archives is what some archivist considered worth keeping. Relatively few sources remain which express the views of the ordinary British troops. However, on occasion, the voice of the ordinary British soldier or sailor is discernible. Not usually in the official archives, but more often in the form their writings for their comrades in unofficial journals, or in letters and postcards sent home to their loved ones.

Purely by coincidence, the two such letters below were written by soldiers from 1/Northumberland Fusiliers. (Spelling and punctuation as in the original letters.)

Private W. West. C Co. 1/Northumberland Fusiliers.[1]

Letter to his sister and brother. Undated, but between 6th October and 5th November 1898. West had been through the Sudan Campaign and fought at Khartoum and Omdurman.

“We left Egypt on the 3rd October for Crete and arrived on the 6th same month with only a short sail and this place is not a very nice place. We are under canvas here doing duty with the Turks this time and it is a murderous place to bide in, you’re not safe. Before we came they came and killed a lot of people and some British soldiers and sailors which landed from the boat for there is a lot of battleships here and we are confined to barracks and not allowed to go out of town. We bide in our tent all the time. If a man has to go on duty he has to have an escort of armed men. If we go to bathe we have to take our rifles with us. It is a very big place Candia in Crete and we want to get the Turks out and if they do not go very soon our gunboats are going to blow the place up. The murderers have killed a lot.

We all had to land in small boats from our navy and it was awfully rough as there is no harbour here I suppose Jimmy has often passed it. We are camped right along-side the sea and it is very cold in the night here after coming from a hot place, the Sudan. We are only allowed 1 pint of beer a day, the men cannot get no more3, so the sooner we get away from here the better, but I think we will have another battle before we go, that will mean another medal then I will have a breast like a second-hand pawn shop, then I will be able to cut the death with my medals and my badges and cross gun, what, there are no flies on me, but I think they can keep the medal if only I get away.

When we were in the Sudan we got the order for Malta. We all got ready for it but they shoved us here instead. Hard luck coming out of one battle and going into another one. We’ll I’ll chance it anyway, see what god sends me. I suppose you have read about this affair, the Turks and the Armenians cutting up business, but they will get cutting up this time if they start, they will get what the Dervishes got and what Jimmy said, we’ll give them cold steel, and we did. What, there are no flies on me.”

Private W. West. C Co. 1/Northumberland Fusiliers[2]

Letter to his sister and brother. 5th February 1899.

“I tell you that Crete is a very bad place indeed for a soldier and I wish I was out of it really. But I tell you I am going to the West Indies in September.”

The following is a letter home from Private Michael Fitzgerald 1/Northumberland Fusiliers, reproduced here by kind permission of his great nephew, Patrick Fitzgerald.

‘Candia Crete January 8th 1899

My Dear Brother

I arrived here on 11th off the last month  with the Detachment from Malta, all of the men that were able to pass the Doctor was sent here, it took us two days, It is one of the worst places I have ever been in there are two Regiments here our & the Rifle Brigade our Regiment is scattered all over the shop, there are two Companys away up the hills on outpost duty keeping the greeks and turks from fighting with one another I expect you know all about the row they had here last September, the Bashi Bazouk are a fierce looking lot but they are disarming them every day they have already about 30,000 Rifles off them so there is not much fear of them breaking out again. It is just as cold here as in England at present all the hills are covered with snow it is a cruel place to send a Regt. To after been in such a hot climate as the Sudan there has been and awful lot of sickness among the troops the Rifle Brigade lost about 40 men & ours lost about 9 men all the Turkish troops have left the Island so there is sure to be peace among them now. Our Regiment expects to leave here in March for the West Indies. I am going to try and get out of it if I can I have seen enough of the world, I wrote to you from Malta before I left and I have not got an answer yet I hope there is nothing up but id you wrote it might have gone astray as I have known a lot of men send curios and things from here and they never got an answer. I am going to send 10 shilling to you for Father you can send it two him you can’t get a postal order here so I an going to send it to you and you will know how to get it cashed for him. I am going to write to him to day I hope he is going on well. I haven’t heard from Polly or Maggie or Ellie this long time. I am going to send you a few little things at the end of this month so you can expect them, there has been more honours among out Officers & Non Coms than among any other Regiment & their is not a thing in the papers about them You would think that there was no other Regiment in the Soudan but the Guards & the Highlanders there Our Regt. Just done the same but we are not favourites with the papers but never mind we are just as much thought about so no more at present from

Your fond Brother Michael Fitzgerald

hoping that you may have good look & very good year write soon’

Michael Fitzgerald was born in Tourtane Lodge, beside the Duke of Devonshire’s estate at Lismore in Co. Waterford on the 26th July 1868. His father born in 1825 had served in the British Army but was receiving an army pension at the time of Michael’s birth.

Michael enlisted on the 17th November 1883 at Clonmel Barracks, stating his age to be 15 years and six months. He was assigned to the Northumberland Fusiliers Regiment with 501 as his service number, and saw service abroad in India, Gibraltar, Egypt, Malta & Crete according to his Account Book. He started as a Drummer and only reverted to Private on 1st September 1897.

Although the 2/Northumberland Fusiliers arrived on Crete on 6th October 1898, family records indicate that Michael arrived on Crete on the 10th December 1898. A previous researcher came up with was a record of him as dying in Candia on 29th March 1899, although Michael’s great nephew understands his date of death to be 19th April 1899.

As to the cause of his death, out of 12 servicemen who died on Crete in 1899 and whose cause of death is known, two died of enteric fever, two of alcohol poisoning, and one of malaria. The cause of death for the rest is unobtainable.

Assuming Michael was a Catholic, there’s a chance he was buried in the small Catholic graveyard in Candia (Iraklion). However, the records of burials here are sketchy to say the very least, basically just a few notes made by a researcher in the late 1980s, and the graveyard has since been built over and the memorials all dumped. There appears to be no memorial on Crete commemorating Michael. He was too late arriving on the island to appear on the memorial in Suda Bay; the Catholic graveyard no longer exists, and his name doesn’t appear on the current memorial wall or on any of the Northumberland Fusilier memorials in Iraklion.

As well as letters, servicemen sent souvenir postcards home.

Postcard to Sarah

Postcard to Sarah.

‘Dear Sarah this is one of the main Streets so there is no fear of getting mixed up with the tramcars here I couldn’t get any of the ones I wanted but this will give you an idea of the town…..it looks better here than it is’     Undated from an unknown serviceman.

While British Army personnel were withdrawn from Crete in July 1909, the Royal Navy had a presence on the island until 1913.

Letter from HMS Minerva, 1910.

‘HMS Minerva

Suda Bay

March 1st 1910.

Dear Old Tich

Papers to hand received quite safe and sound hope all at home are quite well as I am at present I am playing football today against the French Xi they are pretty hot at (Hocky?) I am sending usual money this is how we go ashore now all in white So Au Revoir

From your trusty brother NOBBY’

The following two postcards were apparently written by the same person, probably Tom Burnett.

Stamped at British Headquarters 29 September 1905.

Postcard to Mrs Burnett, 29 Sept 1905

‘This is prince george’s wife.

Dear Mother

Just a few lines hoping you are well as it leaves me so at present Tom’

 

Stamped at British Headquarters 28 December 1905.

Postcard to Mrs Burnett. 28 Dec 1905

‘Dear mother

I will (write?) later but a line hoping to find you are all quite well as it leaves me at present. I am busy now so will write later Tom’

Tom possibly served with 1/Kings Royal Rifle Corps who were on Crete from March 1905 to February 1906, or with 2/Royal Sussex who were on the island from May 1905 to February 1907. Other troops on the island at this time were a small number of Royal Engineers and 20 or so garrison staff.

 

[1] The Fusiliers Museum of Northumberland. ALFN:848

[2] Ibid.