Category Archives: Royal Welsh Fusiliers

The Royal Welsh Fusiliers arrive

The first tranche of 2/Royal Welsh Fusiliers, consisting of HQ and four other companies, arrived in Candia on 8th April 1897, the remainer of the batallion arriving in August that year. They remained on Crete until August 1898, when they departed for Egypt. However, they returned again to the island the next month as part of the British reinforcements sent after the riots of 6th September; finally departing for good in December 1898.

Their arrival in 1897 was witnessed by a correspondent sent by the London newspaper, the Standard:

From our own correspondent. Candia Friday [9 April 1897]

I arrived here at dawn to-day on board the transport Malacca, conveying a company of the Seaforth Highlanders and a battalion of the Welsh Fusiliers. The disembarkation of the Highlanders was begun at once, with the assistance of the Bluejackets from the Bruiser and the launches of the Trafalgar. The work was favoured by perfectly calm weather, and all arrangements had, as far as possible, been made beforehand, even to the building of ovens and the preparation of kitchens by fatigue parties of the Highlanders already here. The Company of the Seaforths marched up to the barracks about four o’clock, but the Welsh Fusiliers will probably remain on board until to-morrow. The Malacca has brought five hundred tons of extra regimental stores, and as another canteen ship arrived simultaneously, the men need not be afraid of running short of personal comforts, although they have plenty of work before them. The Fusiliers will be camped along the ramparts to the north-west of the Highlanders, and will take over almost one-half of the ground hitherto patrolled and guarded by the latter.
Admiral Canevaro came over here this after noon, in consequence of exaggerated reports that the Turks had attempted to pillage the Catholic Church, during the fire that occurred recently close by, notwithstanding that the building was guarded by Italian sailors. It is so difficult in this part of the world to get at the truth of things, save by making exhaustive personal inquiries, that it is only with the utmost reserve that I give what are, lam told, the actual facts. It seems, then, that an Italian sailor dropped a revolver while engaged in extinguishing the flames, and that it was picked up by a Turkish soldier. The action was misconstrued, and gave rise to a short dispute, which, however, was speedily settled by the Italian and Turkish officers.
Yesterday nearly the whole of the Turkish garrison turned out, after requesting the Foreign troops to patrol the town while they engaged the Insurgents. A tremendous fusillade was kept up till sunset, resulting in the loss of a single horse on the Ottoman side. Meanwhile, Captain Grenfell landed all the Bluejackets that could be spared, and marched them round the ramparts.
The small-pox is, I am sorry to say, on the increase, and the streets are full of people in various stages of the disease. Most of the Seaforth Highlanders have been vaccinated afresh, but comparatively few of them “took.” The men are now fairly comfortable, though it is rather provoking to see the Turks fighting, or pretending to fight, every day, while they themselves are confined to barracks — not a man being allowed to go into the town except on duty, nor even the officers, unless they go in twos and threes.
Sir Alfred Biliotti arrived here about noon. Colonel Chermside, the British Commandant, has so far recovered from his recent indisposition as to be able to resume his outdoor duties.


Working party of 2/RWF entrenching camp on ‘Canea bastion’ Candia. April 1898.

RWF throwing up new earthworks on Venetian Ramparts, Candia. April 1897.


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

Camping in Crete.

From: Army Medical Department, Report for 1897.

“At Canea the detachment of British troops was at first quartered with the other international Forces and with the Turks in the flag redoubt. As, however, the place was filthy and overcrowded, our troops were soon removed to a camp in the Municipal Gardens, where they occupied a new building intended as a theatre, which afforded room for about 100 men, the remainder being encamped in an adjoining field…..Our troops remained in this camp until August, when in consequence of the prevalence of fever  and the ground having become much fouled, it was, on the recommendation of the Principle medical Officer, Malta, who visited the island at this time, moved to the residential suburb of Halepa, about two miles from Canea, where an excellent site overlooking the sea was found, and where water was obtained from a spring where contamination seemed impossible.”

Canea bastion c.1897

Canea bastion c.1897

Seaforth Highlanders' camp, Halepa.

Seaforth Highlanders’ camp, Halepa.


In Candia meanwhile…” With the exception of the men occupying the Greek Hospital, all the troops have been accommodated in Indian pattern European privates’ tents, which were pitched on the western ramparts which encloses the town from sea to sea. The space was scanty and some digging was necessary before the tents could be properly pitched, but this disturbance of the soil was not attended by any bad effects. The European privates’ tent is too well known to require further description, and the experience of it here in all weathers has confirmed everything that has been said in its favour in other countries. Clay being plentiful, the men were able to make well raised puddled floors which were easily kept clean, even in bad weather. When it became known that the huts would not arrive before winter set in, wooden linings were supplied for the walls of the tents, and added greatly to the comfort of the men. A proportion of marquees was supplied for hospital purposes; but they are not well suited for standing camps, and compare very unfavourably in comfort with the European privates, tents, for which they were discarded.”

Camp of Royal Welsh Fusiliers. late September 1898

Camp of Royal Welsh Fusiliers. late September 1898

ILN Sept 1898 English camp

Part of British camp Candia, late September 1898.


[E.P. tent … according to The Soldiers’ Pocket-Book, there were three types of issue tent in India in the 1880s, the Staff-Sergeant’s tent, (S-S tent) the European (or English) Privates tent (EP tent) and the circular tent (bell tent). Native soldiers had a Lascar ‘pâl’.

The EP tent was made of multiple layers of white cloth, was 22 ‘ by 16′ and had two stout poles and a ridge pole and all together weighed between 600 and 630 lbs (4 pack mule loads, up to 40% over the standard load weight if wet….). In Bombay service it accommodated 22 men, in Madras service it accommodated 26 men. (see next note). When used outside India it became the EPIP to distinguish the Indian pattern tent from its British made equivalent. The 160 lb General Service tent was introduced later so as to be one standard pack-mule load. It was about 12′ by 8’.]

The Widow’s Uniform

In 1897 the British army adopted khaki as the colour for the uniforms of its troops serving overseas; a move that had to wait until 1902 for home based troops. However, It’s unclear from the contemporary accounts whether the first two battalions to arrive on Crete in 1897, the 1/Seaforth Highlanders and the 2/Royal Welsh Fusiliers, had actually changed into khaki before reaching the island. Assuming they had changed, the photograph below, taken in Malta and published in 1898 in the Navy and Army Illustrated, shows the standard kit for the ‘other ranks’: for the Welsh at least.Field Service Kit Navy Army Illustrated 1898

However, at least one illustration in the Illustrated London News in 1897 indicates, in the artist’s colouring notes, that at least some of the British Officers in Crete wore red uniforms. Additionally, the coloured engraving below showing the troops of the Powers occupying the bastion in Canea, source and date unknown but before early 1898 when the Austro-Hungarians withdrew, appears to show some British troops still in red.

Canea bastion c.1897

Canea bastion c.1897

Similarly, the photograph below, taken in 1897 and showing the Seaforths and Welsh Fusiliers changing the guard in Candia, appears to show both bodies of troops in red uniforms: compare with the khaki worn by the figure in the bottom right of the photograph.

Crete 1897. Changing Guard, Candia. Seaforths and Royal Welsh Fusiliers

Crete 1897. Changing Guard, Candia. Seaforths and Royal Welsh Fusiliers

Additionally, the illustration of the of the Seaforths firing the salute appears to show them in their dress, red, uniforms, rather than in Khaki. When out in the field, as in the illustration below of a Seaforths patrol going out to deter Christian Cretans from interfering with the water supply to Candia in 1897, they apparently wore khaki.

Crete 1897. Seaforth Highlanders on patrol near Candia.

Crete 1897. Seaforth Highlanders on patrol near Candia.

While khaki was an improvement on the previous red uniforms (excepting of course for the Rifle Brigade and King’s Royal Rifles who were in green), the Scots still had to wear their kilts, both at home and abroad, as above photographs, and the one below of a Seaforth Highlander at kit inspection c. 1897, clearly show.

Seaforth Highlander's kit. c.1897

Seaforth Highlander’s kit. c.1897 Source: Navy and Army Illustrated.


Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, 22 June 1897

Having, for reasons best known to themselves, celebrated the Italians with a parade held in their honour on 4 May 1897, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee on 22nd June 1897 was too good an opportunity for the British contingent on Crete to miss. Accordingly a further parade was organised, the highlight of which appears to have been a march-past by the two British battalions then on the island; the 1/Seaforths and the 1/Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

1/Seaforth Highlanders  marching past International Admirals

1/Seaforth Highlanders marching past International Admirals

Crete 1897 Queen Victoria jubilee Seaforths salute Candia

1/Seaforth Highlanders firing salute on Queen Victoria’s Jubilee

(The natives seem somewhat underwhelmed; most seem more interested in the camera.)

Royal Welsh Fusiliers, lead by their Pioneers, march past International Admirals.

Royal Welsh Fusiliers, lead by their Pioneers, march past International Admirals.

The records also indicate that the Royal Artillery battery on the island, No. 4 Mountain Battery, also took part in the parade. In addition. the ships from the various fleets also joined in the festivities; one assumes that their salute invoked a rather greater reaction than did that of the Seaforths.

Ships oif the International Fleet saluting Queen Victoria's Jubilee. 22 June 1897

Ships oif the International Fleet saluting Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. 22 June 1897

The Jubilee was further celebrated at a reception in Canea at which the Seaforth Highlanders ‘executed national dances,’ to the apparent enjoyment of the audience.*

Photographs used by kind permission of Alex Graeme and taken by his Grandfather.

*National Archive, Foreign Office file FO 195/1983, From Crete. Biliotti to Currie, 24 June 1897.

Gazie Fair

Market 1898As part of the process of trying to stop the Cretans killing each other the British organised a series of markets outside Candia (Iraklion). The first was attended by several hundred people but the only thing to buy was some oranges.

If this photo was taken in early 1898, the troops are probably 2/Royal Welsh Fusiliers…they were the only non kilted troops there at the time

Canea Bastion, March 1897

International troops on Canea bastion

International troops on Canea bastion

The British troops shown are presumably from 1st Bn. Seaforths and 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Ottoman troops are also in evidence.