Tag Archives: Cretan Autonomous State

The Theriso Revolt (and the decline of British standards).

In March 1905 a rebellion broke out on Crete. Headed politically by Eleftherios Venizelos, one of the intentions of the revolution was to force Prince George, the European appointed High Commissioner of the island, to change his policy and to promote the cause of enosis, union with Greece. (Given that the Powers had granted Crete semi autonomy in 1898 specifically to prevent such a union, the chances of the Theriso revolt achieving this particular aim had to be considered to be somewhat slim.)

The majority of the disturbances occurred in and around Canea and Retymno, the Italian and Russian secteurs, the British secteur, based on Iraklion (Candia) was relatively quiet; only three occurrences of violence directed against British troops being reported.  Army medical records indicate that there were two admissions to hospital of soldiers with gunshot wounds recorded as injuries received in action. In addition to their ‘normal’ outpost and patrol duties, British troops also had to provide guards for the two civil prisons in Candia ‘…as the local gendarmerie are insufficient for the purposes.’[1]

However, the suppression of the revolt clearly resulted in the lowering of the standard of dress of at least some of the British troops, as is shown by the photograph of these members of the 1/King’s Royal Rifles (60th Rifles).

Members of 1/King’s Royal Rifles with an insurgent. The Sphere, 26 August 1905.

A similar, rather relaxed, attitude to uniform standards was displayed by members of 2/Royal Sussex, the other British battalion on Crete at that time.

G Company, 2/Royal Sussex.

In October 1905 the revolt came to a negotiated end. While it failed to achieve enosis, it did effectively bring an end to reign of Prince George who left the island in September 1906.

European trtoops (possibly Russian?) escorting arms surrendered by insurgents at Theriso.


[1] 1906 [Cd 3213] Army Medical Department Report for the year 1905. Volume XLVII. Pp.105 & 106


The Wrong Cretan Flag

Prince George of Greece arrived on Crete in December 1898 to take up his role as the High Commissioner of the island. As well as choosing a High Commissioner for the Cretans, the European Powers also chose a flag for the island.  The three blue quarters of the flag and the white cross were considered to represent the Cretan Christian majority on the island, while the remaining red quarter, containing within it a five-pointed white star, represented the Cretan Muslim minority and the continuing de-jure claim to the island by the Ottoman Empire.

While the political implications of the status of the island proclaimed by the flag was, and in some quarters still is, contentious, flag makers and postcard producers were, and still are, quick to cash in on the opportunity to make money by selling souvenirs.

Flag of Cretan Autonomous State. On sale on eBay July 2018. (Sorry for the quality!)


Most of these, though somewhat tacky, at least managed to get the details of the flag correct.

Not so the post-card shown below. Produced by ‘The Publishers of a Thousand Curiosities’ in Canea at an unknown date, it shows a photograph of the Prince’s offices in Kastelli, above the port in Canea, surmounted by a, rather crude, six-pointed star. Quite why such an elementary error was made remains a mystery.


The palace of Prince George and the, incorrect, flag of the Cretan Autonomous State.

Christmas in Crete

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

The 1/Inniskillings' Christmas card, Crete 1907

The 1/Inniskillings’ Christmas card, Crete 1907

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ottoman reaction to Cretan autonomy.

In 1898, spurred on by the massacre of Cretan Christians and the murder of British troops in Candia, the European Powers in control of Crete determined to grant the island autonomy, albeit nominally under Ottoman suzerainty. This was a compromise solution given that Great Power rivalry and the fear of the knock on effect on other European Ottoman territories, precluded allowing Greece to annex the island, the preferred solution the Cretan Christian insurrgents. The alternative, allowing the Ottoman Empire to regain control of Crete by means of force, was politically unacceptable to most of the European Powers, particularly given the outcry over the relatively recent Ottoman mistreatment of their Christian subjects in Bulgaria and Armenia.

However, while the Cretan Christians, and a minority of Cretan Muslims, welcomed the imposition of the new regime, the former seeing it as a stepping stone to union with Greece and the latter as at least bringing peace and stability to the island, feelings in the Ottoman Empire were, not unaturally, less favourable about the forced removal of Ottoman territory and the consequent injury to Ottoman patriotic pride.

Ottoman feelings were summed up in caption of the (undated but post1898) postcard shown below: The Ottoman Empire has not given up its most shining star.

However, in reality the Ottomans HAD lost their `shining star’, although it wasn’t until the end of the second Balkan War in 1913 that Crete finally became united with Greece.



Crete: The Ottoman view

Crete: The Ottoman view


Flags …yet again

In 1898 the European Powers imposed upon the newly autonomous Cretan State a High Commissioner of the Powers’ own choosing: Prince George of Greece. The Cretan people were not consulted. George’s arrival was delayed by a dispute over the nature of the flag for the new state but he eventually arrived in December 1898.

While the photograph below showing the High Commissioner being escorted through the then capital Canea by an escort from three of the four Powers, is undated, it’s unlikely to be Prince George. In the first place there aren’t that many people around and secondly there are no British troops in sight. It’s more likely to be the High Commissioner who succeeded George in 1906; Alexandros Zaimis, a former, and future, Greek Prime Minister. According to the annotation on the photograph, the escort appears to consist of French gendarmes, Italian Carabinaire, Russian troops and, leading the parade, Cretan gendarmes.

What is of interest also, given the controversy about the Cretan flag, is the presence of two Greek flags in the bottom right hand corner of the picture. This is highly unusual since the Powers would eventually take extreme exception to the flying of the Greek flag; as would the Ottoman Government. Indeed, such was the objection to the official flying of the Greek flag during the period of the Cretan State, that on one occasion the Powers intervened not only by taking down the offending flag, but also by destroying the flag pole so that it couldn’t be raised again.

Parade through  Canea

Parade through Canea

Compare and contrast.

Guess which illustrator had never been to Crete and presumably never seen 19c. Cretan costume?

Cretan soldiers...an American view.

Cretan soldiers…an American view.

Cretan's discussing the proclamation that the island was to be an Autonomous State within the Ottoman Empire.

Cretan’s discussing the proclamation that the island was to be an Autonomous State within the Ottoman Empire.