Category Archives: British Army in Crete

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
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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.

 

Christmas in Crete

The 1/Inniskilling Fusiliers spent the Christmas of 1907 in Crete. In the midst of their other duties, one of the battalion at least managed to find the time to send home an appropriate Christmas card.

The 1/Inniskillings' Christmas card, Crete 1907

The 1/Inniskillings’ Christmas card, Crete 1907

One of them at least had some idea of the climatic conditions awaiting them over that Christmas. A member of the battalion named Sid, referred to in previous posts, purchased a commercially produced postcard, apparently taken in 1906 or earlier, which, according to his annotation, shows snow on the Officers’ Mess in Candia.

British Officers' mess in Candia in the winter.c.1906

British Officers’ mess in Candia in the winter.c.1906

According to The Army Medical Department report for 1907,[1] the huts used as accommodation for the men in Candia were ”commodious and fairly comfortable, but in some cases falling into disrepair.”  The Officers’ huts were no better, being “…mostly old, badly constructed, and afford[ing] scanty accommodation, most of the rooms[…] not provided with stoves, and some of the junior officers hav[ing] to occupy EP [Enlisted Personnel] tents through the greater part of the year. “

The class distinction between officers and men was brought out well in the report: “ The detachment at Canea, consisting of 3 officers and 55 to 65 men, is somewhat better accommodated [than those in Candia] in three houses, of which that occupied by the officers is well situated and arranged. The two houses occupied by the men seem to offer hardly enough accommodation for the large number above stated, and it is considered by the Senior Medical Officer that the detachment should be kept constantly at 50.”

[1] 1908[Cd.4057] Army Medical Department report for the year 1907. Vol. XLIX p.60.

Inniskillings in Crete

 

Between February 1907 and February 1908, the 1/Inniskilling Fusiliers were stationed in Crete. A series of postcards, annotated in the same hand and apparently written by a member of the Battalion who signed himself ‘Sid’ have recently appeared. Most are commercially produced, but at least one appears to be privately taken photograph which was then turned into a postcard.

Some of these images are shown below with as much of the annotations as are possible to transcribe, with the spelling and punctuation as the original.

Arrival of Inniskillings in Candia

Front text: Taken on the arrival of the of A Coy. (advance party) Feb.24th 07 We came us here later on. As

canea-gate

Text on reverse of postcard: This is a view of the ramparts you can see how we overlook the town, the Canea Gate is closed every evening at Sunset and Sentries are posted outside the gate and inside along with a Quick Firing gun.

 

inniskillings-candiaFront text: our look out station, we have a full view from this point.

mosque-candiaFront text: Where the priests pray to the Sun & Stars [???}

(This would tend to suggest the writer possessed a rather limited knowledge of the Muslim religion.)

constantine-helen-cemetery

Front text: another portion of the Cemetery (Greek) + (Armenian)

Reverse text: our Cemetery is railed off from the Greek and Armenian portion. Sid.

 

The time in Crete was not all spent sight seeing – the instability  of the political situation on the island was still apparent and the British soldiers’ views of the Cretan insurrectionists were not necessarily complimentary.insurgent-chief

Reverse text: Lionis is a gentleman we should like to meet. he causes more trouble than 20 other chiefs. He is said to be worth £24,000.000. (from plunder. I suppose.)

malaxa-insurgents

Reverse text: Another group of insurgents who were caught on the hills – many of them lived by Brigandage.

X Mousthopher Khapussain a noted Brigand chief who also stirred up the people to revolt, he was shot about a month or so

The above was a professionally produced post-card which apparently dates to around 1897 when Cretan Christian Insurgents attacked the Ottoman outpost at Malaxa, above Canea. This was 10 years prior to the arrival of the Inniskillings on Crete.

 

As well as the main garrison in Candia, British troops also manned smaller outposts throughout the British Secteur. While the privately produced photograph below doesn’t specify where it was taken, one of the commercial postcards refers to Pediada, one of the main outposts, and it is possible that it was taken at the outpost there.d-co-inniskillings-on-outpost

Front text -Vertically on left hand side: [Water] Tank

Front text on top: No.1 Section, ‘D’ Company” INNISKILLING.S. (OUTPOST) (After a good mornings work)

Quite what had constituted a ‘good mornings work’ in this case is anyone’s guess. However  the soldier on the extreme left is holding what appears to be an air-gun or small rifle, certainly not the standard infantry rifle in use at the time, while others are armed with planks of wood, pick-axes and pick-axe handles; this might suggest they’ve been on a rat-hunt.

 

inniskillings-in-campFront text on top: A portion of our camp. Note the tanned faces of the troops

Front text on bottom: North end of the Camp

While sport was obviously a means of keeping the soldiers occupied, culture was not ignored, as this souvenir of a trip to Knossos testifies. (It’s not clear if the Battalion photographed was the Inniskillings, but the postcard was part of ‘Sid’s’ collection.)inniskillings-knossos

Front text: One of our Signalling Stations   This was Taken outside the city walls

ploughing-pediada-inniskillings

Front text: Note the primitive ploughs

Reverse text: The women do almost all the work here, while the “men?” go in for drinking + fighting or Brigandage

a-rare-turk-working-inniskillings

Front text on top: A rare sight here, is to see a Turk working   they generally give the women that pleasure.  Front text on bottom front: No such thing as a horse here (PTO)

A lonely death?

From internal evidence obtained from other photographs, the photograph/postcard below was apparently one of a series which were the property of a member of 1/Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers serving in Crete in 1907/1908.

British cemetery Candia 1907.

British cemetery Candia 1907.

British cemetery Candia 1907, reverse of postcard.

British cemetery Candia 1907, reverse of postcard.

The text reads:

Taken just after a funeral.

Another view of our cemetery.

This was taken by one of our men.

The chap that was buried when this was taken, was in hospital with me and died of Malarial fever after 5 days illness, and no one knew who his people were,  Sid

 

Three members of 1/Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers died while the Battalion was stationed on Crete between February 1907 and February 1908. Given that the majority of British servicemen who died during the Intervention did so of disease and the records available are not that detailed, it’s almost impossible to determine who it was that is referred to on the postcard. The memorials in the British military cemetery in Agios Konstantinos and Helene, Iraklion, indicate however, that the deceased is one of the following :

Private J. Reid               No. 8733     Died 13th July 1907          Age 19   C Company

Memorial to Private Reid, Inniskilling Fusiliers. Candia 1907

Memorial to Private Reid, Inniskilling Fusiliers. Candia 1907

Corporal A.E. Smith     No. 4564     Died 2nd October 1907    Age 32   C Company

Memorial to Corporal Smith, Inniskilling Fusiliers. Candia 1907

Memorial to Corporal Smith, Inniskilling Fusiliers. Candia 1907

Private R. Truesdale    No. 8730     Died 9th August 1907       Age 19   C Company

Memorial to Private Truesdale, Inniskilling Fusiliers. Candia 1907

Memorial to Private Truesdale, Inniskilling Fusiliers. Candia 1907

Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers memorial, Candia 1907

Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers memorial, Candia 1907

Hopefully, someone eventually found out who his people were and informed them accordingly.

Artillery on Crete, 1897-1898

While one of the main focuses of the Governments of the European Powers in seeking to pacify Crete was the provision of sufficient naval forces and infantry to keep the warring factions apart, they were also faced with the fact that the Cretan Christians also had artillery at their disposal. This was highlighted when Rear-Admiral Harris, the then Senior British Naval Officer on Crete, referring to the evacuation of Greek troops from Crete in May 1897, reported:

‘The question of artillery has given much trouble. It was obviously most undesirable to have guns left behind in the hands of the insurgents when the whole object of the Powers is to pacify the island. After much trouble and insistence on the part of the Admirals, four of the six guns stated by the Greeks to belong entirely to the Cretans are to be embarked with the Greek troops, the other two are said to be on Akrotiri, and the Admirals have made a peremptory condition that they also shall be taken away.

The western end of the island will then, I believe, be free from insurgent artillery; though we know that there are four to six 7-centim. Krupp guns to the eastward, we cannot immediately connect them with the Greek troops or Government, though there is not much doubt that they indirectly or otherwise provided them.’[1]

In the end, the Royal Navy oversaw the evacuation of 6 field guns, 12 horses, 53 mules and 233 cases of artillery ammunition.[2]

(An internet search suggests that although described by the British as 7cm (70mm) there wasn’t a 70mm Krupps gun at this time: the pieces in question could possibly either have been 65/66mm guns or 60mm mountain guns. To add to the confusion, the Ottoman Empire was, at this time, the world’s largest importer of Krupp guns, purchasing 3,943 Krupp guns of various types between 1854 and 1912.[3])

To counter the threat of Greek/Cretan Christian artillery, in the early stages of the Intervention, both the Powers and the Ottoman military supplied artillery to the island.

Ottoman field artillery beneath what appear to be an Italian flag.

Ottoman field artillery beneath what appear to be an Italian flag.

An illustration from an Italian magazine shows Ottoman artillery beneath what is apparently an Italian flag.

 

 

Italian Guns Suda Bay April 1897

Italian Guns Suda Bay April 1897

 

It would appear that the French forces also had access to artillery, whether their own, Ottoman or that landed from H.M.S Anson. Captain Egerton recorded that:

“Last night [10th April 1897] at 6.30 p.m. the International Force at Soubaschi fired 5 shots from the 9 pdr. The fire–eating Perignon[?] who commands will someday if he irritates these fellows too much, bring Vassos about his ears – Vassos’ outposts are only about a mile away. – G.E. “[4]

In addition to the Royal Artillery Mountain Battery stationed in Crete in the early stages of the Intervention, following the events in Candia in September 1896 the Royal Navy reinforced the town, landing field artillery.

Royal Navy field guns being landed at Candia October 1898

Royal Navy field guns being landed at Candia October 1898

 

 

 

[1] ADM 116/92 Rear-Admiral Harris, Suda Bay, to Admiral Sir J. Hopkins, C in C Mediterranean Fleet, Malta. 23 May 1897

[2] ADM116/116 Captain Sir R. Poole, HMS Hawke, to Rear-Admiral Harris. 20 May 1897.

[3] Donald J. Stocker, Jonathan A. Grant. Girding for Battle: The Arms Trade in a Global Perspective, 1815-1940. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003, pp.31-32.

[4] NAM 6807-171. Diary of the detachment 1st BN. Seaforth Highlanders at Canea Crete During the early days of the international Occupation 1897.

 

Well, someone got a medal.

Despite British soldiers, sailors and marines being involved in the European Intervention in Crete for nearly 15 years, and in doing so suffering considerable casualties albeit overwhelmingly from disease, no medal was issued to the British military personnel involved. However, a medal was struck and apparently issued to the Greek military. The one shown was up for sale in 2007 and described as being a ‘Service Medal (for revolution in Crete)’.

Greek Service medal: Revolution in Crete 1898

Greek Service medal: Revolution in Crete 1898

Translated, the obverse has the words ‘For Faith and Country’ set around a cross bearing the date 1898; the reverse the word ‘Freedom’.

No details were given as to who would have received the medal and there seems to be some doubt as to whether or not it was officially recognised by either the Greek or Cretan Governments. (Although given the less than brilliant efforts by the Greek Army during the short period it was on Crete, this is not unsurprising.)

Some British soldiers did, however, received medals while in Crete, albeit for the Sudan Campaign; participants being eligible for The Queen’s Sudan Medal and/or The Kedive’s Sudan Medal, the latter coming with up to 15 additional clasps. Colour Sergeant Archer, 2/Rifle Brigade, received his medal in early 1899. In March that year he wrote to his mother telling her that he was getting the [Queen’s?] Sudan Medal and “[hopes] to get an International Star for this place.” On 8th April 1899, in an obviously underwhelmed state of mind,  he wrote to his brother that that: “We received our [Sudan] medals, got them last Monday, they are though in a very crude condition having no bar nor the names on.” [1] Unfortunately for Archer, no International Star was awarded for service in Crete.

[1] Liddle Hart Collection, Kings College London. ARCHER.