Category Archives: European Intervention Crete

An Italian Job

With the departure of German and Austro-Hungarian troops in 1898, Crete was divided into four secteurs each of which was the responsibility of one of the four remaining Powers. The Italians, centred on Canea, were responsible for the west of the Island; the Russians the area around Rethymno; the British were based in Candia [Iraklion] and the French the east of the island, their head-quarters being Sitia. The capital, Canea, was occupied by detachments from all four Powers.

For the period 1902 to 1904, the Italian presence consisted of elements of the 5th and 6th Infantry Regiments, which made up the Aosta Brigade. Like the 2/Royal Sussex who were in Crete in 1905 -1906, the Italians were apparently not averse to being photographed.

2nd Company, 5th Regiment, Italian Infantry. Canea c.1904

The three children in the photograph are possibly the children of the senior officers.

9th Company, 6th Regiment, Italian Infantry. Canea c.1904

Note the bicycle; apparently a feature of the Italian army at that time. For some reason, several of the men in the front left appear to have either fireman’s axes or ice axes.

Souvenir of 9th Company, 6th Regiment, Italian Infantry. Canea c.1904.

The motto on the card appears to read something like: “I’m waiting, but not looking, for good fortune”

10th Company, 6th Regiment, Italian Infantry. Canea c.1904

Again, several men appear to be armed with some type of axe.

11th Company, 6th Regiment, Italian Infantry. Canea c.1904

12th Company, 6th Regiment, Italian Infantry. Canea c.1904


That contentious flag – an Italian view.

In August 1909, shortly after the departure of the International troops from Crete, a row broke out over the raising of a Greek national flag on the flagpole in the Firka, the fortress overlooking Canea harbour. The flag in question was removed by representatives of the four Powers, including a number of Italian seamen.

From contemporary accounts mentioned previously, it would appear that the operation of removing the flag was done in the presence of military personnel only, the Cretan gendarmerie having first cleared the area of any Cretans.

However, the Italian magazine La Tribuna Illustrata clearly wasn’t going to let facts get in the way of a good illustration and decided to include a very sad looking old Cretan man, apparently weeping over the removal of the Greek flag. To further spice up the illustration, they decided that the Firka should be armed with several inauthentic looking guns which, needless to say, were not  on the walls at that time, all such artillery having been removed with the evacuation of Ottoman troops in November 1898..

Removing the Greek national flag from the Firka; an Italian view.


Cretan gendarmarie guard party at the Firka, Canea; the real Firka.



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

French Marine Infantry c.1885.

French Marine Infantry c.1895

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


Fancy a Chancer?

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

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

Chaucer’s Club. RAMC Candia 1903.

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


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

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

A Photogenic Lot

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

Band of 2/Royal Sussex Crete.

Drummers 2/Royal Sussex -note the Ibex.

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

Sergeants, 2/Royal Sussex

D Company, 2/Royal Sussex

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

2/Royal Sussex encampment on the walls of Candia.


British sport on Crete.

As if  things weren’t difficult enough for British troops on Crete, it would appear that they made things worse for themselves by indulging in ‘football’ in spite of the fact that there appears to have been little, or any, compulsion for them to do so.

2/Rifle Brigade football match, Candia, May/June 1899. Illustrated London News, 3 June 1899.

The text reads: The players belong to two Companies of the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade. Their playground is the unturfed barracks square where they enjoy their game in spite of a thermometer at 82 degrees in the shade.

Things hadn’t improved much by 1907.

A Co. 1/Inniskilling’s football team, Crete 1907.
The Inniskillings’ players are listed as:
Winners of Regimental Football Challenge Shield 1906-7
Lieut. D. McK Hartigan, Sgt. F. Daly, L/C. J. Ballie, Colr Sgt. S. H. Miller, L/C. E. Page, Capt. G. W. Kenny.
L/C. W. Galbraith, Pte. R. McNeill, Pte. D. McGlurg, Pte. J. Thompson, Pte. J. Breadon.
Pte. A. Woodward, Pte. R .Scott, Pte N. Sherman.

Fortunately, other sports were available to the men, as can be seen by the photographs below of the celebrations laid on for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in June 1897.

Tug of War in the ditch below the ramparts of Candia. Royal Welsh Fusiliers (left) -v- Seaforth Highlanders (right). The Fusiliers won.

The officers had their own recreations.

Officers of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers playing Italian Officers at Hockey. Candia, 1897 or 1898.





Mapping Canea, Sitia and Retimo

Although the principal location for British troops was Candia (Iraklion), there was also a small detachment kept in Canea to be part of the Four Powers Occupation force of the city, then the capital of Crete. Shown below are British military produced maps of Canea, Sitia and Retimo (Rethymno).

Admiralty map of Canea and surround showing locations of Cretan Christian insurgents. March 1897.

Seaforth Highlanders’ camp, Halepa. Map drawn by Lt & Q.M. G.W. Anderson 1 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, 8th September 1897.

War Office map of Canea. 1905.

Admiralty map of Canea. 1897 survey

Admiralty map of Canea, 1897 survey – detail.

War Office map Sitia, 1910.

War Office map of Retimo. 1905 survey updated 1909.