Category Archives: Royal Sussex

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 These original sources would then have been archived, and what is now accessible in those archives is what some archivist considered worth keeping.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.

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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.

 

High Commissioner Zaimis

In September 1906, following the elections which came after the Theriso Revolt, Prince George had had enough of Crete, and Crete had had enough of Prince George. His replacement, who took office shortly after George’s departure from the island on 25th September, arriving there on 30th September 1906, was Alexandros Zaimis; twice previously Prime Minister of Greece and ‘…an experienced politician not noted for superabundant energy (energy was the last thing the Powers wanted in Crete).’[1]

Alexandros Zaimis High Commissioner of Crete.

Alexandros Zaimis High Commissioner of Crete.

Zaimis arrived in Canea and was greeted with an appropriate military guard of honour, the British contingent apparently being provided by the Royal Navy, as shown on the contemporary postcard photograph below.

The arrival of High Commissioner Zaimis. Canea 30 September 1906.

The arrival of High Commissioner Zaimis. Canea 30 September 1906.

Interestingly, an almost identical photograph – note to positions of the rowing boats – was used on another postcard  This time more detail of the event is added; however, the date given is one month out.

High Commissioner Zaimis arriving Canea. Note the incorrect date.

High Commissioner Zaimis arriving Canea. Note the incorrect date.

Zaimis’s career as High Commissioner was relatively brief. Although appointed for a term of office of 3 years, on 12th October 1908 he was in Athens, by coincidence or otherwise, when  the Cretan Administration declared union with Greece. Following this Zaimis, though technically remaining High Commissioner, never returned to the island.

During his stay on Crete, on at least one occasion he made a formal visit to Iraklion. During this visit he reviewed the British troops stationed there. This parade was captured on camera and turned into a series of souvenir postcards

Parade of British Troops in honour of High Commissioner Zaimis.

Parade of British Troops in honour of High Commissioner Zaimis.

Iraklion parade for High Commissioner Zaimis.

Iraklion parade for High Commissioner Zaimis.

High Commissioner Zaimis passing British troops in review.

High Commissioner Zaimis passing British troops in review.

The exact date of the parade is, as yet, undetermined. However, if it was between his arrival in September 1906 and February 1907 it was 2/Royal Sussex, between February 1907 and February 1908, 1/Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and after then until his departure, 3/King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

A regiment which definitely WAS NOT involved was the unidentified Highland regiment shown in the card below; the last Scottish regiment to serve on Crete, 2/Cameron Highlanders,  left the island  in March 1903.

Souvenir postcard of High Commissioner Zaimis - date unknown.

Souvenir postcard of High Commissioner Zaimis – date unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Holland, R. and Markides, D. The British and the Hellenes. Struggles for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean 1850 – 1960 (Oxford, 2006). 128.

 

2 Royal Sussex get the goat.

Drummers 2/Royal Sussex

Drummers 2/Royal Sussex.  (Assuming that’s an Ibex on the bottom left, the photograph dates from between August 1906 when they received the animal, and February 1907, when the battalion left the island.)

On 29th May 1905, the Head Quarters and five other companies of 2/Royal Sussex left Malta bound for Crete. Extracts from the battalion diary describe their experiences:

 
“[The battalion] under Lt Col. J. G. Panton moved to Crete in S. S. Sardinia to assist in the suppression of the insurrection of the followers of VENEZELO against the Cretan Government. The insurrection continued until the end of Nov. 1905.
Detachments of the battalion were distributed over the KANDIA secteur, (i.e. the British secteur) in fortified (posts?) and camps. Small columns were also sent out to patrol the district. A detachment of the battalion was also quartered at CANEA in the International zone.
Colonel Panton commanded the British Troops in Crete, and had under his command 400 of 1.K.R.R. [1/Kings Royal Rifles] in addition to various details of R.E. – A.S.C. etc [Royal Engineers & Army Service Corps.]
The Officers of the Bn. In addition to their military duties were employed in the administration of martial law, which was still continued after the conclusion of the 1905 insurrection. The work of the troops during the insurrection involved considerable hard work and discomfort. The armed bands of insurgents avoided coming into contact with the troops, and on three occasions only was there actual fighting between British troops and the insurgents viz. at SKYLOS, CORPHAIS and at BUTZENARIO.
The insurgents were armed with Gras rifles (chiefly) – very badly kept. Their shooting was bad.
Two cruisers, the “VENUS” & “MINERVA” and afterwards the “DIANA” were stationed at Crete and frequently co-operated by moving detachments of the Battn. by sea, to various parts of the Island. The signallers of the Battn did excellent work in in keeping up communication between all posts in the district & with Head Quarters in KANDIA………
On April 28th May 1st 1906 ‘C’ E’ and ‘H’ Companies under command of Bt. Lieut. Colonel H.R. Lloyd arrived at Crete from Malta on the “MALACCA”, disembarkation took place under considerable difficulties owing to the rough state of the sea at the time and the absence of any labour at KANDIA.
The Battalion was split up into many Detachments during the elections in the British secteur in May, and underwent a considerable amount of arduous work…….
During September trouble was expected in the island of Crete owing to the resignation of Prince George of Greece from the position of High Commissioner of Crete. Nothing of any account occurred in the KANDIA secteur, but at CANEA on the day of his departure as party of Insurgents fired at the International Troops, killing a Russian cavasse [official interpreter] and wounding a Russian soldier- a Detachment under Lieutenant R. (Pinker?) of the battalion was at Canea at the time but took but little part in the affair…….
Prince George of Greece presented the Battalion with two Ibex as Regimental pets in August 1906. The male Ibex died before the Battalion left Crete….

 

On 11th January 1907 a monument erected by the 2nd Bn in memory of their Comrades, who died in Crete during 1905-1907, was unveiled by Bn Colonel J.G. Panton C.M.G. in British Cemetery at Crete.”20150630_110026

2 Royal Sussex Memorial Iraklion.

2 Royal Sussex Memorial Iraklion.

 

Revolutionary soldiers

Participants in the Theriso Rebellion. 1905

Participants in the Theriso Rebellion. 1905

The battalion left Crete, en-route for Belfast, on 25th  February 1907.

Suda Bay Golf Course

While the quality of the text below may leave something to be desired, the story it tells may strike a chord with those who have been following the seemingly everlasting debates as to whether or not to expend land, resources and water on building golf courses on Crete.1899 golf course (2)
Taken from the Navy and Army Illustrated of 20th (?) February 1899, the article tells the story of the golf course at Suda Bay, Canea.

Described as originally having been laid down by officers from H. M. S. Revenge “…a little over a year ago. Since then succeeding ships have expended time and labour on them, until now a nine-hole course exists that gives a very fair game. Indeed many Naval officers who have played a great deal on both courses declare that much better “gowf” can be had on the Suda Bay links than on the older course at Malta.

“The links are situated some twenty minutes’ walk from the landing place at Suda where a small river discharges its stream at the head of Suda Bay. Here, as shown in the [top] illustration is ‘Giacommenos (?) restaurant…” (Apparently known among British Naval officers as ‘The Sign of the Great Powers.’)

“Here caddies are engaged and a naval officer is, in our illustration, seen solving the difficult question, namely, which of the two caddies offering their services is likely to be the least untrustworthy.”

The Suda Bay course was not unique. While it was apparently in use in 1899 when the photographs were taken, writing in 1915 of his time stationed in Crete in 1906, Captain W. D. Downes of the 2/Sussex Regiment describes a golf course in Candia which had been built by ‘political prisoners.’

The site of the Suda Bay golf course still retains its connection with the British military. Today it is the location of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, containing not only the remains of those British and Allied troops who died on Crete during WW2, but also a small number who died on the island at other times, including during the Intervention period.

Another parade.

Parade in Candia

Parade in Candia

Could be 1/Inniskilling Fusiliers, 3/King’s Royal Rifle Corps or 2/Royal Sussex. All were in Crete at some time in 1907 or 1908.