Category Archives: British Army in Crete


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.


British Maps of Candia (Iraklion)

From their arrival in Crete in February 1897 until their departure in July 1909, British forces, of necessity, produced a number of formal, and informal, maps of Candia (Iraklion), the headquarters of the British Secteur of the island and main British base.

Royal Navy Survey. Candia, 1898.  Megalo Kastron or Candia.

From a Survey by Mr. W. T. Chapman, 2nd Master, R.N. under the direction of Captain T. Graves, R.N., H.M. Survey Ship ‘Beacon’ 1843, with additions from a survey by Commander T.A.B Spratt, R.N., H.M. Surveying Ship ‘Spitfire’ 1852. Additions and corrections to 1897. (Map issue dated 28th December 1897.)

Candia September 1898  General Plan of town of Kandia.

Produced by Sub. Lt. [G?] Nicholson R.N. as part of the report into the events of 6th September. 1898.


Candia Harbour. September 1898.

Plan showing positions occupied by landing party H.M.S. Hazard and HLI (Highland Light Infantry) at Kandia Sept 6th1898. Produced by Sub. Lt. [G?] Nicholson R.N. as part of the report into the riot of 6th September 1898

Fields of fire, Candia 1898.

1898 map showing parts of eastern side of Candia which could be covered by fire from European ships and infantry. Drawn by Lt. F.E. Rickman 2nd Batt. Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Dated 19th September 1898, the map was produced as part of the contingency planning for the bombardment of Ottoman forces in Candia should they have refused to obey the Powers ultimatum to evacuate Crete. In the event, the Ottoman troops left without the necessity of force being used.

Location of British troops. Candia September 1898

Map showing the location of British reinforcements sent to Candia after the riots of 6th September 1897.

British Military map. Candia 1905/1910.

British War Office map of Candia. 1905 with 1910 corrections.

Venetian walls of Candia/Iraklion.

Modern map of Venetian walls of Iraklion/Candia/Khandia.

Whatever happens, we have got, the Maxim gun, and they have not.*

The British battalions landing in Crete in 1897/1898 were normally equipped with two Maxim guns. Unlike later machine guns, these Maxims, the forerunners of the Vickers machine gun, were mounted on wheeled carriages. While they outclassed and out gunned anything that the Cretan Christian Insurgents had available, they were relatively difficult to move and, as the Northumberland Fusiliers found to their cost in 1898 when they lost both of theirs, difficult to land in a rough sea from a small boat.

Royal Welsh Fusiliers’ Maxim guns, Candia c.1897

The guns shown here in Candia are those of the 2/Royal Welsh Fusiliers. While the photograph is undated, given the fact that the campsite is neat and tidy and the cannonballs are nicely painted, it was probably taken during the RWF’s first tour on Crete between April 1897 and August 1898. Their return in September 1898, after the Muslim riots, was to a much less formal campsite.


  • Hilaire Belloc,  ‘The Modern Traveller’  1898