Tag Archives: European Intervention Crete

The battle of Livadia, 19 February 1897.


Colonel vassos. ‘Round the World’ American magazine 25 March 1897

Livadia battle

Following the fall of the Tower of Voukolies on 19 February 1897, the Greek forces prepared to return to Platanias. However, news of a sortie of Ottoman troops and Bashi-Bazouks from Canea brought about a change in orders. The Daily News* reported what happened next:

“The morning [Friday 19 February] was spent in burying the dead, and the afternoon the fort was blown up, after which the force started to return Platania. Meanwhile the Cretans had advanced and surrounded a portion of the Turkish force, which had taken refuge in a strong position an inaccessible hill. Here they still remain. The rest have apparently dispersed in various directions.

In the afternoon the main body of the Greek troops arrived at Platania. There they learned that a strong force of Moslems — about five hundred Turks and as many Bashi-Bazouks – were advancing from Canea towards Voukoulies. The news was sent by the Cretans, two hundred of whom were holding the Turks in check in a narrow place, and now begged assistance. Colonel Vassos ordered battalion of infantry and a company of Chasseurs to go in support of the Cretans.

The country is very difficult, much wooded, and greatly broken up, and it is possible to see only a short distance ahead. Thus the troops suddenly found themselves the middle an olive grove occupied by the Turks.’ The Moslems abandoned the wood in five minutes, the troops followed up and severe fight ensued, lasting near three hours. The Turks took up positions on the heights, thus forcing the Greek enemy to fight up them.

The young Greek soldiers fought admirably. They drove the Turks from one position after another, capturing first the Tower of Ayah, then the Tower of Monkundro, and finally the barracks of Livadia, which were burned about five o’clock. This last position having fallen into the bands of the Greeks the Moslems retreated, taking with them three guns which had been stationed at the barracks, but which had done no execution. The Greeks pursued the retiring columns to within mile the fortifications this town, and then fell back to Platanias.

The Turkish loss in this engagement is unknown, but I have seen number of wounded brought into the lines on donkeys. The Greeks suffered severely. They had three officers killed, and one severely wounded. Two sergeants were killed, and eight privates and men were wounded. The Greek troops are all young soldiers who have never before been under fire. They displayed courage, coolness, and enthusiasm, and their general behaviour is highly creditable. Fighting side by side with the regular troops were the Students’ Corps under Captain Zimbarkakis, with which I came from Athens. The Greeks took ten Turkish prisoners of the regular troops. Three are now prisoners in camp at Platanias.”[1]


The same incident was described rather more briefly by Rear Admiral Harris, the ultimate commander of the newly landed British forces:

Today [ 19 February] a Greek force of about 9,000 Regulars and insurgents, with five guns, advanced from the westward against Middle Age Fort and attacked it. The Turks, after firing, evacuated the fort, falling back on the town [Canea] outposts. The insurgents are now advancing their guns. The Admirals are unanimous that any further advance must be stopped. This step is necessary to prevent loss of life among our men in temporary occupation of Canea, which would be very likely to occur should investment become closer.[2]

This despatch was transmitted on 20 February but drafted on 19 February, presumably shortly after Vassos men moved on from Voukolies towards Livadia. The decision of the Admirals was to assume greater significance in the following weeks when the Admirals carried out their threat, and, on several occasions, opened fire upon Greek and insurgent forces to prevent them advancing on Canea.

*This article appeared in the Sheffield Independent and is credited to the Canea Correspondent of the Daily News.

La Tribuna Illustrata della Domenica. 28 Fwebruary 1897. (According to one source, this was apparently meant to illustrate the fight at Livadia.)

Route taken by Colonel Vassos’ forces.

[1] The Daily News, Canea Correspondent, reported in The Sheffield Independent 23 February 1897.

[2] C.8437. Turkey No. 10 (1897) Further Correspondence respecting the Affairs in Crete. Item No. 169, Rear Admiral Harris to Admiralty, 19 February 1897.

HMS Revenge arrives in Canea, 9 February 1897

On 24th February 1897, Rear Robert Admiral Harris reported to the Admiralty from his flagship, H.M.S. Revenge, in Canea:[1]


I have the honour to report that at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, the 9th, I arrived at Canea from Smyrna, and took over charge of affairs here from Captain Custance of Her Majesty’s ship “Barfleur.”

On the following day (10th) I consulted with her Majesty’s Consul [Sir Alfred Biliotti] as to the state of affairs, and received a telegram from Her Majesty’s ship ”Trafalgar” at Candia, that the situation there had suddenly changed for the worse.

I found that the arrival of Greek war-ships on the coast, ostensibly to make provision for Greek refugees, had created much excitement on both sides, the Mussulmans apprehending actual assistance to the revolutionists, the Christians being fortified by rumours of the same nature. The idea was fostered by the Greek officers, and the actual landing in a Greek transport of arms at the Greek Consulate here.

From what I can gather, the Greek Consul appears to have committed himself to the policy of fostering the revolution, which is not surprising considering the attitude of the ships of the Greek Royal Navy.

The action of the Greek ships is condemned by all the foreign naval officers, not excepting the Russian and French…”

HMS Revenge

HMS Revenge 1897

Prior to Harris’ arrival, the Royal Navy had been present off Crete on an ad-hoc basis, visiting as necessary to provide assistance to British subjects and British business. However, the situation changed following the outbreak of inter-communal violence on 6 February 1897. With the increasing involvement of the Greek Navy in support of the Cretan Christian insurrection threatening to overturn the status quo on the island, the European Powers took the decision to intervene; an intervention that would result in the granting of autonomy to the island* and the presence of European naval forces in the waters off Crete until 1913.


*Shortly after the arrival off the European naval forces, on 11th February 1897 Rear Admiral Harris was one of the signatories to the document proclaiming the taking over control of Crete by the Powers in order to ‘…pacify [the island] and restore tranquillity as a preliminary to a satisfactory solution of the Cretan question by an agreement of the Powers whom they represent[ed].’ [2] On 20th July 1897, questions were subsequently asked in parliament in London over the French translation of the document stating that Rear Admiral Harris was in command of the English Naval Division, rather than the British Naval Division; one M.P. going so far as to suggest this mistranslation rendered the document illegal.[3]

[1] 1897 [C.8429] Turkey. No. 9 (1897). Reports on the situation in Crete. No.1 Harris to Admiralty 24 February 1897.

[2] Ibid. Inclosure 1 in No.2.p11.

[3] https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1897-07-20/debates/f65502a4-a66e-4a50-a815-686ec6168c6e/Crete

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.

The Fall of the Tower of Voukolies

Heading south from Chania, shortly after the junction with the National Road at Tavronites, the road to Paleochora passes through the village of Voukolies, on the outskirts of which is located the ‘Tower of Voukolies’; one of a series of guard posts created by the Ottoman authorities to protect and watch over the Cretan countryside following the Cretan Insurrection of 1866. Standing on a hill overlooking Voukolies, in 1897 the tower was the base for an Ottoman garrison of some 300 troops located there in order to dominate the road to Chania, disrupt any attempt by Cretan rebels to move forces from the south west of the island to the cities on the north coast and to provide security for the large Cretan Muslim population of the Voukolies area.

Current Tower at Voukolies

On 13/14th February 1897, a Greek force of some 1500 men, complete with artillery, under the command of Colonel Timothy Vassos landed at Kolymbari and proceeded to declare the union of Crete with Greece. By 17th February the force had moved inland and, having established their headquarters in Alikianos, a mixed detachment under the command of Major Konstantinidis and including an artillery platoon and an engineer platoon, was ordered to Voukolies to capture the tower: also with the force were many Cretans and the company of students under the command of Captain Em. Zimvrakakidon.[1]

The British Consul in Chania, Sir Alfred Biliotti, described the fall of the tower as follows in a telegraphed despatch to the Foreign Office:

“Two companies, about 300 men. Turkish troops garrisoned during last four months Voukoulies to afford protection to the Turkish emigrants, who returned to their village in that commune; their block-house was destroyed by Greek regular artillery; the garrison sallied out at night, but was afterwards surrounded. Major and many killed, over 100 taken prisoners, about 80 found their way back; no sortie was made from Canea in connection with Voukoulies affair…”[2]

However, the capture of the tower was not as straight forward as Biliotti implied. After surrounding the village and calling on the garrison to surrender, the Cretan troops made an initial attempt to storm the position but were beaten off with some loss. According to one contemporary account:

“The Cretans suffered heavily by their own fault. They disobeyed the order to withhold their musketry fire until the work of the artillery had been completed. They wasted 50,000 cartridges and lost thirty men in maintaining a foolish fire, advancing to within 100 yards of the redoubts while the Turks fired splendidly, wasting few bullets. The Cretans were obliged to send to Platonica for more ammunition which arrived on Thursday night, with four guns. The Cretans at this time surrounding the fort disobeyed orders and dispersed in search of food, the Turks profiting by the position evacuated by the Cretans.”[3]

Food was eventually provided by the local Cretan Christians, including by monks from a local monastery, though ammunition appears to have been in short supply, poorly made and expensive.[4] Following the initial rebuff, Greek artillery fire was then concentrated on the tower. On the night of 6/7 February, the garrison, under the command of a Major Fouad,[5] attempted to break out. However, during the course of the sally the major was killed and subsequently 100 or so of the garrison who had failed to get through the Greek/Cretan lines surrendered and were taken prisoner.[6]

“On Friday morning, when the guns had been placed in position, and they were about to resume the bombarding, the troops were surprised to see the Cretans plant their flag upon the deserted fort. Thirty-two dead Turks were found inside the fortifications, which were blown up with dynamite. The Greek troops were all young men who had never before been under fire, and they displayed coolness, courage and enthusiasm. The Greeks took ten Turkish soldiers prisoners.” [7]

Ottoman losses were in the region of 35 killed: Cretan losses, depending on the account read, amounted to 15 or 30 dead and nearly 40 wounded; while the Greek army lost one man killed and two wounded.

The tower itself was destroyed prior to the Greek/Cretan withdrawal; the one to be seen today is a modern replica. Though militarily of minor significance, the action demonstrated to the Cretans that Greek forces landed on the island were there in sufficient numbers and suitably equipped to be able to engage and defeat the entrenched Ottoman forces and in doing so a Voukolies, provided a significant boost to Cretan Christian morale.

Plaque on current Tower at Voukolies

Cretan commemorations of the fall of the Tower took a slightly different view of events.

The fall of the Tower of Voulokies. The Cretan version.

The fall of the Tower of Voukolies. Date unknown.

Note that the European naval forces are shown in the background of this illustration. In reality one cannot see the sea from Voukalies and the Tower was out of range, and thus out of the protective field, of European naval guns; one of the reasons for its downfall to the Cretan/Greek forces.

(The dates given above are given in Gregorian calendar as used by most of Europe in 1897.  Crete, and Greece, were using the Julian calender thus the anniversary of the fall of the Tower of Voukoulies is often given as being on 8th February.)


[1] History of the Tower of Voukolies. Information from the work of pupils of the Lyceum Voukolies, as the professors epivlexi Alysavaki Kiki and Kouroupou Anastasia, presented in February 2005. 

[2] House of Commons debate 26 February 1897. Vol. 46. cc.1264-6

[3] The Chania correspondent of the Daily News. Reported in The Penny Illustrated Paper, 27 February 1897.

[4] History of the Tower of Voukolies. Information from the work of pupils of the Lyceum Voukolies, as the professors epivlexi Alysavaki Kiki and Kouroupou Anastasia, presented in February 2005. 


[6] House of Commons debate. 26 February 1897. Vol.46 cc.1264-6

[7]The Chronicle from Athens . Reported in The Daily Colonist, Victoria, British Columbia.Tuesday 23 February 1897. http://archive.org/stream/dailycolonist18970223uvic/18970223#mode/1up/search/Crete


British Army Rewards for September 6th 1898.

Reports, albeit somewhat inaccurate, of the events in Candia (Iraklion) on 6th September 1898 were published in British newspapers the following day.[1] However, it took the bureaucracy of the British Army some time to catch up, particularly when it came to rewarding the troops concerned. It wasn’t until January the following year that the following despatch appeared in the London Gazette, the official journal of the British government.


War Office, January 24, 1899.[2]


THE following Despatch has been received, through the Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Malta, from. Major-General Sir H. C. Chermside, G.C.M.G., C.B., Commanding the British Troops in Crete:

Kandia,, December 16, 1898.

Sir, I have the honour to submit the following report as to the services of the Officers and others present when the British Troops in Kandia were attacked on 6th September, 1898. I was not present in Crete on that date, but in subsequently forwarding copies of the reports despatched by Colonel F. M. Reid, Highland Light Infantry, Officer Commanding Troops and Acting British Commissioner, I had no hesitation in endorsing his opinion as to the coolness, steadiness, and gallantry of all concerned, during a most difficult and dangerous crisis.

The Infantry called on to defend themselves, with the assistance of other detachments, against this sudden, general, and treacherous attack, all belonged to the 1st Battalion Highland Light Infantry, and behaved in a manner worthy of the traditions of this distinguished corps.

I recommend for favourable consideration the services of the following:

Highland Light Infantry.

Colonel F. M. Reid.

Major I. C. Conway-Gordon.

Captain A. G. Balfour.

Captain A. F. Lambton.

Captain E. R, Hill.

Captain and Adjutant J. W. A. Cowan.

Captain G. E. Begbie.

Second Lieutenant W. H. E. Segrave (wounded).

Quartermaster-Sergeant S. McNeill.

Colour Sergeant A.-Colville.

Colour-Sergeant J. B. Cameron.

Sergeant A. Gray (wounded).

Sergeant R. Murray.

Sergeant D. Christie.

Sergeant E. B. Underwood.

Corporal J. MacLean.

Corporal J. C. Harland.

Private D. Fraser (wounded).

Private W. Mason.

Private R. Jordan.

Private W. Guthrie (severely wounded).

Private Jos. Perkins (wounded).

Private W. Johnstone.

Royal Engineers,

Lieutenant M. R. Kennedy.

Sergeant G. Smith.

Royal Army Medical Corps.

Lieutenant L. Addams-Williams.

Lieutenant T. H. M. Clarke (wounded).

Private D. Philemon.

Private G. H. Lowden.

Private G. Leggatt.

Private G. Biddiscombe (wounded).

Army Service Corps.

Sergeant G. Gordon.

I have, &c.,



Wounded from Crete in the Highland Light infantry at the Valletta Military Hospital, Malta. (Navy and Army Illustrated Vol VII No 101 page 399, 7 January 1899.)

War Office, March 7, 1899.[3]

The Queen has been graciously pleased to give orders for the following appointments to the Distinguished Service Order, and promotions in the Army, in recognition of the services of the undermentioned Officers during the outbreak in Kandia on the 6th September 1898. The promotions to bear date 8th March, 1899.

To be Companions of the Distinguished Service Order: —

Captain James William Alston Cowan, the Highland Light Infantry.

Lieutenant Macdougall Ralston Kennedy, Royal Engineers.

Lieutenant Thomas Henry Matthews Clarke, Royal Army Medical Corps.

Second Lieutenant William Henry-Erik Segrave, the Highland Light Infantry.


To be Lieutenant-Colonel: –

Major I. C. Conway-Gordon, the Highland Light Infantry.

To be Majors: –

Captain A.- G. Balfour, the Highland Light Infantry.

Captain G. E. Begbie, the Highland Light Infantry.

The Queen has further been pleased to approve the grant of the medal for Distinguished Conduct in the Field to the undermentioned: –

Royal Engineers.

Sergeant G. Smith.

The Highland Light Infantry.

Colour-Sergeant A. Colville.

Sergeant A. Gray.

Private W. Guthrie.

Army Service Corps.

Sergeant G. Gordon.

Royal Army Medical Corps.

Private G. Biddiscombe.

The Queen has also been graciously pleased to approve of the following promotions in the Army, in recognition of the services of the undermentioned Officers during the occupation of Crete, dated 8th March, 1899: –


To be Colonel: –

Lieutenant-Colonel R. B. Mainwaring, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

To be Major: –

Captain Sir H. W. McMahon, Bart., D.S.O., the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.


Lieutenant C. M. Dobell, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, is noted for consideration for the

Brevet rank of Major, on promotion to the rank of Captain.


An analysis of the distribution of ‘mentions in despatches’, medals and promotions awarded after the events of 6th September illustrates the social hierarchy of the late Victorian Army. In 1898 1/Highland Light Infantry while based in Malta prior to and after, its deployment in Crete consisted of a strength of approximately 700 Officers and men,[5] the overwhelming number of whom would be enlisted men and N.C.O.s. In spite of this, one third of those mentioned in the despatch, 11 out of 32, were offices, and of those given some recognition for their bravery that day, seven were officers and six were other ranks. (The brevet promotions for the Royal Welsh Fusiliers were unconnected with the events of 6 September, the RWF returning to Crete, having served there from April 18907 to August 1898, as part of the reinforcements sent following the riots.) The inclusion of so many members of the Royal Army Medical Corps in the official  Despatch reflects the fact that one of the significant locations for fighting on the 6th Sepember was around the British military hospital.

The Distinguished Conduct Medal, post-nominal letters DCM, was established in 1854 by Queen Victoria as a decoration for gallantry in the field by other ranks of the British Army. It is the oldest British award for gallantry and was a second level military decoration, ranking below the Victoria Cross, until its discontinuation in 1993. Coming with a gratuity paid on the recipients discharge from the army, all medals awarded bore the recipient’s number, rank, name and unit on the rim.

Distinguished Conduct Medal, Victorian version.

Distinguished Conduct Medal, Victorian version. (Later versions had the Monarch’s head on the reverse)

The Distinguished Conduct Medal awarded to Private William Guthrie, 1/ Highland Light Infantry, came up for sale in 2016.

Distingushed Conduct Medal awarded to Private William Guthrie, 1/Highland Light Infantry.

The following biographical details of Guthrie were recorded at the time of sale:

William Guthrie was born in Ayr, and attested for the Highland Light Infantry at Hamilton, in January 1897. He was discharged, 17 October 1899, as a consequence of the gunshot wound that he received at Kandia. The latter was ‘received in action at Crete 6.9.98… defending the military hospital when wounded… Bullet appears to have entered one sternal end of 1st rib passed outwards under the clavicle (right-side) making its exit on the outer side of arm 2 inches below point of shoulder.’ (Medical Report refers)

Guthrie had only served for 2 years and 239 days with the Colours, with the D.C.M. being his only medallic entitlement.[6]

The Royal Navy also rewarded their personnel for their bravery that day. The highest British award for bravery in the armed services, the Victoria Cross, was given to Royal Naval Surgeon William Maillard.


[1] Cf The Morning Post, London, 7 September 1898, p.4.

[2] London Gazette 24 January 1899. p458

[3] London Gazette 7 March 1899. p.1586.

[4] A Brevet promotion was an honorary, and temporary, promotion for bravery or distinguished conduct. It did not confer any seniority within the recipient’s regiment.

[5] https://www.maltaramc.com/regmltgar/71st.html

[6] https://www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb/auction-catalogues/dixnoonanwebb/catalogue-id-dix-no10028/lot-e5ab651d-9d76-4f03-bfa8-a6c501127b41


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.

Saving the Greek flag – an alternative view.

The story of how Spyros Kayales used his own body as a flagpole to raise the Greek flag after the flagpole had been knocked down during a bombardment by the European Powers on 21st February 1898 is well known in Crete. Kayales is considered a hero of the insurrection; many illustrations exist depicting this incident and a statue has been erected in his honour near the spot where the event occurred.

Spiros Kayales in later life.

Spiros Kayales’ statue, Halepa.

However, there was another contemporary view of the events which suggested a different motive for Kayales’ actions. Intriguingly, though a British rather than a Cretan source, it uses an illustration very similar to many of those often seen in Crete.

Hauling down the Greek flag.

‘ A correspondent on board on of the British men-of war lying off Canea writes: “ The men-of -war lying off Canea opened fire on the insurgents’ position as a result of the conference between the senior offices of the warships. Whilst the shells from the German, Austrian, Russian, and English ships were bursting all round the insurgents’ position on the heights above the village of Halepa, outside Canea, one of the men went to the flagstaff and hauled down the flag of Greece. This was regarded as a sign of submission and the men-of-war ceased firing. It is believed that the man who hauled down the flag was killed by the bursting of a shell on the left side of the position. No more firing from the insurgents took place that day, though they re-hoisted the flag shortly afterwards.”’


While the date of the report is not given, it appears to coincide with most of the details of the bombardment on 21 February and the time of publication would seem to indicate that it is describing this event. It would appear then that, at least to this British obsever, Kayales’ actions represented submission rather than defiance.

One final point, the flag in question, as shown by the statute and in the Graphic’s illustration would appear to be the then state flag of the Kingdom of Greece.