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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.


The Fall of the Tower of Voukolies – An Eyewitness account

Remains of the Tower of Voukolies with modern replacement.

The following report of the fall of the Tower of Voukolies, seemingly based on an eyewitness account, was published in the Penny Illustrated Paper on 27 February 1897. (Spelling of Voukolies as in the original!)

The Capture of Voukoulies by the Greeks and Cretans, under Colonel Vassos.

“The Daily News Special Commissioner with the Greek troops in Crete made the English-reading public his debtors by his prompt war despatches. Writing from Canea, on Saturday, Feb. 20, he said:

The following are the full details of the fighting in the hills behind Canea during the past few days: On Wednesday [17th February] Colonel Vassos decided to attack the Turkish position at Voukoulies. At two in the afternoon he despatched Major Constantinidis with a force of three hundred infantry, with artillery and two mountain guns, and nearly two thousand Cretans. This force encamped for the night at Gavalomouri, a mile and a half from Voukoulies, from which it is separated by three ravines.

At dawn [18th February] the troops took up position in the valley with the artillery on the heights above, the Cretans surrounding Voukoulies in a circle, which, however, was not complete. The commander then summoned the Turks to surrender. As I have already telegraphed, the Bimbashi refused. Thereupon, at eight o’clock, the artillery opened fire. The Turkish position is a small fort flanked at the corners with fire redoubts. The garrison consisted of about three hundred soldiers with Bashi-Bazouks whose number was unknown. The first shot told, knocking a hole in the upper works of the fort. After eight rounds, the position of the guns was changed to a height fourteen hundred yards from the fort, where the fire brought a reply of heavy rifle practice. After thirty-eight shells the Greeks found that by error, they had no more ammunition. It was then noon. Hitherto they had only one casualty, a lieutenant of the Greek regulars being severely wounded. The Cretans suffered heavily by their own fault. Major Constantinidis had given orders that there should be no musketry fire till the artillery work was done and the signal given. This order the Cretans disregarded, maintaining a furious and foolish fire throughout the morning advancing to within a hundred yards of the redoubt s and wasting some fifty thousand cartridges, and losing thirty men. The Turks fired splendidly, wasting few bullets. Messengers were sent to Platania for ammunition which arrived at night with a further battery of four guns. The Cretans maintained a desultory fire, the Turks replying till sundown. At night the Cretans surrounding the fort, disobeyed orders, and dispersed in search of food. The Turks, profiting by this, evacuated their position, and slipped through, making in the direction of Canea.

On Friday [19th February] the guns had been placed in position, and the firing was about to begin at dawn when the gunners saw Cretans mount the parapet, and plant the Greek flag on the walls. This was the first intimation that the Turks had gone. The Greek troops now occupied the fort. They found several graves, twelve bodies in the well, and twenty unburied dead. The Turkish killed are estimated at fifty, some being Bashi-Bazouks.…”[1]

A despatch from the Chronicle in Athens with a London dateline of 22 February described the aftermath:

Young Soldiers of Greece Win Praise by Their Bravery, But Require To Be Disciplined.

London, Feb. 22.— A dispatch to the Chronicle from Athens says: “When Fort Voukolies fell Col. Vassos learned that the Turkish garrison from Canea was advancing to succour the defeated Turks. He dispatched a body of insurgents to meet them and speedily followed himself with his troops. In the Plain of Livadia 1,600 Turks and 2,000 Turkish-Cretans with three guns were engaged in a battle with the Cretan insurgents. The Greek troops deployed, and after ninety minutes fighting swept the plain, forcing the Turks to take refuge in Canea. Col. Vassos burned the fortified barracks at Livadia and the Aghi blockhouse. The Greeks lost four sub-lieutenants killed and twenty officers and men wounded. The Turkish losses are unknown. In obedience to the order of the King of Greece, Col. Vassos recalled his troops to Platanias.”[2]


[1] The Penny Illustrated Paper, 27 February 1897


The only Cretan in London in 1897?

In early 1897, following the attempted annexation of Crete by Greece, the subsequent involvement of British military in the island’s affairs and the outbreak of the Thirty Day’s War between Greece and the Ottoman Empire, recieived a very large amount of coverage in the British newspapers of the time. However, not all of it dwelt on the serious aspects of the situation. At least one paper attempted to find some humour, albeit satirical, in what was going on by explaining to their readers how the events in Crete and Greece were having consequences on at least one ex-patriate Cretan in London. 


Freeman’s Exmouth Journal Saturday  17th April 1897.


There is a Cretan colony in London. It is not a very large colony, but it exists. He stands (remarks writer in the Daily Mail) in Bishopsgate-street, and sells bootlaces and collar-buttons. He—for, not to deal in mystery, the Cretan colony consists of but one man—occasionally goes in for umbrella-rings and pipe-cleaners, and once he tried hokey-pokey; but Italian and a Greek, descendants of two mighty races, came along and coerced him into retiring from the business they regarded their own by right of birth. So Elioin Matapa, London’s solitary Cretan, sells bootlaces and collar-buttons, and sniffs the battle from afar.

At present be resides—that is to say, the headquarters of the Crete in London are—at the Victoria doss-house in Commercial-road, E, but so many people are after M. Matapa just now that he will be obliged to change his habitat by the time these lines are in print. For instance, when the Greeks who assembled at the Baltic [Exchange] became aware that the thin, shabby, old man in Bishopsgate-street was Cretan, they decided to annex him bodily. But M. Matapa has resisted all their overtures, and remains faithful to the Turks. Even the entreaties of M. Messinesi, the Greek Consul-General, have left him cold.

The rumour that he is followed by crowd of circus and music hall agents, who want him to appear at the Alhambra, the Palace, the Tivoli, Earl’s Court and Moore and Burgess Minstrels at are fabulous salary is devoid of foundation. Nor is there any truth in the story that there is another Cretan in London. M. Effendi, the Consul-General for the Ottoman Empire, in Old Broad-street, was most positive to me on this point. M. Matapa is unique.

……….I had meant to devote some space to a description of the Turkish colony in London. First, because they are very agreeable gentlemen, both of them, and, secondly, because Turkey is on the tapis just now. But l can find nothing to say them that I would not say of a Frenchman, for while the Ambassador in Bryanston-square lives precisely like a Parisian of the faubourg, the Consul-General, in Union-court, looks and acts like a Parisian of the boulevards, even to what Mr. Gus Elen calls “the window in his eye.” And the councillor and the naval attaché are both out of town.



A few words of explanation for my Greek, Cretan, and probably English, readers.

Hokey-Pokey….a type of ice cream popular in England in the late 19C. Usually made and sold by Italian immigrants.

[Victoria] doss-house… a place where for a penny or two, homeless men could spend the night.

Baltic Exchange…one of the business and meeting places of merchants and ship-owners, particularly those involved in trade in the Baltic.

The Alhambra, the Palace, the Tivoli, Earl’s Court and Moore and Burgess Minstrels…music halls and places of cheap entertainment.

A Parisian of the faubourg….a Parisian of the suburbs; an unfashionable man.

A Parisian of the boulevards…one who fancies himself a fashionable man given over to strolling and leisure.

Gus Elen calls “the window in his eyeGus Elen was a very famous music hall entertainer of this period; a”[Piccadilly] window in his eye” was a monocle worn for affectation by those who fancied themselves to be members of the aristocratic elite, but weren’t.

Doctor Carter’s photograph album


Lieutenant Herbert St. Maur Carter arrived on Crete on 24 February 1907.

Lt herbert St Maur Carter RAMC 1906

An Irish  Doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps, he appears to have taken a number of photographs of his time in Crete which were eventually deposited in the RAMC archives and are now available in the Wellcome Collection. One of the images in his collection also appears on a widely available postcard featuring an photograph taken by the Canea photographer Rahmizâde Bahaeddin Bey, and in this image Carter is identified.

Arrival of 1/Royal Inniskinning Fusiliers February 1907. Carter identified with an X

Carter’s photograph of arrival of Inniskillings

He served on Crete from February 1907, being promoted to Captain in January 1908, and returning to Malta in February that year. During his time in Crete he was nominally assigned to the Military Hospital in Candia, but posted to Canea, in charge of the British medical detachment there. On one occasion he was commended by Colonel Delamain, Officer Commanding the International troops, following the successful turnout of a picket from the Inniskilling Fusiliers, the battalion to which Carter was attached.

Carter’s Commmendation

Following his service in Crete, Carter was seconded to the Red Cross during the First Balkan War. He served in the RAMC, mostly in France, throughout the First World War, reaching the rank of Lt. Colonel, before retiring in 1933.

Herbert St Maur Carter, Crete 1907

Russian 13th Regiment feast Rethymno August 1907

The ‘Dog’s Home’ Canea – probably Halepa.

The ‘Club House’ Halepa.

Gonia 1907

Medical Officers Huts, Candia

British Hospital, Candia

1907 map of Selino

The map is included in the Welcome collection but it’s unclear whether or not it belonged to Carter.

Prince George’s efforts to upgrade the status of the Cretan State

By Dr. Georgios Limantzakis, historian

Shortly before the turn of the 19th century, the “Concert of Europe”, consisting of Austria-Hungary, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia, decided to appoint Prince George of Greece as High Commissioner of Crete, hoping that the young prince would be able to convince the majority Christian population of the island to surrender its arms and cooperate with the Muslim minority within the context of the autonomous Cretan State, although the island would continue to be nominally part of the Ottoman Empire -under the sultan’s suzerainty, to be more precise. Although Germany and Austria-Hungary participated actively at the negotiations that led to this result, Germany decided to withdraw its forces from Crete in late 1897, and Austria-Hungary followed in March 1898, leaving only four powers as the “Protector Powers” (Puissances Protectrices) of Crete. A couple of years later, having achieved the surrender of most weapons, the establishment of law and order, and the smooth function of the newly founded Cretan institutions, Prince George decided to appeal to the governments of the “Protector Powers” and ask them to accept the union of Crete with Greece (Enosis), or at least a change to the island’s international status that would bring it closer to the Greek Kingdom. To that end, Prince George decided to visit and talk in person with the heads of state or government of the four powers in September 1900, hoping that his royal descent and his standing as their representative in the island would be enough to achieve their consent, or at least their tolerance to his plans.

Prince George of Greece. High Commissioner Of Crete.

He couldn’t be more wrong. During this tour through most of Europe, Prince George started to realize that none of the Powers’ governments was really willing to support the modification of the status of Crete, and much less so accept the union of Crete with Greece.[1] Nevertheless, Prince George managed to convince some heads of state to convene the issue to the Council of Ambassadors in Rome, which discussed about Crete at the end of January 1901. As an extension of these talks, the consuls of the Powers visited Prince George on 19 February at his palace in Halepa, Chania, and informed him that “The four Protector Powers of Crete, having taken into serious consideration the report of the High Commissioner, as well as the political and administrative conditions prevailing in the Island, […] have unanimously agreed that under the present circumstances they cannot accept any modification to the political situation [of Crete] in the spirit indicated by the report of Prince George”. However, they expressed the expectation that “His Royal Highness, sensing the multiple interests attached to his role in Crete, would continue to fulfill the Mandate assigned to him by the Powers, which would wish to renew it”. In other words, the Powers categorically rejected any prospect of modifying the status of Crete, but at the same time “acknowledged” Prince George’s administration as being on the right direction, “awarding” him with a renewal of his mandate for three more years (until 1904). Prince George was in a difficult position. On one hand, his repeated attempts to pressure and argue for union were nullified, as the Powers showed no interest or intent to re-examine the status of Crete. On the other hand, the Powers openly approved his work in Crete, giving him -in a way- “extra time” to try harder. Wanting to show he valued the Powers’ “confidence”, Prince George became more careful, and attempted to handle the union question in a way that would not contradict the expressed position of the Powers. In this context, he put forward a series of “veiled” requests, asking for the international recognition of the Cretan State flag, the extradition of Cretan prisoners held in Ottoman prisons to Crete, the protection of Cretans abroad by the diplomatic and military authorities of the Powers, and the direct involvement of Cretan authorities and institutions in international conventions and organizations.[2] According to a letter sent by Prince George to the ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Powers in July 1901, “The flag of the Autonomous Cretan State, created by the Powers, is not actually recognized in Turkey [the Ottoman Empire]. The captains and the crews of the vessels that dare to fly its flag within Turkish ports are usually persecuted, without being able to find support and assistance by the [consular] representatives of the Powers”.[3] The main issue, according to Prince George, was that Cretan citizens were arrested and prosecuted for raising the Cretan flag. What is more striking, however, is that George sought the intervention of the Powers for their release and protection, having made the -reasonable- assumption that a note or a reaction by the Cretan authorities or himself would have little value for the Ottomans, and thus little -if any- effect.

Flag of Κρητικι Πολιτεια.

Another request made by Prince George to the representatives of the Powers was the “extradition of Cretans held in Turkish prisons to the Cretan State”. According to a memorandum he sent to the European consuls in Chania, “There are more than seventy inmates there [in the Ottoman Empire], some of which have been evicted in Crete, while others have been arrested and detained as suspects [without ever going through trial]. Since our Autonomy has been internationally recognized, I don’t think there is any justification for keeping these unfortunate inmates in Turkey. On the contrary, it will be a matter of justice, without prejudice to the interests of society, to achieve the extradition of these inmates to Crete, which would cause great satisfaction to their parents and compatriots, who are constantly complaining [for their fate]”.[4] At first, Prince George’s request sounds legitimate and morally justified, but the actual motive behind these arguments is the de facto recognition of the Cretan State as a distinct entity from (the rest of) the Ottoman Empire. If one chose however to abide by the letter of the law, Crete was still part of the Empire, and as a result those sentenced or convicted in the second could be legally detained there, despite the fact that Crete had a different legal system than the rest of the Empire since April 1899, that is to say its own Constitution, drafted and voted by its own legitimate authorities.

Prince George continued to put forward requests in the same spirit, such as the one related to “The replacement of the Ottoman Empire by the Cretan State in relation to rights over the lighthouses [which were renovated and administrated by a French company at the end of the 19th century] and the collection of rights during the transmission of telegrams through the Island”, “the transfer to the Cretan State of port charges on incoming and outgoing ships, as well as the anchoring and interchange rights” and last, but not least, “the participation of Cretan Postal Services (Κρητικά Ταχυδρομεία) to the Universal Postal Union, whose convention was recently revised in Budapest”.[5] Coming as a follow-up to the previous demands, it was now more than evident that these requests were part of an indirect -albeit clearly visible- attempt of Prince George to upgrade the international status of the Crete, dictated by the belief that the gradual -or even symbolic- detachment of Crete from the Ottoman rule would give the island’s institutions and population more of a “free hand” in relation to how they could and should handle their own affairs, not only internally, but also in relation to their new state’s international standing and responsibilities. Once these responsibilities were acknowledged and performed, they would automatically create a more favorable environment for the re-examination of the question of union with Greece.[6] For the exact same reason, the representatives of the Powers were hesitant and distrustful of George’s proposals, believing they should not diverge from the international commitments they had undertaken in relation to the international status of Crete.

Still, the representatives of the Powers had to reply to Prince George’s requests, whom they had appointed as High Commissioner of Crete, in order to show they acknowledged the situation and the issues at stake and were still interested and involved in Cretan affairs. In this context, in August 1901 the governments of the four “Protector Powers” gave instructions to their ambassadors in Constantinople to reply to the High Commissioner in a “creatively vague” way, which would not bind their policy or create new problems in the region. Following these instructions, the ambassadors drafted jointly a reply, in which they refrained from taking position and answering to the point, claiming that “these issues […] could only be resolved by direct negotiations between the Governments of Crete and Turkey”.[7] This reply clearly showed that the Powers did not wish to intervene or interfere in favor of Crete, as the High Commissioner had long hoped. However, the refusal of the Powers to mediate in the name of Crete and the ambassadors’ suggestion to hold direct negotiations with the Ottoman government showed that they acknowledged that Crete had the jurisdiction and responsibility to settle such issues herself, and thus entailed the indirect recognition of the Cretan State’s international personality, which was a purpose in itself for Prince George and most Christian Cretans. Still, it would be undeniably difficult for Prince George or the Cretan authorities to pressure the Ottoman sultan or his state’s authorities to cooperate to such an end, and even more so to recognize Crete as an independent sovereign state.

Sharing this assessment, Prince George interpreted the ambassadors’ response negatively, as yet another refusal of the Powers to acknowledge the gravity of the situation and resolve his demands. In this context, he concluded with frustration that “Although autonomous, Crete could not enjoy the right of having her own separate official representation as the other Governments did, or as the case would be if it were a fully independent and sovereign State. Therefore, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to hold direct negotiations on these issues between Crete and the Turkish Government”. Although disappointed, Prince George remained faithful to this assessment and refrained from taking further initiatives aiming to upgrade the status of Crete within the following years, arguing that “Such negotiations could only be undertaken by the Governments of the Protecting Powers, and, as a result [of their unwillingness], these issues remained unsettled for years”.[8] Although he continued to work on other ways to achieve union with Greece, Prince George complained in his memoirs years after the end of his service in Crete that the Powers “had promised they would address these demands in a spirit of good will. I was never given the opportunity to see this good will of theirs. When I left Crete in September 1906, these issues were still pending, despite all my pleas and the urgency of the situation. And although the Autonomous Cretan State was entitled to have these issues resolved by the Powers, who had given themselves the title “Protector Powers” of the Island, this resolution did not materialize”.[9]


[1] Prince George’s tour started from the Livadia Palace in the Crimea, where he met Tsar Nicholas II and his Foreign Minister Count Vladimir Nikolayevich Graf Lamsdorf. Prince George then travelled through Odessa and Copenhagen to London, where he met the newly appointed British Foreign Minister Lord Lansdowne, and his predecessor, Lord Salisbury. After London, Prince George continued on to Paris, where he met the French President Émile Loubet and the French Foreign Minister Théophile Delcassé, and finally, he reached Rome, where he met King Vittorio Emmanuele III and the Italian Foreign Minister Emilio Visconti-Venosta, before returning to Crete via Athens, where he had the chance to talk about his contacts with his father King George I and the Greek Prime Minister George Theotokis.

[2] Prince Georges de Grèce, Affaires de Crète, “Lettre de S.A.R. le Prince Georges de Grèce, Haut Commissaire, à leurs Excellences les Ministres des Affaires Etrangères, indiquant les propositions nécessaires pour améliorer l’état de l’Île, 10 Juillet 1901”, 1905, pp. 21-22.

[3] Γεώργιος της Ελλάδας, Αναμνήσεις εκ Κρήτης, 1959, p. 121.

[4] As above.

[5] Γεώργιος της Ελλάδας, Αναμνήσεις εκ Κρήτης, 1959, p. 121 and 128.

[6] In the same context, Prince George lost no opportunity to remind the Powers that his administration had achieved “a radical overhaul of public, administrative and financial morals, the disarmament of the population and the preservation of harmony between Christians and Muslims, while absolute security reigns all over the island”. Prince Georges de Grèce, Affaires de Crète, 1905, p. 24.

[7] Γεώργιος της Ελλάδας, Αναμνήσεις εκ Κρήτης, 1959, p. 128.

[8] Γεώργιος της Ελλάδας, Αναμνήσεις εκ Κρήτης, 1959, p. 129.

[9] Γεώργιος της Ελλάδας, Αναμνήσεις εκ Κρήτης, 1959, p. 120.

British Nursing aid for Crete – The (brief) visit of Mrs. Laura Ormiston Chant

In April 1897 the Greek Government was desperate to distract attention from its failed economic and social policies. One method of doing so was to ferment an external dispute. Eventually, by both accident and design, spurred on by an almost wholly bankrupt and incompetent Ottoman regime, a revolution in Crete and incursions by Greek Government-supported fighters raiding across the northern Greek borders into the Ottoman territories, war broke out between Greece and the Ottoman Empire.

The British government were in a dilemma. While not wanting to be seen to support a Muslim country against a Christian one, particularly given the public outcry over the recent atrocities committed by the Ottomans in the ‘pacification’ of their Balkan territories, British treaty obligations required them to maintain the existing boundaries of the Greek state. Furthermore, given the agitation in Ireland and India for independence, self-determination and freedom from the rule of a foreign empire, the British Government were reluctant to set the precedent of supporting such movements elsewhere lest they encourage rebellion within their own empire. On top of all that, there was the ever present reluctance to upset the status quo with respect to the Ottoman Empire for fear that the Russians might take advantage of Ottoman instability and seized Constantinople, thus gaining access to the Mediterranean and posing a potential threat to the Suez Canal and the British lifeline to India. [1]

For the most part, the British public did not share the concerns of their government, generally supporting the Greek cause, and various groups sprang up to provide aid to Greece; aid in both terms of money and personnel. One newspaper, The Daily Chronicle,

perceiving the value of trained nursing and medical help to the Greek nation at the present crisis, organised the now historic National Fund which has rendered such splendid assistance, and has at present a staff in Greece of twenty-nine nurses, working under, the superintendence of Mrs. Bedford Fenwick, two hospitals fully equipped, and a medical staff of four English surgeons.”[2]

Individuals also offered their assistance. The Nursing Record and Hospital World announced that on 27th March 1897 “…the Editor had been approached during the past week by a lady concerning the organisation of a corps of volunteer nurses for service in Crete and elsewhere, should war break out between Greece and Turkey.”[3]

The lady concerned was Mrs. Laura Ormiston Chant. Born in Wollaston, Gloucestershire, in 1848 she had been disowned by her family when she moved to London and trained as a nurse. She was a noted suffragist, a campaigner for women’s rights, a hymn writer, a composer of children’s books, a temperance and non-smoking advocate.

Mrs. Laura Ormiston Chant

Speaking to an unnamed reporter Mrs. Ormiston Chant had outlined her reasons for wishing to take some action:

“I received letters from Greece and Crete giving me a frightful description of the condition of the wounded on the island, and stating that the sisters of the Greek Red Cross brigade had been unable to effect a landing in Crete owing to the blockade. These tales took such an effect on me that I determined to take action at once. [ I despatched] a telegram to a lady in Athens, who is the chief of the nursing sisterhood, and also the editor of one of the papers, offering to send out some English nurses if they could be of any use. The rely received made us hasten our preparations. On my return to London I saw Mrs. Barker […] and told her of my plan. She at once fell in with it, and consented to act as hon. treasurer to the fund we determined to raise to defray our expenses. The result of our begging -for we have begged- has brought us in a fair amount of money, but still we want more. Our expenses will be heavy and although I go as a volunteer the six trained nurses have to be paid. For three months’ service I estimate we shall want at least £900. The railway and boat expenses will cost for the single journey £17 per head; hotel bills, meals en-route. Luggage &c., £25 per head; and outfits for each of the nurses £15 per head; and then the salaries. Added to these items are our medical stores, instruments &c., all of which we shall take with us from this country. The outfit for the nurses consists of a dark blue dress trimmed with red, two washing dresses, and other necessary articles of apparel.

Directly money began to come in […] I went to Mrs. Fenwick, the president of the British Nurses’ Association, and asked her to select me six sisters who might be willing to go to Crete, and who understood surgical cases. Mrs. Fenwick took great care to get me the kind of nurses I wanted. We are taking ‘no sides,’ and are prepared to nurse with equal care Greeks, Turks, Christians and anybody who is so unfortunate as to be wounded.”[4]

In June, the Nursing Record and Hospital World reported that on 8th April 1897, Mrs. Laura Ormiston Chant and six English nurses left Charing Cross for Athens, intent on being on the spot to give aid to the Greeks. [5]

Mrs. Laura Ormiston Chant and companions en-route for Greece.                     The Sketch 14 April 1897

According to the Penny Illustrated Paper, other members of the party consisted of Miss Lillian Lees of Lewisham Infirmary, Miss Emma Curtise, of the London Association of Nurses, Miss Lavinia Fawkes, Miss Charlotte Flannigan, and Miss Beatrix Warriner – all registered nurses. (Another newspaper reoprted that the group was to be joined by Mdme. Parrens and other ladies of the Red Cross Society.[6]) They were described as being dressed in blue, and wearing the badge of the Red Cross Society.[7]

Mrs. Laura Ormiston Chant in Uniform. Freeman’s Exmouth Journal 17 April 1897.

In a detailed interview with Mrs. Ormiston Chant, The Nursing Record and Hospital World described how after her arrival in Greece, four of the nurses remained in Athens while Mrs. Chant and Sister Lillian Lees, along with their medical stores, moved down to Crete, arriving in Canea early in the morning of Easter Day, 18th April. Their intention was to offer their services to the Greek forces which, under Colonel Timoleon Vassos, had landed in Crete early in February; the bulk of which were located to the west of the town.

Arriving in Canea Mrs. Ormiston Chant and her companion apparently found the town ruined and deserted (except, one presumes, for the thousands of Muslim refugees packed into it) and suitable accommodation unavailable. Eventually they were offered hospitality by the officers of HMS Revenge and later that day found a hotel deserted by all but the local insect population. In due course, a pass was issued by the six European admirals permitting the two women to cross the Ottoman lines and to journey to Col. Vassos. Flying a white flag for protection against the Cretan Christians who “…had suffered so much from the treachery of those who professed friendship, that they are now inclined to suspect all comers”[8], they eventually reached the Colonel’s camp. Handing in their letters of introduction they complained that they then had to wait and hour and a half (!) before the Colonel found time to see them. The meeting turned out to moderately agreeable although food was so scarce that Mrs. Chant offered to return to Canea and return with a cargo of flour. This offer was declined by Colonel Vassos – one might speculate on the grounds that he knew it would be an exercise in futility since one of the objects of the Admirals was to force the Colonel’s withdrawal from the island by denying him and his troops food.

As to the attainment of the principle aim of the mission, “… [f]inding the wounded in Colonel Vassos’ camp either well, dead or on the high road to recovery, Mrs. Chant determined to return to Athens…”[9]

On returning to Athens, Mrs. Ormiston Chant decided that her services could be best utilised by returning to England and seeing to the recruiting and despatch of more nurses. However, on reaching England she discovered that the matter was in hand and thus she gave up her plan of returning to Athens, remaining instead in England.

The Greco-Turkish War lasted 30 days and rather than sweeping triumphantly into Constantinople, the Greek army was comprehensively beaten; only diplomatic intervention by the European Powers preventing the Turks from capturing Athens.

While highly regarded in many in some quarters, Mrs. Ormiston Chant was not universally lauded for her trip Greece and Crete. In an undated despatch, published on 22nd May 1897, an unnamed correspondent for the Graphic who travelled to Greece out with another group of nurses who were journeying at the invitation of the Crown Princess of Greece,[10] described an encounter with Mrs. Ormiston Chant as the latter returned to England.

“During our stay in Corfu a steamship bound for Brindisi anchored in the harbour, and presently a frantic waving of a handkerchief from her deck attracted our attention, and by the aid of glasses Mrs. Ormiston Chant was observed behind it. A party of nurses went off to her in a small boat. Mrs. Chant was excited: she began one sentence and when half way through started another. As far as I could make out the sum total of her news was this: The war was over, the nurses would find nothing to do, and ‘had better retire as gracefully as possible’ (her own words. The Greek lady nurses knew nothing, nothing; there was no organisation whatever, and therefore she was returning to London. This was all interlarded with graphic descriptions of how she carried supplies to Vassos, under fire from the Turkish guns, etc., etc. All this was very discouraging and snubbing to the nurses going out, but it subsequently appeared that her main reason for considering the war to be at an end was the fact that she herself was returning to London. Mrs. Chant’s boat only stayed ten minutes…”[11]

Further evidence of the distain in which Mrs. Ormiston Chant was held, at least in some quarters, comes in the form of an excerpt from ‘Justice’ on 1 May 1897. This newspaper was the journal of the Social Democratic Federation, an extreme left-wing political movement which, contrary to the overwhelming majority of British newspapers of the day, took a strongly anti-Greek stance. Their view was that:

“The defeat of the Greeks may also compel the Greeks to withdraw their troops from Crete, and then we shall discover that the Cretans are not so anxious, after all, to become Greeks. It will also be evident that the Ottoman troops are not so effete nor so barbarous as it pleases Christian fanatics to pourtray[sic] them. But one thing more is needed to complete this object lesson – namely, that Mrs. Ormiston Chant and the English Christian nurses, together with some other English fanatics, should be made prisoners of the Turks. Mrs. Ormiston Chant enjoying the hospitality of the Turkish harem would constitute a picture fit for the gods. This well-known advocate of social purity would then learn the very good reasons which the Turks can give to prove that it is much more indecent and indecorous for a lady to show her face than to display her legs. We may therefore look forward to a movement, when Mrs. Ormiston Chant returns, in favour of veiling the faces of every woman who ventures to grace the promenade of the Empire or the Alhambra.”[12]

The particular references in the above article to Mrs. Ormiston Chant’s advocating ‘social purity’ were because prior to her trip to Crete, she was not unknown to the British public. She had been the spokesperson for the National Vigilance Association during their 1894 campaign against the renewal of the licence of the Empire Music Hall in Leicester Square. At the time the Empire was infamous for its second tier Promenade. Here, for half a crown, a sum which ensured only the relatively well to do would be admitted,  members of the audience could wander around, view the stage, make use of the American Bar with its one shilling cocktails and pick up one of the many high class prostitutes that frequented the area. The Empire was also renowned for its ‘Living Picture’ representations of famous scenes or paintings, most of which involved half naked women, and this in particular appears to have drawn the wrath of the National Vigilance Association

Chant wrote that: “We have no right to sanction on the stage that which if it were done in the street would compel a policeman to lock the offender up…The whole question would be solved if men, and not women, were at stake. Men would refuse to exhibit their bodies nightly in this way.”, this in spite of the fact that the first tier promenade was renowned for being one of the main gay pick up places in London.[13] The result of the campaign, Prudes on the Prowl as one newspaper put it, was that the London County Council insisted that a screen be erected between around the promenade and the bar be shut. However, on the first night the canvas and wood screen was put up, a group of wealthy young men among them Winston Churchill, tore it down and distributed the pieces as souvenirs.

“Did you see the papers about the riot at the Empire last Saturday? It was I who led the rioters – and made a speech to the crowd – “Ladies of the Empire, I stand for Liberty!” Churchill wrote to his brother describing his part in the riot.[14] Their triumph was short lived though, the London County Council shut the theatre, insisting that the screen be replaced in brick as a condition of the theatre’s eventual re-opening.

Satire of Mrs. Ormiston Chant.

Laura Ormiston Chant died in Banbury in 1926.

[1] Most of the European Powers also had seriously large financial investments in both Greece and the Ottoman Empire. However, the role of such investments in determining the political decisions made by the Powers at this time is beyond the scope of this article.

[2] The Nursing Record and Hospital World. June 5 1897. p.454 at:

[3] The Nursing Record and Hospital World. June 5 1897. p.454 at:

[4] Freeman’s Exmouth Journal 17 April 1897.

[5] The Nursing Record and Hospital World. June 5 1897. p.455

[6] Freeman’s Exmouth Journal. 17 April 1897.

[7] The Penny Illustrated Paper. 17 April 1897, p.246.

[8] Ibid.

[9] The Nursing Record and Hospital World. June 5 1897. p.455

[10] Possibly the group, or one of the groups, organised by the Chronicle, which might account for the dismissive attitude of the reporter.

[11] The Graphic 22 May 1897

[12] Justice. 1 May 1897.


[14] Ibid.

The Sarakina massacre – the cycle of revenge.

(The events related below took place in late January/early February 1897. A more precise date cannot be given because, unfortunately, none of the written sources give an accurate date, and at that time there was a 12 day difference between the European calendar and that in use in Crete.)

One of the immediate triggers for the European intervention in Crete was the rioting, looting and arson that broke out in Canea, the then capital, on 6th February 1897.  European levels of alarm were further raised when that evening, Cretan Christian insurrectionists cut the Suda/Canea road and occupied the Akrotiri peninsula to the east of the town.

The rioting in Canea, instigated by Cretan Muslims, was, as far as the European Powers were concerned, a further symptom of the breakdown of law-and-order on the island. Such inter-communal unrest had been growing over the previous months as the Cretan Christian insurrection spread, one result of which being the mass movement of Cretan Muslims from the countryside into the towns and the movement of Cretan Christians in the opposite direction. This movement of people, essentially ethnic cleansing, had resulted on more than one occasion in the massacre of civilians.

Sarakina Monument.

On the left-hand side of the road from Paleochora, south west Crete, to Sarakina, about 2.5km before the village of Sarakina itself, is a small marble plaque set on a concrete plinth and set up by the Community of Sarakina in 1986.

Sarakina Monument Closeup.

The English translation of the plaque reads:

‘In January 1897 in this area of Sarakina a major battle was fought between Turks and Christians that resulted in 150 Turks being killed.’

This brief description however, though superficially accurate, hides the nature of the battle and the events that lead up to it. By early 1897, the collapse of Ottoman authority and the realisation that Ottoman rule of the island was coming to an end resulted in an increase in inter-communal violence between Cretan Muslims and Cretan Christians throughout the Selino District and many Cretan Muslims, including those of Sarakina, then a predominantly Muslim village, sought refuge in the major towns.

According to the account given by the British Consul in Chania, Sir Alfred Biliotti, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, an account based on his interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses of both religions[1], in late January/early February 1897, the date is unclear in Biliotti’s report, as tensions between the two religious groups in Selinos grew, the inhabitants of the isolates and mainly Muslim village of Sarakina decided to emigrate. However, they were persuaded to remain for a time in their village by the local Christian leaders. A few days later the “…Dimarchi and Notable Christians of their commune,” told the Muslims it would be prudent for them to retire to Paleochora and that they would be convoyed there with a Cretan Christian escort to prevent them from being molested en-route. The Cretan Muslims, numbering 159 according to Biliotti, were placed in between two groups of Christians, each of about 200 men, and started the march to Paleochora. About half an hour out from Sarakina, a shot was fired in the rear of the column, apparently the result of a scuffle breaking out when one of the Muslims refused to surrender his firearm. This shot was immediately followed by “…a general discharge of firearms on the Musselman emigrants.”

Of the 159 Muslims who started, only 44 arrived safely in Paleochora and some of these reported to Biliotti that following the firing, all the wounded men and some of the small children were murdered and four Muslim women from Sarakina had apparently been forcibly taken to a Christian village. Biliotti reports that the massacre was “…deeply deplored by the (Christian) Chiefs and others” but, significantly in the light of his previously highly detailed reports of atrocities committed by both Muslims and Christians throughout the island, makes no mention of any Christian dead or wounded.

Biliotti went on to say that ‘…As soon as the news of the massacre were known at Selinos Castelli (Paleochora), twelve Christians, amongst whom a woman and child, residing there, were murdered.’  What appears to be the memorial to one such Christian is situated in a graveyard in Paleochora.

Paleochora Gravestone 1897.

Here lies Artemios Opsimakis. 27 years old. Murdered in Paleochora by the Turks. 27th January 1897.

(n.b. Assuming that this inscription, or its original, was made at the time, the date in European style would be 8th February.)

Reports of the Sarakina massacre reached England also from the unnamed Times correspondent in Chania. He describes interviewing a survivor on 21st February in a military hospital in Canea, and confirming Biliotti’s report that the Muslims had been offered safe conduct to the sea by the Christians, adding that they did so in exchange for some Christian hostages held in Paleochora.[2] His informant claimed that they were attacked by their guards and by other Christians who appeared from the mountains and that of the 154 Cretan Muslims who started the trek, only 48 escaped of whom 25 were wounded: the informant further alleged that two of his children had been beheaded.

Another view of the incident is given in a book, written about 1996, currently on sale in Paleochora. This states that the ‘famous battle of Sarakina’ was caused when ‘one of the Christians courageously asked for a gun held in quite a provocative way by a Turkish child (and) when the child did not respond to his demand, killed it.’ The book further argues that the reason for the attack “…was not merely revenge but also the gathering of loot in order to meet basic needs.” [3]

In contrast to the punishments handed down after 6th September 1898 for the murder of British servicemen and subjects in Candia, no real effort was made to address the issue of either the massacres perpetrated by Christians immediately prior to the arrival of the Concert forces, or the murders of Christians committed by Muslims on 6th September. The British were ‘…far less concerned with the punishment of those found guilty of crimes against humanity than with retribution upon those who had attacked the British forces which had been performing their duties as instructed’.[4] In the case of atrocities committed against Muslims in the countryside prior to the Admirals taking de facto control of the island, while Biliotti made strenuous efforts to record the victims and to try to start the process of getting justice, albeit within the context of persuading Muslims to return to their homes in the countryside,[5] no enthusiasm was shown by any of the Powers for following the matter up. While legally punishment of these crimes was the responsibility of the Ottoman authorities, unsurprisingly, it is clear that there was no appetite among the Powers to re-open old wounds. In the initial stages of the Intervention, at least up until early 1899 when Christian disarmament became a reality, Christian insurgents, among whom were undoubtedly some, if not all, of the criminals, were in complete charge of the countryside; as a consequence, neither the Ottomans nor the Powers were in a position to enforce their own, or any other, law. With the arrival of Prince George, the Powers were happy to divest themselves of the responsibility; matters were now in the hands of the High Commissioner and the Cretan Assembly and it was up to them to take appropriate action.

Similarly, while not pursuing the murderers of Muslims, the pursuit of Muslims who murdered Christians was quietly dropped; the International Military Commission in Canea had, at the request of the Russian Government, ceased to apply the death penalty after execution of two murderers on 23rd November 1898.[6] 



[1] House of Commons Command Paper (1897) [C.8437] Turkey #10, Inclosure No.249. Bilotti to Marquis of Salisbury (Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) 22 February 1897.

[2] The Times Monday 22 February 1897.

[3] Pyrovolakis N. (1996?) Self published.  Paleochora (Looking Back on the Past) p.29

[4] Prichard, R. J.,  ‘International Humanitarian Intervention and Establishment of an International Jurisdiction Over Crimes Against Humanity: The National and International Military Trials on Crete in 1898’, in  J. Carey, W. V. Dunlop & R.J. Pritchard (eds.), International Humanitarian Law Vol. 1 (Transnational Publishers: New York, 2003), 1-87, p.43

[5] Ibid. 67-69.

[6] Pritchard, ‘International Humanitarian Intervention’ p. 63.