Category Archives: British Army in Crete

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.

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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.

THE ENTENTE CORDIAL 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.