Category Archives: Highland Light Infantry


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.



Candia Water

On arrival in Candia in 1897 British troops were faced not only with insanitary conditions in the town, but also with an inadequate supply of suitable drinking water. The water in the town was condemned as being too chalky and 45 tons brought from Malta had turned bad. The initial solution was to retain the hired transport SS Clyde which had brought the 1/Seaforths from Malta, to supply water. A longer term solution was found by using the distillation vessel ‘Turquoise’, anchored in the inner harbour, to provide a semi-permanent water source.

Interior of Candia harbour, date unknown

Interior of Candia harbour, date unknown

Water distillation vessel Turquoise

Water distillation vessel Turquoise

The Turquoise was to feature in the events of 6th September 1898 when Cretan Muslim rioters opened fire on British troops in the harbour. During the fighting members of the Highland Light Infantry and sailors from the Turquoise and H. M. S. Hazard made use of the Turquoise  in defending the customs house, the Dime, and the harbour.

S.S. Turquoise during fighting of 6th September 1898.

Contemporary map of Candia harbour showing position of S.S. Turquoise during fighting of 6th September 1898.

Surgeon William Maillard winning VC. The Graphic 17 Dec 1898

Surgeon William Maillard winning VC. The Graphic 17 Dec 1898

Iraklion, 25th August Street…then and now.

On 25th August 1898 by the Cretan calendar, or 6th September by the British one, a serious riot resulted in the destruction of a large portion of Candia (Iraklion), and the death of several hundreds of Cretan Christians as well as 14 British soldiers and sailors. Brought about by a miscalculation on the part of the European Admirals who effectively ruled Crete at that time, and an even greater miscalculation on the part of the British Army commander on the spot, Lieutenant Colonel F. M. Reid, 1/Highland Light Infantry, the events of that day are commemorated in Iraklion by the name of the main street leading from the town centre to the harbour; the site of the outbreak of rioting.
On one level a riot which saw the deaths of so many people and the destruction of so much property seems nothing to celebrate, but on another level, the events that day culminated a few months later in the departure of all Ottoman troops and authorities from Crete, paving the way to the creation of the Cretan State, Κρητική Πολιτεία.

25 August Street  before riot.

25 August Street before riot. Looking down to the harbour.

25th August Street after the riot.

25th August Street after the riot.

25th August Street today.

25th August Street today.

Many thanks to Zacharias J. Nikolakakis for the photographs.

British Justice.

Following the rioting in Candia on 6th September 1898, which left 14 British military personnel, and a number of British citizens, dead – not to mention some 400 Cretan civilians, mostly Cretan Christians – the British reaction was swift. Courts martial were set up to try those accused of killing the service personnel and a Military Tribunal to try those accused of killing British civilians. Neither judicial body allowed appeals against their verdicts. Capital sentences were passed on 12 men for the murder of British soldiers, none appear to have been tried for the murder of British sailors, and five men condemned to death for the murder of British civilians. The prisoners were kept on board H.M.S. Isis while awaiting both trial and subsequently their execution.

Cretan Muslim prisoners on board H. M. S. Isis

Cretan Muslim prisoners on board H. M. S. Isis.

(Photograph used by courtesy of

The first batch of 7 men were hanged on 18th October 1898, The Graphic covering the executions in some detail in its issue of 5 November 1898.

‘’When we arrived at Candia we found that the court martial had sentenced seven of the Bashi-Bazouks to death. Accordingly they were taken ashore in one of the ship’s boats and hanged before all the troops on a scaffold which had been erected during the night on the ramparts.Three of the criminals were convicted of murdering two Highland Light Infantry men. The other four men were convicted of firing into our hospital and killing three patients inside. Each prisoner had his crime labelled on a large board in English in front of him and in Turkish on his back. The bodies were left hanging until sunset. All seven prisoners were placed on the false floor of the scaffold and allowed a six-foot drop. The floor was kept up by a rope which passed up over the side of the scaffold and was secured in the little hut shown in the sketch at the top. Here was a Highland Light Infantry man with an axe, and at seven as the bugle sounded he cut the rope and the floor fell.’’

Execution of rioters. The Graphic. 5 November 1898.

The magazine returned to the subject on 3rd December 1898, this time featuring the execution on 7th November of three of the men convicted of murdering British civilians.

The Graphic 3 December 1898.

The Graphic 3 December 1898.

Two further men were condemned to death by an International Tribunal for the murder of Cretan civilians. This Tribunal took place in Canea and was under the control of the Italian military and, as a result, the method of execution was by firing squad rather than by hanging. Even though it managed to get the nationality of the executed men wrong, the ‘Terrible Turk’ was Cretan, The Sketch was happy to provide its readers with the detail:

“It is rare nowadays that the British Tommy experiences the thrill of horror at seeing a comrade shot. Mr Kipling’s mere description of the hanging of Danny Deever is thrilling enough. But Tommy was vouchsafed the experience of seeing two Turks shot in Crete the other day. They had been involved in the massacre at Candia last September, and condemned to be shot. So at eight o’clock in the morning of Nov.3 they were taken to Canea, and surrounded by the four Powers, England, France, Italy and Russia, mustered a hundred strong each, and drawn up on three sides of a square. Three men were selected from each Power, two for the front rank and one in reserve, to shoot the prisoners. So Kaider Ismaneki and Halil Araf Halilaki took their seats with their backs to the firing party. There Commandant’s sabre fell, and in an instant they dropped dead.”The execution of rioters. Canea 23 November 1898.The aftermath of November executions. The Sketch 28 December 1898.