Category Archives: Enosis

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

European views of Cretan Christians

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insurgents. Illustrated London News, 1897.

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

Cretan Christian Insurgents at Acrotiri – outside Canea.

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

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

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

Cretan Christian Insurgents 1897.

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

Cretan Christian Insurgents 1897.

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


RN Kidnapping?

Towards the end of 1911 Cretan and Greek politics were in somewhat of a turmoil … plus sa change. Cretan Christians were agitating for enosis, and insisting that they be allowed to send the Christian deputies elected to the Cretan Assembly to the Greek parliament – a move which would have created a casus belli with the Ottoman Empire, and the last thing either the Cretan- born Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos or the European Powers wanted, or, in the case of the latter, were prepared to tolerate. While Venizelos was prepared, in spite of the obvious political difficulties, to bar the Cretans deputies from taking their seats in the Greek parliament, with Italy effectively at war with the Ottoman Empire following the Italian seizure of Tripoli (Libya), it was left to the three remaining Powers, Britain, France and Russia, to assure the Porte that Cretan deputies would not be allowed to leave Crete.

Accordingly, in December 1911, a group of Cretan deputies, en route for Greece, were intercepted and detained by the Powers.

The British plan, to keep them all on Malta, proved impractical when the Governor of Malta refused to take them, so they were kept on board European warships until “…On 3 January 1912, they were dumped – according to Captain Parker of H. M. S. Minerva, a ‘rather forlorn and depressed company’ – back on Cretan soil, though not before having been charged two shillings per diem for their upkeep.”[1]

Cretan delegates on board European war ship, 1911

Cretan delegates on board French war ship, 1911. Probably H. M. S. Minerva.

Cretan deputies on board European ship 1911

Cretan deputies on board European ship 1911. Probably H. M. S. Minerva.

HMS Minerva in 1895.

HMS Minerva in 1895.

In the end, it took the immanent outbreak of the First Balkan War to facilitate the entry of the Cretan Deputies into the Greek Parliament; Venizelos admitting them on 10th October 1912, War officially being declared, at least by Greece, on 18th October. *



*In an apparent attempt to keep Greece out of the War, the Ottoman Empire not only did not declare war on Greece when doing so on Bulgaria and Serbia on 17th October 1912, but also offered to abandon its claim to Crete if Greece stayed neutral…a case of too little too late.[2]


[1] Capt. Hyde Parker (Senior Naval Officer, Crete) to C-in-C Med Fleet, 16. Feb. 1912, FO371/1352. Quoted in: Holland R. and Markides D. The British and the Hellenes. Struggles for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean 1850 – 1960. OUP. p.154.

[2] Lord Grey minute, 20 Oct. 1912, Fo371/1358. Quoted in Holland R. and Markides D. The British and the Hellenes. Struggles for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean 1850 – 1960. OUP. p.157.


The Ottoman reaction to Cretan autonomy.

In 1898, spurred on by the massacre of Cretan Christians and the murder of British troops in Candia, the European Powers in control of Crete determined to grant the island autonomy, albeit nominally under Ottoman suzerainty. This was a compromise solution given that Great Power rivalry and the fear of the knock on effect on other European Ottoman territories, precluded allowing Greece to annex the island, the preferred solution the Cretan Christian insurrgents. The alternative, allowing the Ottoman Empire to regain control of Crete by means of force, was politically unacceptable to most of the European Powers, particularly given the outcry over the relatively recent Ottoman mistreatment of their Christian subjects in Bulgaria and Armenia.

However, while the Cretan Christians, and a minority of Cretan Muslims, welcomed the imposition of the new regime, the former seeing it as a stepping stone to union with Greece and the latter as at least bringing peace and stability to the island, feelings in the Ottoman Empire were, not unaturally, less favourable about the forced removal of Ottoman territory and the consequent injury to Ottoman patriotic pride.

Ottoman feelings were summed up in caption of the (undated but post1898) postcard shown below: The Ottoman Empire has not given up its most shining star.

However, in reality the Ottomans HAD lost their `shining star’, although it wasn’t until the end of the second Balkan War in 1913 that Crete finally became united with Greece.



Crete: The Ottoman view

Crete: The Ottoman view


Flags …yet again

In 1898 the European Powers imposed upon the newly autonomous Cretan State a High Commissioner of the Powers’ own choosing: Prince George of Greece. The Cretan people were not consulted. George’s arrival was delayed by a dispute over the nature of the flag for the new state but he eventually arrived in December 1898.

While the photograph below showing the High Commissioner being escorted through the then capital Canea by an escort from three of the four Powers, is undated, it’s unlikely to be Prince George. In the first place there aren’t that many people around and secondly there are no British troops in sight. It’s more likely to be the High Commissioner who succeeded George in 1906; Alexandros Zaimis, a former, and future, Greek Prime Minister. According to the annotation on the photograph, the escort appears to consist of French gendarmes, Italian Carabinaire, Russian troops and, leading the parade, Cretan gendarmes.

What is of interest also, given the controversy about the Cretan flag, is the presence of two Greek flags in the bottom right hand corner of the picture. This is highly unusual since the Powers would eventually take extreme exception to the flying of the Greek flag; as would the Ottoman Government. Indeed, such was the objection to the official flying of the Greek flag during the period of the Cretan State, that on one occasion the Powers intervened not only by taking down the offending flag, but also by destroying the flag pole so that it couldn’t be raised again.

Parade through  Canea

Parade through Canea

Guarding the Ottoman Flag

Lowering the Ottoman Flag on the Firka, Canea.

Lowering the Ottoman Flag on the Firka, Canea.

This photograph is undated, but the last time the Ottoman flag flew on Crete, other than the retention of a symbolic flag on Fort Suda in the middle of Suda Bay, and possibly one at Fort Izzedin, was probably on or about 21st December 1898 when Price George of Greece arrived to take up the post of High Commissioner of the newly created Cretan Autonomous State. The nationality of the troops in the photograph above is unclear, but they are possibly Italian since Canea was the base of the Italian occupied secteur.

Following the arrival of the International troops in 1897, the Ottoman flag flew on the Firka under international guard in order to reinforce to the Cretan Christians the determination of the European Powers that Crete should not be united with Greece. On 3rd November 1898, on British orders, the Ottoman flag was hauled down in Candia in order to make it clear to the Ottoman authorities that their time on Crete was over. However, it was allowed to be flown again on 6th November after the eviction of all Ottoman troops and officials from the island: this time in order to show to the Cretan Muslim population that their rights were to be respected even though their co-religionists were no longer in power.


Raising the Greek flag, Suda bay 1913.

Raising the Greek flag, Suda Bay 1913.

By 1913 the political situation had completely changed and, as a result of the Balkan Wars, on 1st December that year Crete was finally legally united with Crete. Prior to enosis, one of the last acts of the International Intervention was undertaken by the Royal Navy when on 13th February 1913, the crew of H. M. S. Yarmouth hauled down the last remaining Ottoman flag, flown as a symbol of the Sultan’s suzerainty over Crete, from its flagpole in the fortress in the middle of Suda Bay and handed it over to the British Consul for safe keeping. (The whereabouts of that flag is currently unknown.) Immediately following the departure of H.M.S Yarmouth, the Greek flag was raised on the flagpole; this time guarded by Greek sailors.*

However, the Ottoman symbol displayed on Fort Izzedin, on the opposite side of Suda Bay to Suda Castle, was not what might be expected. An article published in 1937 stated that by 1912 the nominal Ottoman authority over Crete was “… represented by a Turkish flag, in painted tin, discoloured beyond recognition.” Arguably an apt metaphor for the end of Ottoman rule.**


*Robert Holland and Diana Markides. “The British and the Hellenes; Struggle for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1850 – 1960.” O.U.P. Oxford 2006. p.159

**Demetrius Caclamanos, “Reminiscences of the Balkan Wars’, The Slavonic and East European Review, 16 (1937), 117