Tag Archives: Major Bor

The Candia massacre 1898; William Sidney Churchill and the search for a scapegoat.



Abstract. In the aftermath of a riot by Cretan Muslims in Candia (Iraklion) in 1898, which resulted in the deaths of several hundred Cretan Christians and 14 British troops, the British military authorities sought to punish those deemed responsible. Among those whose activities, before and during the riot, came under scrutiny was Major W. S. Churchill, a ‘Levantine’ in Ottoman service. This article argues that Churchill made a convenient scapegoat for the failure of British military personnel to anticipate the likelihood of unrest that day, and the short-comings of the British commander on the ground.


By early 1897, following an uprising by Cretan Christians demanding enosis, union with Greece, the majority of the Cretan Muslim population of Crete had fled to the coastal towns, seeking the protection of the established Ottoman garrisons. Upon the arrival of Greek troops and warships on the island and in its waters, the European Powers, Britain, France, Italy, Russia and, initially, Germany and Austro-Hungary, intervened on 15th February[1] to prevent a Greek annexation of the island, sending troops and ships to occupy the major towns and control Cretan waters. European concerns were that the inter-communal violence on the island would escalate to the point that one or other religious group would face annihilation and, more importantly, that a Greek take-over would result in the destabilisation of the Ottoman Empire and the outbreak of a European war over the Balkans. One element of the European Intervention involved the attempted re-organisation of the Gendarmerie, a process that had been underway prior to the arrival of European forces, albeit with little success.

On 1st March 1897, members of the existing Ottoman Gendarmerie on Crete, most of whom were Albanians, mutinied because of arrears in their pay and their replacement by a ‘New Gendarmerie’ comprising mostly of Albanians, Montenegrins and Cretans, officered by Europeans. During the process of the mutiny being put down, the mutineers shot and killed their senior officer. According to the account of the mutiny given by Colonel Bor,[2] the senior European officer of the ‘New Gendarmerie’, one of the European officers who provided ‘all possible assistance’ in putting down the mutiny was a Captain Churchill: Churchill translating for Bor and being one of the men who entered the mutineers’ barracks and ordered them to surrender immediately before firing broke out.[3]

William Sidney (also recorded as Sydney) Churchill was born Constantinople on 26th September 1860. In a report drawn up on 19th September 1898 by the Intelligence Department of the War Office (I.D.W.O.), Churchill was described as ‘…quite Levantine in speech manners and disposition’, about 42 years old and married. He spoke English, French and Greek fluently, Italian well and Turkish moderately. He served as an interpreter in the Cyprus Pioneers in the winter of 1879-80 before being ‘…discharged for indiscretions, not of a serious nature’, upon which he returned to Constantinople. A few years later he ‘…went to Egypt where he obtained employment in the Egyptian Gendarmerie, and served there for from five to seven years, rising to the rank of Captain’,[4] before returning again to Constantinople. He next appears to have gone to Crete, where in February 1897, with the approval of Colonel Bor, he was appointed to the ‘New Gendarmerie’ with the rank of Captain. With the disbanding of the both the ‘New Gendarmerie’ and the ‘Old Gendarmerie’, after the mutiny, Captain Churchill transferred to the replacement, all Cretan, Gendarmerie, under the control of the Ottoman Vali, Governor General, and was promoted to the rank of Major; the senior officer in the Gendarmerie operating in the British controlled secteur of the island and based in Candia, modern Iraklion.[5] (Of undoubted significance to later events, was that while this Gendarmerie consisted of Cretan gendarmes with European officers and hence looked less like an adjunct of the Ottoman occupying forces, so much so that 48 of the 50 Cretan Christians in the force deserted during 1897, several joining the insurrectionists.[6])

Churchill’s appointment had been viewed with satisfaction in at least some, fairly influential, British quarters. In a report date-lined Candia 24th April 1898 and published in the Manchester Guardian on 6th May 1898, Special Correspondent ‘HNB’ (H. N. Brailsford), commenting on the creation of the new Cretan Gendarmerie, rejoiced that they were commanded by:

Major Churchill, a Levantine born in Constantinople who boasts an English father…He is, however, an officer in the Turkish service, and … at present aide – de camp to Djevad Pasha [the Vali] … In three days this Turkish officer, working with his cipher key and Djevad at his back, served by thirty ragged brigands, has done more to restore order in the town of Candia than a British regiment has done in the course of a year.[7]

(However, it should be noted that Brailsford’s piece was aimed as much at castigating Major- General Sir Herbert Chermside, the British military commander, and Sir Alfred Biliotti, the British Consul, for their inaction in resolving the situation in Candia, as at praising Churchill for his ‘energy and success’.)

That Churchill was energetic appears to be beyond doubt for later that year the I.D.W.O. report also stated that he was ‘active and serious,’ before going on to state that ‘…on several occasions in the last year displayed plenty of pluck and coolness when in danger, but he is wanting in discretion’.[8]  He was further described in a letter published by a New Zealand newspaper in 1898, and reportedly written by a ‘surgeon on H.M. S. Revenge’ who claimed to know him well, as ‘…half an Englishman and more Turk than a Turk’.[9] The I.D.O.W. report also mentioned that Churchill had never been to England, and nowhere in the documentation relating to Churchill is his nationality actually mentioned.

The matter of Major Churchill’s allegiances came to the fore because of the events of 6th September 1898.[10]  In spite of concerns raised by some of the British about the possibility of a violent reaction by the Cretan Muslims to moves to take over the taxation system on the island and place it under Cretan Christian control,[11] Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Maud Reid, commander of the 1/Highland Light Infantry, newly arrived commander of the British secteur, received orders from the Council of Admirals to carry out a controversial take over the Dime, the tax office on the harbour in Candia. [12] Accordingly, Reid sought to do so, and when his initial attempt to gain control by negotiation and compromise failed because of the resistance by the Ottoman kaimakam (Town Governor) Edhem Pasha, Reid was instructed to ‘[t]ake possession at once even by force.’[13]

Describing the subsequent events, Reid stated that on the morning of 6th September, with rumours of the impending takeover circulating and Cretan Muslims gathering in the streets, he was brought a message that:

Major Churchill, commanding the Gendarmerie, would like me to send a patrol to the principal street from the Governor’s Palace to the harbour gate. I sent a picket of twenty men under Lieutenant R. J. A. Haldane…

90 minutes later Reid, who it must be remembered was a Lieutenant Colonel and the senior British Army officer in command of all British troops in Candia and Crete, himself lead a small relief party to replace Haldane’s men.[14]

On coming to the corner of the street in which the Austrian post-office stands, close to the gate of the harbour, Lieutenant Haldane reported Major Churchill did not want the picket any more. I, however, told him to remain on duty for the present, and went myself to the Dime Bureau. The door was locked. Major Churchill was there outside. I asked him (as he spoke Turkish, &c., fluently) to find out who had the key.

He said he could not do so, as the office was being taken over quite unofficially.

After a little difficulty the key was produced, the door unlocked, and my officials entered into their offices.[15]

As the British occupied the Dime, they were fired on by Bashi-Bazooks, Cretan Muslim irregulars, shooting from the city walls and the surrounding houses. Several British personnel, Lieutenant Haldane included, having been killed by the gates to the harbour, Reid’s party, including at this stage Churchill, was stranded in the Dime. One of the British party, Lieutenant Kennedy R. E., volunteered to go to the telegraph office to send for assistance and, according to Reid;

At the same time Major Churchill went (? with) him and passed on, leaving me altogether. He never returned, and does not appear to have taken any steps to get me assistance from the Turkish troops, as will be seen later on. I would beg to point out that this officer, although in the Turkish army, is in the pay of the Great Powers.[16]

In a separate report drawn up at the time and based in part on Reid’s report to Captain Hughes-Hallett, the Senior British Naval Officer and representative on the Council of Admirals on the day, Reid furthers states that;

2nd Lieutenant Seagrave reported that he had held the barracks near the telegraph office for some time, that Major Churchill had brought him in two Christians, and told him to look after them, and that he, Major Churchill, had then left him and two minutes later he was fired on from his rear, where a Turkish guard should have prevented Moslems from coming in.[17]

(Seagrave had command of a piquet at the telegraph office before they were forced out of that position, retreating to join Reid in the Dime.)

While from subsequent evidence, Churchill appears to have spent the rest of the afternoon in the konak (town administration offices), Lt. Colonel Reid also removed himself from the scene; sometime after 5p.m, he and his party were withdrawn from the harbour by a boat from H. M. S. Hazard. Reid then remained on the Hazard throughout that night, out of contact with his men, transferring to H.M.S Camperdown when she arrived on station the following morning. In spite of the Camperdown landing her detachment of marines, albeit with some difficulty, to reinforce the HLI,[18] Reid considered the weather and sea conditions too unsafe for him to land and he was still on board Camperdown on the morning of 8th September.[19]

Churchill’s alleged actions, or rather inactions, on that day are significant because 14 British personnel were killed between about 14.00, when the fighting commenced, and 17.15 when the Ottoman authorities finally intervened to put an end to the attacks: Also killed during the rioting which lasted into the night, were several hundred Cretan Christians and a handful of Cretan Muslims. The clear implication on the Reid’s part, from both his formal and informal reports, is that Churchill could have, and should have, used his authority over the Gendarmerie, and his position as a senior Ottoman officer, to take steps to prevent or mitigate the effects of the riot.

British, and other European, reinforcements poured into Candia over the next few weeks; Lt. Colonel Herbert Chermside, the previous British army commander, returned to take up command of the British land forces again, and Rear Admiral Noel, on-board HM.S. Revenge, arrived to assume his role as Senior British Office on the island and British representative on the Council of Admirals. With stability restored, came the search to identify and punish those responsible. However, while a number of ‘low-level’ culprits were swiftly found and ultimately punished, the role of the higher ranking Ottoman officials, Churchill included, was less clear cut.

According to Major R. H. Bertie, 2/Royal Welsh Fusiliers, who chaired the Court of Inquiry set up by the British to look into punishing those implicated in the murders and disorders of 6th September;

The conduct of Churchill Bey, the head of Gendarmerie, is noteworthy. Both he and Edhem Pasha were apparently at the custom-house when the insurrection commenced and left almost at the same time. The former, though careful to guard his own house, failed to safeguard those of others. Remaining stationary at the konak, he issued orders instead of personally superintending and directing his police in the Christian quarters which were denuded of them, and thus left them at the mercy of the rioters.[20]

The Inquiry’s ‘Summary of Evidence against Churchill Bey’[21] states:

Churchill Bey, a Levantine, was the Chief of the Gendarmerie in Candia and on the 6th September, accompanied Colonel Reid to the custom – house, when he went to take over the Dime Office. He placed difficulties in the way of doing this, saying that he had no orders &c. That he had previous knowledge of the impending outbreak is probable from the fact of his having given hints to British officers in the camp, but it seems doubtful whether he realized the lengths to which matters would go as it was not until after the firing broke out that he took steps to insure the safety of his own family.

When the first attack was made on the British picquet on the quay, he was near the harbour gate, where the picquet was drawn up, and soon afterwards went by a circuitous route to his office in the konak, where he arrived about 2.15 A. M. From there he sent gendarmes to bring his family to the konak, and mounted a guard of twenty over his own house. At 7.30 P.M., he was still in his office and told his brother-in-law that he had not left it all the afternoon.

In front of the Inquiry, Henri Benci, Secretary to the Gendarmerie and Churchill’s brother-in-law, gave evidence that;

[He] can swear Churchill did all he could with ninety gendarmes to stop the riots. Was at konak giving orders when witness returned at 7.30 P.M., and said he had not left since he left custom house early in the afternoon.

However, to further complicate matters, contradicting this evidence of Churchill doing what he could to stop the riot, another witness before the Inquiry, Sami Bey, a Moulazim (Lieutenant) of Gendarmerie, retracted part of his earlier written deposition given to the Ottoman court of inquiry; a deposition apparently given at a meeting allegedly attended by Edhem Pasha and Churchill. In a verbal statement to the British he is reported to have said:

My deposition before the Turkish misstated the […] facts. He was told to say under pressure, that had not Major Churchill been on the spot, the whole town would have been burnt out.[22]

A further accusation was leveled at Churchill. Hughes-Hallett’s report, previously referred to, contains an allegation that:

An officer of…[H.M.S.] Astrea states, and is willing to give evidence that, on 2nd September he heard Major Churchill boasting that if the English tried to land during any row he could place men in every window and destroy them, that he was a Turk and would die with the Turkish flag round him.[23]

In spite of the enormity of the accusations against Churchill and the apparent formality of the investigations carried out by the British, it does not appear that Major Churchill was afforded the opportunity to respond to any of the allegations made about his conduct or his loyalties; no evidence appears to exist of him making any statement to the British authorities on the events of that day or his allegiance with respect to the Ottoman Empire. In the end however, the investigations appear to have uncovered no evidence, other than hearsay, that Churchill had committed any crime. Unsurprisingly, no record appears to exist as to what, if any, action was taken against Major Churchill by the British authorities, or for that matter by the Ottomans; although a somewhat plaintive report from Admiral Noel to the Admiralty on 3rd December concluded with the submission that:

“…the criminal behaviour of the Governor and his officials and soldiers may be brought to the notice of the Turkish Government, with the request that due punishment may be inflicted on the principal offender, Edham Pasha, and his associates…”[24]

Edhem Pasha. Canea 1898

The British were clearly faced with a dilemma as to what to do about Churchill; he hadn’t obviously broken any law, and any accusation of dereliction or default in his duty would have to be dealt with by the Ottoman authorities since he was a member of the Cretan Gendarmerie and subject to Ottoman discipline. The British difficulty over Churchill was acknowledged in a memo from the Foreign Office to the Secretary of State for War which alludes to the suggestion that ‘…if the charges against him [Churchill] are substantiated upon enquiry steps should be taken for stopping his pay and procuring his dismissal by the Turkish government.’[25] While the memo doesn’t state what, if any, charges were being contemplated, it does make it clear that the consequences of such charges being proven were unlikely to be onerous, other than possibly financially.

That it was considered necessary by the British to replace him was minuted as early as 12th September at a conference held on board H.M.S. Revenge, and attended by Reid, Hughes-Hallett, Biliotti and, presumably although he is not mentioned in the minute, Rear Admiral Noel, whose flagship it was and who had arrived in Crete that day. The minute records, in a comment which appears to have been made by Reid, that ‘Churchill should not be removed till there is a man to replace him.’ Discussion then took place as to a suitable replacement for Churchill; the two names mentioned were ‘Son of Sir Henry Forsythe, was at Smyrna. 35 years of age, fit to replace Churchill. No experience of Gendarmerie work’ and, in a marginal note: ‘Woods at Constantinople. Both speak Greek and Turkish.’[26]

In the event, the deaths of the British servicemen on 6th September triggered, within a few months, the forced evacuation of all Ottoman forces from the island, and Churchill would have appeared to have gone with them. The Gendarmerie was once again disbanded: Its place being taken in the British secteur by a force of 30 men of the Cyprus Gendarmerie, seconded to Crete for a three-month period who arrived in November,[27] and by December, by a Garde Civique consisting of 187 Muslim Cretans and 376 Cretan Christians.[28]

While the evacuation of the Ottoman forces undoubtedly solved a political crisis that had been facing the occupying European Powers, namely how to grant Crete a degree of autonomy within the Ottoman Empire while thousands of Ottoman troops remained on the island, the British military had to account for their shortcomings leading up to the events of 6th September. Shortly prior to that date, the British forces had been subject to constant changes of command. On 23rd June Colonel Sir Herbert Chermside who had been the British Army commander on the island since the arrival of British troops in early 1897, left Crete to go on a period of extended leave, his role being taken over initially by Lieutenant Colonel R. Mainwaring, commanding the 2/Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Mainwaring was shortly after replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Reid, 1/Highland Light Infantry. According to one account, Mainwaring’s replacement was because of his showing too much sympathy for the plight of the Muslim refugees in Candia,[29] although in reality, the replacement had more to do with troop rotation; in August, the Highland Light Infantry relieved the Welsh Fusiliers, the Highlanders having to be sent from the depot in Britain there being no troops available in Malta.[30] Arriving on 3rd August, Reid, described by a marine officer who met him while Reid was en-route to Crete as: ”[A] Colonel who explained how he would have dished Napoleon long before Waterloo had he been in Wellington’s boots…,”[31] appears to have been somewhat out of his depth. Writing to Biliotti shortly after his arrival Reid admitted:

Of course you will appreciate the difficulty under which I labour for I am quite new to the work and have had practically no papers for my guidance handed over to me nor do I really know what the Council of Admirals is doing as beyond sending me copies of the Séances [meetings] I get no communications from them.[32] 

To further complicate matters, for reasons which are not apparent in the archives, the Foreign Office were not informed until the end of August that Reid had taken over as British Commander, finding out only when they received copies of private correspondence between Mainwaring and Chermside, three weeks after Reid’s arrival on Crete.[33] Although as the commander of the British troops attacked that day Lieutenant Colonel Reid was mentioned in despatches, he retired from his regiment, and the army, in 1899. Re-joining the army after the outbreak of the Great War, despite his previous regimental affiliation he never again held a commission in a Scottish regiment nor commanded men in action; serving his time in training or labour battalions.


From the naval point of view matters were little better, the Royal Navy’s resources had also been run down, having ‘…fallen to three ships – one battleship, the captain of which, having a seat on the [Admiral’s] Council, generally remained at Suda, one cruiser, and one gunboat.’[34]

Of significance, is the fact that the commander of the remaining British Battleship H. M. S. Camperdown, was Captain Hughes-Hallett who, as a Captain, was outranked by the three other members of the Council of Admirals. Although the Council was theoretically operating on the basis of unanimous consent, Hughes-Hallett clearly did not feel sufficiently confident in his role as the junior member of the Council to veto the proposed takeover of the Dime; a takeover which was always going to be more difficult in Candia given the much larger number of Cretan Muslims in the town than in the other secteurs. (In the later publication attributed to him, Hughes-Hallett wrote: ‘A wish expressed by the doyen [of Admirals] at the council board invariably met at once with a corresponding wish on the part of his junior officers to fall in with his views as far as possible, out of respect for his rank and position…’ If these are the views of Hughes-Hallett, they go some considerable way to explain his failure to stand up more forcefully against the takeover of the Dime.)[35]

Significantly, immediately after the riot, the Royal Naval contingent in Cretan waters was placed under the direct command of a Rear Admiral: Rear Admiral Noel who was to remain on station until the dissolution of the Council of Admirals in December 1898.

Privately criticised by his superiors for apparently spending too much time writing despatches and for not anticipating the disturbances,[36] albeit probably unfairly since he did in fact warn of the consequences of the takeover of the Dime, Captain Hughes-Hallett was placed on the retired list in October 1899.

The seeds of the riot had ultimately been sown in July when the Council of Admirals had effectively handed over the control of the administration of the island, beyond the occupied cities, to the Christian Assembly;[37] a body made up of the remaining Christian delegates of the now defunct General Assembly and insurrectionary leaders.[38] This body had no remit within the towns occupied by European forces and hence no tax gathering capabilities within the major population areas. The decision to transfer the Dime to Christian control was one which should have been anticipated to have been highly unpopular with Cretan Muslims; particularly those who had fled to the towns as refugees. One of the few remaining effective sources of raising revenue on the island was being handed to the Cretan Christians, and since in effect only Cretan Muslims in the towns were paying any taxes on the island at this juncture, the latter viewed this as them having to pay for a rebellion carried out against them. Additionally, Christian control of the Dime meant a loss of Muslim jobs, and the status attached to them, in a town overcrowded with penniless Cretan Muslim refugees.

Given the overcrowding in Candia caused by refugees fleeing the countryside, the unpopularity of the transfer of the Dime, the rundown of British troop numbers in the town and the apparent confusion in the command structure of the British troops, the fact that there was an outbreak of rioting on September 6th is not unsurprising. Consequently, the criticism of Churchill smacks of the desire to find a scapegoat for the failure of the Council of Admirals to anticipate the likely reaction of the Cretan Muslims to the takeover of the Dime, and for the shortcomings of Colonel Reid.

If Churchill had had some intimation of the possibility of an outbreak of violence when the Dime was to be taken over, and had ‘given hints to the British officers in the camp,’ why had the British officers not acted on those hints, and why did Reid go off to the Dime with a minimal escort?

Since Reid had put himself in a position whereby he was caught up in the middle of events and unable to exert any influence or control over his men, other than those within shouting distance, the implication in the British Inquiry report that Churchill should have left his command post at the konak to get involved on the street seems to be somewhat disingenuous. Indeed, it is difficult to see what Churchill, with his handful of gendarmes, nearly all of whom would have been Cretan Muslims, could have done in the face of an armed, rioting, mob when Edhem Pasha, who had control over all the Ottoman military forces in the town including both the Gendarmerie and regular military, so pointedly declined to take any action until late in the day. It must be borne in mind also that the Bashi-Bazooks were not the only ones rioting; evidence given to the British Inquiry indicated that while a small number of gendarmes were seen looting, three instances being cited,[39] much larger numbers of regular Ottoman troops were seen looting and firing upon both British troops and Cretan Christians, 48 such incidents being recorded.[40] Even given the disparity in numbers between the Ottoman regulars and the gendarmes, the latter being outnumbered by at least 30 to 1 by the regulars,[41] this might seem to indicate that, whether he was present to control them on the streets or not, Churchill’s gendarmes were the better disciplined body; although at least one of them, Nedjib Toulianos, was sentenced to hard labour for life by the British Military Tribunal for his part in the riot.[42] Indeed, in spite of his experiences, Reid, at a conference on board H.M.S. Revenge on 12 September, is recorded as stating that ‘[the] Gendarmerie behaved quite well. 115 in no. Paid by us.’[43]

Churchill had the additional attraction as a scapegoat in the fact that, while he wasn’t ‘Turkish’, he clearly was clearly seen as not being wholly ‘British’ either. The references to his being ‘Levantine in speech manners and disposition’, ‘half an Englishman and more Turk than a Turk’ and the mention of the fact that he had apparently never been to England would suggest that the inherent racism of the British army of the late 19th century may also have played a role in his condemnation: The British forces in Crete at this time made little effort to hide their contempt of all the parties involved in the island’s convoluted affairs. Additionally, given the British public reaction to the reports of Ottoman atrocities towards Christians in other parts of the Ottoman Empire over the previous 20 years, and the casualties suffered by the British army and the Cretan Christians during the 6th September rioting, the Ottomans, and those working for them, were clearly targets for punishment/retribution. In the aftermath of the riot between 14th September and 2nd December 209 Cretan Muslims were arrested or detained by the British; in total 17 were hanged for the murder of British troops and British citizens, a further two were shot by International forces for the murder of Cretan Christians, and others received sentences of up to 20 years penal servitude.[44]

The responsibility for the loss of British lives, more than were killed at the battle of Omdurman, clearly lay principally with the Cretan Muslims who carried out the killings. However, leading up to the riot were a series of failures on the part of both British politicians and military. The British Government initially sent the military into Crete to support the status-quo in the shape of the Ottoman governance of the island. That aim having been achieved without serious bloodshed, the troops were then left there without any clear objective other than to ‘keep the peace’ between the Christians and the Muslims. While at no time had the number of British troops on the island been sufficient to make any other than a token response had either the Ottoman or Cretan Christian forces made a serious effort to evict them, by September 1898, their numbers had been so reduced as to make any meaningful action on their part almost impossible. Confined, in effect, to operate within the range of the guns of the Royal Navy, in Candia they were surrounded by a hostile population who having once looked on them as in some sense ‘allies’ sent to protect them from the Greeks, now saw them as a part of those forces determined to overturn Cretan Muslim political dominance. Meanwhile, the Foreign Office, having, in conjunction with the other Powers, determined that the island would become an Autonomous State, showed no urgency in resolving the issues surrounding that decision: Little notice was taken in Britain of the growing unrest among Cretan Muslims, in spite of warnings sent by the British Consul, Sir Alfred Biliotti. There were failures also on the part of British military intelligence – in both senses of the word. Although aware of the potential for, and likelihood of, disorder should the takeover of the Dime be ordered, neither of the British commanders on the island proved adequate to the task. Hughes-Hallett allowed himself to be over-ruled at the Council of Admirals in spite of his misgivings. This error was compounded by him remaining in Canea on the day appointed for the takeover; had his ship, H. M. S.  Camperdown, a pre-Dreadnaught battleship, been present off Candia rather than H. M. S. Hazard, a small torpedo gun-boat, a much clearer signal of the British determination to carry out the transfer of power would have been sent. On the army side, evidence in Hughes-Hallett’s report previously referred to, clearly suggests that it was known, or at least believed, from what Churchill had allegedly said, that there was the likelihood of significant unrest. Yet, in spite of this, Lt. Colonel Reid took no steps to alert his men to the possibility of trouble before leaving them and, with only a token force, going carry out an operation he knew was likely to provoke a hostile response.

Irrespective of who was ultimately responsible for the events of 6th September, in spite of the criticism, both implied and explicit, of Churchill’s behaviour, he was beyond the reach of the British authorities and he left the island without action being taken against him. Although little appears to be on record concerning Churchill’s later career, his actions on Crete did not appear to have adversely affected him. According to entries in the Ottoman Archives catalogue held in the Prime Ministry archives in Istanbul, Churchill remained in Ottoman service and was promoted to Colonel in 1907 while working as a council member in the Gendarmerie Directorate (Jandarma Dairesi Azasý). The last entry about him in this source concerns his planned assignment to Pera (Beyoðlu) Police Directorate, which was dated 3rd September 1912.[45]

Churchill Bey in Pera c.1912. Photograph courtesy of David Barchard.

Churchill died in Constantinople on 30th July 1918 and was buried – together with his wife Elisabeth Benci – in the Catholic cemetery of Feriköy in a grave belonging to his wife’s family.


Post Script.

An internet search carried out in early 2017 failed to produce any photograph of Churchill. However, as mentioned above, he is known to have been involved in the suppression of the Gendarmerie mutiny, acting as an interpreter.

Two illustrations, both in the Illustrated London News of 20th March 1897, show this event. These illustrations have the clearly identifiable figure of Major Bor and, associated with him and in close proximity as would be expected of an interpreter, a European figure dressed in Gendarmerie uniform but wearing a tasselled fez.

Bor and Churchill in the barracks of mutineering Gendarmes.

Major Bor, second left with right arm forward, in Gendarmerie barracks. According to the very faint and only just legible, artist’s description on the illustration, Captain Churchill, right hand raised, is immediately behind him.

Bor haranguing mutineers prior to their removal from Crete. Churchill behind him.

Major Bor in centre with hand raised haranguing the mutineers prior to their deportation from Crete. Churchill behind him to his left.

Major Churchill with Welsh troops overseeing a market.

The above photograph, supplied by Mr Ron Phillips, provenance unknown, shows Major Churchill, and members of 2/ Royal Welsh Fusiliers, attending a market outside Candia. Markets were instituted by the British in early 1898 in an attempt to build up confidence between the two rival communities. The original hand-written description on the photograph reads: “The market. G Dickson with a pair of semaphore flags. Major Griffets. Major Churchill.”






[1] Dates are given as per the Gregorian calendar in use at that time in Britain and most of Europe; the calendar in use on Crete in 1896-1899 was 12 days behind that used by most of the European Powers. Hence, in Crete, the events of 6th September 1898 are usually referred to as having taken place on 25th August.

[2] James Henry Bor was a substantive Major in the Royal Marines Artillery. On secondment to the ‘New’ Cretan Gendarmerie he held the Gendarmerie rank of Colonel. On the disbandment of the ‘New ‘Gendarmerie he reverted to the rank of Major before being give the honorary rank of Colonel when placed in command of the multi-national force at Fort Izzeden, Suda Bay in April 1897. Bor died in 1914 in Ireland, having reached the rank of General in the Royal Marines.

[3] National Archive   ADM116/89 Colonel Bor to Governor General of Crete. 3 March 1897

[4] National Archive   ADM 116/93 Vol.2. ‘Antecedents of Major Churchill of the Cretan Gendarmerie, from information supplied by Major Bor, R.M.A.’ Compiled by Staff Captain Forester Walker. I.D.W.O. 19 September 1898. Churchill is listed in ‘Annuaire Egyptian adimnistratif et commercial’ as serving as an Officer Commandant in the Cairo Police in 1891/1892. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k5802380m/f65.item.r=CHURCHILL

[5] By late 1898 The overall governance of Crete was in the hands of a Council of Admirals consisting of the Senior Naval Officers from each of the occupying Powers. The island was divided into four secteurs, each occupied by and under the control of a European Power. The Italians in Selinos, the Russians in Rethymno, the British in Candia, and the French in Sitia. The then capital, Canea, was occupied by a mixed force.

[6] Rodogno D. (2012) Against Massacre: Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire, 1815-1914. Princeton University Press. F.N. 37. Chapter 9. p.331.

[7] Manchester Guardian.  May 6, 1898, p.10

[8] National Archive ADM 116/93 Vol.2. ‘Antecedents of Major Churchill of the Cretan Gendarmerie, from information supplied by Major Bor, R.M.A.’ Compiled by Staff Captain Forester Walker. I.D.W.O. 19 September 1898.

[9] http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=CHP18981119.2.53

[10] 25th August by the Cretan, Julian, calendar in use on the island at the time.

[11] Both the Senior British Naval Officer on the island at the time, Captain Harry Francis Hughes-Hallett, and the British Consul, Sir Alfred Biliotti, as well as the Russian and Italian Consuls, had reservations. However, the Council of Admirals’ views predominated. National Archive ADM 116/93, Vol.2. Despatch 11 October 1898, p.2. Telegram No.64 Biliotti to Lord Salisbury, 30 September 1898.

[12] The word Dime referred to both the tax levied on certain exports and the building in which the tax was collected.

[13] National Archive ADM 116/93, Vol.2. Despatch 11 October 1898, p.2. Telegram No.64 Biliotti to Lord Salisbury, 30 September 1898

[14] National Archive ADM116/93 Vol 2. Report of Lt. Col Reid to Captain Hallett. Candia 7 September 1898. Inclosure No 1 in No.1, Consul Biliotti to Salisbury 7 September 1898.

Reid, who by his own admission ‘was quite new to the work’ and had ‘practically no papers to guide [him]’ has been criticised for taking a ‘subalterns command’ and getting stuck in the Dime and out of contact with the bulk of his forces for nearly 24 hours, rather than being in a position to command the whole of the British troops in the town.


[16] National Archive ADM116/93 Vol 2. Report of Lt. Col Reid to Captain Hallett. Candia 7 September 1898. Inclosure No 1 in No.1, Consul Biliotti to Salisbury 7 September 1898.

[17] National Archive   ADM116/93 Vol 2. Extracts referring to the behaviour of Major Churchill of the Cretan Gendarmerie during the recent outbreak. In No.1, Consul Biliotti to Salisbury 7 September 1898.

[18] Drury W.P. In many Parts: Memoirs of a Marine. T. Fisher Unwin London 1926. ps.168-171

[19] National Archive ADM 116/93 Vol.2. Lt. Col Reid to Secretary of State for War. H.M.S. Camperdown 8.10a.m., 8 September 1898.

[20] National Archive FO421/178. Inclosure No.2 in No. 448. Major Bertie to Rear National Archive  ADMiral Noel, 14 November 1898

[21] National Archive FO421/178. Inclosure No. 5. Summary of evidence against Churchill Bey.

[22] National Archive FO421/178 Inclosure No. 8. Detailed evidence taken by Court of Inquiry against (a) Edhem Pasha (b) Churchill Bey.

[23] National Archive   ADM116/93 Vol 2. Extracts referring to the behaviour of Major Churchill of the Cretan Gendarmerie during the recent outbreak. In No.1, Consul Biliotti to Salisbury 7 September 1898.

[24] National Archive FO421/178 Admiral G.H. Noel to Admiral Sir J. Hopkins 3 December 1898. In Incl.1 in #448.

[25] National Archive ADM116/93 Vol 2. Memo, Foreign Office to Secretary of State for War. 15 October 1898.

[26] National Maritime Museum, Noel Papers. NOE10/1.  Notes on Conference on board Revenge. 12 Sept.1898.

[27] National Archive ADM 116/93, Vol.2 Inclosure No.2. in No.1. Chermside to Salisbury, 6 December 1898. Diary of events.

[28] National Archive ADM 116/93, Vol.2 Inclosure No.1. in No.1. Chermside to Noel, 6 December 1898.

[29] David Barchard, ‘The Fearless and Self-Reliant Servant. The Life and Career of Sir Alfred Biliotti (1833-1915), an Italian Levantine in British Service’, Studi Miceni ed Egeo-Anatolici, 48 (2006), 36.

[30] National Archive WO 33/149. No. 122. Commander in Chief Malta to Secretary of State for War, 19 August 1898.

[31] Drury W.P. In many Parts: Memoirs of a Marine. T. Fisher Unwin London 1926. p.161. However, this was written some 28 years after the meeting.

[32] National Archive, Foreign Office file FO 78/4934. Ottoman Empire: Correspondence with Consul Sir Alfred Biliotti, Canea [Chania]. Diplomatic correspondence. Despatches 46-85.] Lieutenant Colonel Reid to Biliotti 16 August 1898.

[33]Ibid. Memorandum. G. Fairholme, 25 August 1898.

[34]National Maritime Museum, Noel Papers NOE10/1. ‘A Naval Officer.’ The Admirals and the Navy in Crete. 7. According to Prichard, this article was written by Captain Hughes-Hallett. See:  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), p.2. Hereafter Pritchard.

[35] National Maritime Museum, Noel Papers NOE10/1. ‘A Naval Officer.’ The Admirals and the Navy in Crete. 13.

[36] Prichard, F.N. 35, p.31.

[37] National Archive FO 78/4933. Ottoman Empire: Correspondence with Consul Sir Alfred Biliotti, Canea [Chania]. Diplomatic correspondence. Despatches 1-45. [Hereafter; FO 78/4933] Biliotti to Salisbury, 28 July 1898.

[38] Şenişik, The Transformation of Ottoman Crete, 180 & 185-193.

[39] National Archive FO421/178. Inclosure 11 in No. 448. Detailed evidence taken by Committee of Inquiry relative to Turkish Gendarmerie.

[40] National Archive FO421/178. Inclosure 9 in No. 448. Detailed evidence taken by Committee of Inquiry relative to Turkish Troops (Regulars) and FO421/178. Inclosure 7 in No. 448. Summary of evidence against Turkish Troops (Regulars)

[41]National Archive FO421/178 Return showing number of Troops &c. from Crete, disembarked at Salonica, between October 31 and November 11, 1898, indicates at least 1206 regular Ottoman troops can be identified as having left from Candia.  FO421/178, Inclosure in No. 264, Rear Admiral Noel to Admiralty, 11 November 1898, puts the number at between 800 and 900, while the Revenge Conference minutes estimates their number in Candia during the riot at 3,000. National Maritime Museum, Noel Papers. NOE10/1.  Notes on Conference on board Revenge. 12 Sept.1898.

The maximum number of gendarmes as indicated by the sources quoted in the text above, was 115.

[42] National Maritime Museum, Noel Papers. NOE10/1. List of Moslem Cretans arrested between 14 Sept. ‘98 and 2 Dec. ’98. (inclusive), for complicity in the events in Candia on 6 Sept. 98, with results of trials etc.

[43] National Maritime Museum, Noel Papers. NOE10/1.  Notes on Conference on board Revenge. 12 Sept.1898.

[44] National Maritime Museum, Noel Papers. NOE10/1. List of Moslem Cretans arrested between 14 Sept. ‘98 and 2 Dec. ’98. (inclusive), for complicity in the events in Candia on 6 Sept. 98, with results of trials etc

[45] Personal e-mail correspondence to author 29 October 2015

The Revolt of the Cretan Gendarmerie

On the face of it, any government seeking to control a troublesome population must first ensure the loyalty of those forces it will rely on to keep the population in check and ensuring that these forces actually get paid would probably, by most, be considered to be a priority. Unfortunately for the Ottoman authorities on Crete in March 1897, they had neither the money, nor possibly the will, to pay the ‘old’ gendarmerie, a paramilitary force of Albanians specifically recruited to serve on Crete to maintain law and order. (Lack of money may be accounted for in part by the actions of Djordje Berovich Pasha, the previous Vali, the Ottoman Governor-General of Crete, who on 14th February 1898 with the Cretan state in crisis after the landing of Greek troops, “…having paid himself and Christian followers out of the public chest the amount due to themselves as salaries, took refuge on board the Russian iron-clad “Nicholas I”, and subsequently fled to Trieste in the Austrian Lloyd’s steamer which left that evening.”[1])

Djordje Berovich Pasha, the runaway Vali.

Complaints of the inefficiency of the Albanian gendarmes had resulted in 1896, in the recruitment of a ‘new’ force of Montenegrin gendarmes, initially under the command of Major J. H. Bor, Royal Marine Artillery. With this intake  the ‘new’ gendarmerie consisted of three companies under the command of seven European officers; a total of 225 men made up of ninety six Albanians,  eighty Montenegrins, fifty Cretan Christians, forty eight of whom promptly deserted to the rebels when the insurrection broke out, and thirty Muslim Cretans.[2]

European Offices of the International Gendarmarie Commission. Major Bor  front row middle

Proposals to reform the gendarmerie in order to make it a more representative body consisting of Cretan Christians and Muslims, agreed as a part of the Halepa Pact in 1878 but never implemented, were also being discussed by 1897 and any such reform would undoubtedly have impacted particularly on the jobs of the ‘old’ gendarmerie; another possible cause of the Albanians’ discontent.

On the morning of 1st March 1897, Bor reported to the acting Vali that some forty men of the ‘old’ gendarmerie had refused to do their duty and were demanding that they receive their arrears of pay.[3]  A British reporter in Canea at that time, Ardern George Hulme–Beaman, stated in his diary that the dispute was the fault of ‘a few ruffians’ and that the arrears in question were some 18 months pay.[4] During that day Bor saw a number of the mutineers individually and tried to persuade them to return to work, promising that they would be paid. On two occasions that day he also went to the gendarmes barracks, in the company of Colonel Suleiman Bey, the Albanian commander of the gendarmes, to speak to the men en masse in an attempt to persuade them to resume their duties, but to no avail: On the latter occasion an altercation broke out between Suleiman Bey and one of the mutineers when Suleiman Bey pushed the man who was being insubordinate and talking excitedly; an altercation which came to an end when the mutineers grabbed their rifles and said ‘they would have no force used.’ [5] The mutineers also attempted to kidnap one of their own officers, Major Mehmeh Agha, who had to be rescued from the barracks by Major Craveri, an Italian officer serving in the gendarmerie.

The following morning, 2 March, Bor was summoned to meet the Admirals of the Great Powers and went to the Italian Battleship ‘Stromboli’ to do so.  In his report to the Governor-General, Bor states that the Admirals approved his suggestion that, there being rumours of the mutineers intending to commit acts of violence in furtherance of their pay dispute, the gendarmes be disarmed at bayonet point by troops from the Great Powers. Accordingly Bor returned to the gendarmes barracks accompanied by a force of Italian and Russian sailors under the command of the Italian Captain Amoretti. On reaching the barracks Bor first went inside, accompanied by  Hulme–Beaman, and attempted once more to persuade the mutineers to return to work, promising them three months pay at once if they returned to their duty. This offer was refused.

Bor and Colonel Sulieman Bey then went outside and only at this point did Bor inform Suleiman Bey of the plan to disarm his men. Having collected the International troops Bor and Suleiman Bey then re- entered the barracks, Bor going with one file of men to the refectory on the left hand side of the door, Suleiman Bey with his troops going to the one on the right. According to Bor’s account, three shots were fired at them almost immediately on their entering and the foreign sailors immediately returned fire from outside the doors. The gunfire continued for about a minute until the gendarmes retreated from the room and called out their surrender. The gendarmes, having suffered five wounded, one of whom later died, were then taken out of the barracks one by one and disarmed, this presumably being done by gendarmerie offices since Bor states that the foreign sailors did not enter the building.  One Italian seaman was wounded but probably the most significant loss was the death of Colonel Suleiman Bey who was fatally wounded during the shooting and who died half an hour after.

Supression of Gendarmes’ mutiny. Illustrated London News 20 March 1897 Mutinous gendarmes

Suppression of Gendarmes’ mutiny. Soliel du Dimanche. 4 April 1897.

Suppression of Gendarmes’ mutiny. La Tribuna Illustrata Della Domenica. 14 March 1897.

Bor concluded his report by stating that in spite of the failure of the original plan to disarm the mutineers at bayonet point, the cause of the shooting was the mutineers firing on the foreign troops and he was happy with the arrangements made by the Italian and Russian officers.[6] Hulme-Beaman’s account gives a slightly different version of events. According to him, Major Craveri, described by Hulme-Beaman as Lieutenant Craveri,[7] lead the Italian sailors into the first room and there grabbed one of the mutineers standing guard by the door. At this another mutineer fired at Craveri where upon the hence Italian sailors returned fire. Hulme-Beaman alleges that the Italians, owing to”… the natural excitability of the Italian character” were the only foreign troops to open fire, the “…more phlegmatic Russians” not doing so since their orders were to use their bayonets only. Hulme-Beaman’s disdain for the Italians’ actions is further shown when he states: “…I scarcely need to say however that we did not get the Iron Cross for Valour awarded by King Humbert to several others who, I believe, were never inside the [barracks].”[8]

The mutiny signalled the end of the Ottoman gendarmerie on Crete and within days the existing gendarmerie, both “new” and “old”, were disbanded; the British Foreign Secretary George Curzon reporting to the House of Commons: “We understand that the Gendarmerie Commission, consisting of English, French, and Italian members, paid off the new Gendarmerie on the 11th instant. There still remain in Canea the Mussulman Gendarmes of the old organisation, numbering 49 officers and 535 men.”[9]

The majority of the mutineers were exiled from Crete but not before being harangued by Major Bor!

Major Bor haranguing captured mutineers prior to their removal from Crete. Illustrated London News, 20th March 1897.

Their place was initially taken by four separate bodies, one for each of the sectors of European rule, until in 1899, Crete by now being an Autonomous State within the Ottoman Empire, the High Commissioner, Prince George, ordered a further reorganisation. The four bodies were subsequently merged into one modelled on the Italian Carabinieri and commanded by Major Craveri.




[1] Rear Admiral Harris to Admiralty 24 February 1897. House of Commons Papers. [C.8429] Turkey. No. 9 (1897). Reports on the situation in Crete. p.2

[2] Rodogno D. (2012) Against Massacre: Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire, 1815-1914. Princeton University Press. F.N. 37. Chapter 9. p.331.

[3] Colonel Bor to the Governor –General of Crete 3 March 1897. In inclosure No.3 Captain Custance to Rear Admiral Harris.  House of Commons Papers. [C.8429] Turkey. No. 9 (1897). Reports on the situation in Crete. p.12.

[4] Hulme-Beaman.A.G. (1898) Twenty Years In The Near East. Metheun. London. p.258.

[5] Colonel Bor to the Governor –General of Crete 3 March 1897. In inclosure No.3 Captain Custance to Rear Admiral Harris.  House of Commons Papers. [C.8429] Turkey. No. 9 (1897). Reports on the situation in Crete. p.12.

[6] Ibid.p.13

[7] This is not the first instance of Hulm-Beaman ‘demoting’ an officer. Throughout his account, he refers to Colonel Bor as Major Bor; the latter being his substantive British rank, the former his rank within the gendarmerie.

[8] Hulme-Beaman.A.G. (1898) Twenty Years In The Near East. Metheun. London. pp.260-262.

[9] House of Commons Debate. Hansard 16 March 1897 vol 47 cc764-8


Montenegrin Gendarmes on Crete.

As a part of the August Agreements of 1896, designed to bring an end to the outbreak of fighting on the island, it was agreed by the Porte that the Cretan gendarmerie required to be re-organised. “The native Cretan [Muslim] gendarmerie had such a want of discipline, such partiality and had given such unsatisfactory results, that the Turkish War Minister was in favour of all gendarmes being non-Cretan. The Turkish views in this direction had indeed been previously illustrated by the importation of a large Albanian contingent, undisciplined, and recruited without care as to character and antecedents, and subsequently left without pay or training.”[1]

To this end a European Commission was set up consisting of Commissioners from Britain, France, Italy and Russia; the British delegate being Colonel Herbert Chermside. Under the terms of the August Agreements, a condition of its organisation was that two thirds of the force had to be Christian, and the Commission accepted as a starting point that the gendarmerie was to be an armed body. Given that no Ottoman Christians had undergone military training, in January 1897 the Commission proposed recruiting of a number of trained men as gendarmes from neighbouring states and countries such as Montenegro, Bosnia, Greek speaking areas of Bulgaria and Cyprus. While there appears to have been some disagreement, or at least debate, over the proportion of the force that could or should be composed of aliens to Crete, it was recognised that: “… ‘[t]he desire to utilize, as far as possible, and to discipline the Cretan element [of the gendarmerie] met with little favour as a practical measure…” Consequently, while “…admit[ting] the eventual contingency of a purely Cretan force, […] for the actual inception of the organization, the full proportion of aliens was adopted.. “[2]

Command of the new gendarmerie was eventually given to the British officer Major Bor, RMA, although not without opposition from both the Porte and the Russian government, and recruiting commenced.

International Officers of ‘New’ Gendarmerie. Montenegrin Officers marked in red.

The initial intake to the ‘new’ gendarmerie consisted of three companies under the command of seven European officers; a total of 225 men made up of 96 Albanians, 80 Montenegrins and 30 Muslim Cretans. Also recruited were some 50 Cretan Christians – 48 of whom promptly deserted to the Cretan Christian rebels when the insurrection broke out in late February.[3]

The usefulness of the Montenegrin contingent was also open to question. On February 13th, with Canea rapidly being surrounded by Cretan Christian insurgents and a Greek flotilla under Prince George having arrived off Canea the previous day, the Vali (Governor) Berovic Pasa, fled to the safety of the Russian Ironclad. He remained on board the Russian ship for 24 hours before taking the Austro-Hungarian Lloyds steamer to Trieste on 15th February; along with the treasury. However, the Vali was not alone in boarding the Russian ship. On February 19th 1897, The Times reported:

“Among the many strange occurrences of the last few days is the sudden disappearance of the Montenegrin company of gendarmes. The conduct of the late Vali in transferring them on board the Russian warships seems inexplicable, unless it is to be assumed that a previous understanding existed between him and the Russian Government. His Excellency had appropriated the Montenegrin corps – a remarkably fine set of men – as his bodyguard immediately on their arrival, apparently distrusting both the Turkish troops and the Cretan gendarmes. Up to the moment of his departure they were employed exclusively in guarding his residence at Halepa, which he rarely quitted after the outbreak of the disturbances. In reply to Colonel Bor’s demand that the men should be sent ashore, the Russian Admiral stated that he had telegraphed to the Prince of Montenegro asking whether it was His Highness’ pleasure that they should remain in Crete. For five days the men were detained on board, notwithstanding an order sent by Colonel Bor to their captain to bring them ashore immediately. On Tuesday the Russian Ambassador in Constantinople telegraphed that they might be landed if they wished and if their services were desired. Nevertheless, they were detained until late in the afternoon, when they were allowed to land. It appears the authorities neglected to swear in the men on their arrival, so technically they were not amendable to discipline.”[4]

Russian troops and Montenegrin gendarmes in Rethymno.

Montenegrin gendarmes.

International Officers, including Montenegrins. Picture taken before November 1898.

The gendarme seated in the front row bears a passing resemblance to Mašan Božović, who is described, albeit on Wikipedia, as:  “… participat[ing] in the leadership of the Montenegrin Detachment in Crete as part of the international peacekeeping troops on that island.”

Montenegrin gendarme on Crete. Mašan Božović

By early March 1897, it was apparent that the lack of local Christian recruits into the new body, the unreliability of the Montenegrin contingent and the lack of finance from the Porte to pay for the existing gendarmerie, let alone the ‘new’ gendarmerie, had put the whole re-organisation into jeopardy. Matters were further complicated when, on 1st March 1897, the ‘old’ gendarmerie went on strike over them not being paid for 18 months or so. The mutiny was eventually put down by Major Bor with the assistance of a detachment of Italian and Russian sailors; although not without loss of life.[5]

With European sailors and marines now landed at the major towns on Crete, the Powers were no longer prepared to carry the financial and organisational burdens of maintaining the ‘new’ gendarmerie and on 7th March 1897 the British Ambassador in Constantinople, Sir Philip Currie,  instructed Chermside “…that the officers and men of the new Cretan gendarmerie should be paid off and discharged, and that the Gendarmerie Commission, with the assistance of the Consuls, should do this with the least possible delay.” [6] On 9th March,  Major Bor tendered his resignation to the new Vali.[7]

That day, 9th March, Currie reported to the British Foreign Minister Lord Salisbury that the European Gendarmerie Commission propose to leave Crete and return to Constantinople, arrangements being made to pay off the new gendarmerie:

“Officers will receive three months’ pay and the Montenegrin soldier’s one month’s as an indemnity, in addition to pay for the last month, and the cost of their journey home…. the old Mussleman gendarmerie, consisting of 49 officers and 535 men, still exists.”[8]

On 13th March Col. Chermside reported to Constantinople that the 9th the ‘new’ gendarmerie had been paid up to the 12th March, being discharged the following day. He further reported that:

“Of the new gendarmerie, 4 Italian officers of the carabinieri are placed at the disposal of the Italian “Commandant de Place” of Canea, and also 2 Montenegrin officers and 83 men, now in Russian pay. Even had the latter been at once repatriated it would, in Major Bor’s opinion, have been quite possible, as a temporary measure, to undertake their duties which are exclusively those of guard and patrol, by men of the force of the international squadron already ashore.”

In the same report, Chermside goes on to make it clear why the new gendarmerie was disbanded when he states:

” Of the 2,700L in the safe of the 3 per. Cent Customs Surtax Fund, over 1500L were required for the [paying off]; it is therefore evident that under existing arrangements the force enrolled could not have been further developed, nor even have been much longer maintained.”[9]

Montenegrin gendarmes appear to have been employed by the Italians in Canea as late as April/May 1897, during the 30-Day War. Illustrations in several London magazines show what was presumably the same incident; the disarming of Bashi-Bazouks by a Montenegrin gendarme in the company of Italian Marines.

The Occupation of Crete, Disarming Bashi-Bazouks at the Gate of Canea after the Fight at Akrotiri

Montenegrin gendarme disarming Bashi Bazouk.

A photograph supposedly showing Montenegrin gendarmes in the company of British and European troops, was also taken around March/April/May 1897 – dated from the arrival of Seaforth Highlanders on 24th March.

International forces, Canea, April 1897. Possible Montenegrin gendarmes marked.

The British records concerning the Montenegrin gendarmes then go quiet for some time and it might be assumed that they continued in the Service of the Russian Consul. The final appearance in British records occurs over a year later, on 26th April 1898, when there was an allegation of “… an attack by French soldiers and Montenegrin gendarmes on a Turkish soldier near Canea…”[10] In reality, the attack turned out to have been made by an Ottoman soldier upon two French soldiers; the Montenegrins attempting to break up the disturbance and arrest the Ottoman.[11]

Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Mark Ivanovic for reminding me, in a comment on a previous post,  of the presence of Montenegrin gendarmes on Crete.


[1] House of Commons Command Paper. 1897 [C.8398] [C.8437] Turkey. No. 8 (1897). Further correspondence respecting the affairs of Crete. [In continuation of ”Turkey no. 7 (1896):” c.–8193.] Inclosure 1 in No. 341. Chermside to Currie, 13th March 1897.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Rodogno D. (2012) Against Massacre: Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire, 1815-1914. Princeton University Press. F.N. 37. Chapter 9. p.331.

[4] http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NOT18970401.2.22 THE STATE OF CRETE., North Otago Times, Volume XXVI, Issue 8865, 1 April 1897. Reprint of The Times report dated February 19th1897.

[5] http://mickmctiernan.com/history/gendarmarie-mutiny-crete/

[6]House of Commons Command Paper. 1897 [C.8398] [C.8437] Turkey. No. 8 (1897). Further correspondence respecting the affairs of Crete. [In continuation of ”Turkey no. 7 (1896):” c.–8193.]  No. 248. Currie to Chermside, 7th March 1897.

[7] Ibid. No. 255. Currie to Salisbury, 9th March 1897.

[8] Ibid. No. 256. Currie to Salisbury, 9th March 1897.

[9] Ibid. Inclosure 1 in No.341. Chermside to Currie, 13th March 1897.

[10] House of Commons Command paper. 1899 [C.9084] [C.9085] [C.9086] Turkey. No. 5 (1898). Further correspondence respecting the affairs of Crete. [In continuation of ”Turkey no. 3 (1898):” c. 8853.] No. 197. Sir P. Currie to Salisbury, 26th April 1897.

[11] Ibid. Incl. 1 & 2 in No. 210. Admiralty to Foreign Office, 6th May 1898.


The Aptera Blockhouse

In spite of the failure of the Cretan Christians and their Greek allies to capture and hold Fort Malaxa, the insurgents continued to threaten the outposts of Fort Izzedin; the Ottoman fortress that dominated the entrance to Suda Bay, the main anchorage of the European Fleet.

Fort Izzedin viewed from Blockhouse. Fort Suda is across the Bay. (Photograph courtesy of Fred Rodgers.)

Austro-Hungarian Army map. Fort Izzedin and Aptera Blockhouse 1897

While realistically there was never any chance of them capturing the main fortress, the threat to it, and to the European naval forces using Suda Bay, was such that any move on Fort Izzedin was taken very seriously. Matters came to a head when in March 1897, the insurgents attempted to storm the blockhouse at Aptera, immediately above Fort Izzedin. The initial assaults were repulsed by fire from European ships

HMS Camperdown shelling insurgents above Fort Izzedin; view from HMS Revenge.

“On March 28th the insurgents made a second attempt on the Aptera blockhouse, near Fort Izzedin, which commands the entrance to Suda Bay. They were repulsed by the fire of the English, Italian and Russian warships, but resumed their attack two days later. “

A British sailor on board H. M. S. Camperdown described events in a letter to his mother:

Well last Tuesday [29th March] we heard that the Greeks were going to try and take the fort at the entrance to the harbour, The admiral sent all the small ships down to the mouth of the harbour near where the Greeks would come we also got orders to open fire. The battle started about 7pm as soon as the Greeks started firing the small ships fired shell at them it was a splendid sight to see at 8.30 we got orders to fire we fired at a distance of 4 miles the battle finished at 10pm for the night but started in the morning again at 9am we received orders to fire our heavy guns at them as well as the others our heavy guns weigh 67 tons each & throw a shell weighing 1250lbs which bursts at any distance you like from ½ mile to 15 miles we fired 4 rounds from these guns at them & a lot from the others The Greeks retreated then in the afternoon the Admirals visited the place we had shelled & they were astonished at the damage they had done they said the damage was inconceivable They couldn’t say how many were killed but it must have been a lot. We have quite a record what with sinking the Victoria & and being the only ship in the British Navy that has fired a modern heavy gun in action [1]

The Turkish garrison in the fort responded with its artillery, and the war-ships in the bay kept up a constant fire upon the besieging forces. At daylight next day the fight was resumed, but the Cretan Christians failed to storm the fort. In light of its strategic importance, the blockhouse commanded the water supply to Fort Izzedin, it was eventually determined that the outpost would be occupied by a force from the European Powers under the command of Colonel Bor, Royal Marine Artillery, who, for the purposes of this expedition, was awarded the ‘honorary’ rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Major Bor’s sketch map of Fort Izzedin and the Aptera Blockhouse. 30 March 1897.

Lt Col. Bor RMA

On 18 April at about 6p.m., Bor’s command occupied both Fort Izzedin and the Aptera blockhouse.

Austro-Hungarian and Russian troops in Fort Izzedin.

Ottoman and Russian flags over Fort Izzedin

Bor reported that he placed the Austrian and Russian contingents within the Fort, ordering them to hoist their flags to alert the insurgents to the European presence, while he went with the French and British contingents to the blockhouse; similarly hoisting their respective national flags. Both buildings apparently suffered from bad latrines and the accommodation in the blockhouse was so ‘indifferent’ that the French detachment requested, and were granted, permission to camp outside the building.

Izzedin Blockhouse February 2017 (Photograph courtesy of Fred Rodgers)

Shortly after his arrival firing broke out between Ottoman troops and insurgents to the east of the block-house, but following Bor’s instruction to the Ottomans to cease fire, the insurgents also stopped. The next morning the insurgents renewed their attack on the eastern outposts and their reinforcements could be seen advancing towards the firing line. Believing that the Cretan Christians could not see the French and British flags on the block-house from their firing line, Bor “ …marched out the French and British contingents with their flags to a conspicuous place, and, having previously sent to the Turkish outposts to cease firing, […] sounded the English ‘retire’ three times in order to attract the attention of the insurgents. They at once ceased firing and soon afterwards dispersed and went away, leaving slender guards for the rest of the day with two Greek flags which they planted along their line.”[2]  For the next few days there was little insurgent activity and the locals resumed working in their fields.

On 20th April, a group of 30 or so insurgents approached the abandoned village of Megalo Chorafia and planted a further Greek flag. No shots were fired by either side, and Bor issued strict instructions that the Ottoman and European troops were not to open fire unless a serious attack was threatened. The following day the Greek flags by the eastern outposts disappeared and more people, ‘very few of [whom] are armed’ appeared working in the fields within 1000 yards of the Ottoman lines. There were also indications that a few people were taking up residence in the Megalo Chorafia.[3]

The lull in the fighting was not to last and on 23 April Lt Col. Bor sent the following report to his superiors on H.M.S Revenge:

“…shortly before 11pm last night the insurgents commenced an attack on the eastern outposts of this position which lasted about an hour and a half and only ceased when some Krupp guns and Nordenfelts came into action from the Fort and Blockhouse. Reinforcements of uncertain strength were at this time coming down the valley as could be seen by a number of lights they were carrying but they had not come under fire when the attacking force fell back. In the meantime another, though lesser, attack had been made on the southern outposts which lasted about half an hour. At one o’clock as all appeared to be over, the garrisons of the Fort and the Blockhouse went to bed but an hour later a second and more determined attack was made on the same outposts and on two of the western outposts. The main attack this time was on the south side where the enemy closed to within 500 yds of the defence but retreated under heavy rifle fire.

On the east the attackers were crossing the river in considerable numbers when I again ordered the Krupp and Nordenfelts that side of the Blockhouse to open fire with the result that the attack fell back almost immediately.

About 2p.m. nearly all firing ceased and at 2.40 a.m. the garrison again lay down to sleep. Up to 5.30 a.m. occasional shots were exchanged between the outposts and the insurgents by which time most of the latter had got away over the hills out of sight. The total strength of the attacking force must have been at least 300 men and in this was included one company of about 40 men which appeared to be well trained and under good control as I saw it fire repeated good and well timed volleys. Two well trained buglers were also with the force.

The force in action holding the position numbered about 500 men including the Russians and Austrians in the Fort and the French and English in the Blockhouse. No casualties occurred probably owing to the fact that the outposts are very well defended by loopholed stone walls and that the bullets of the attackers were fired very high. The ammunition expended by the defence was as follows:

3 rounds from 15 cm Krupp gun

4 rounds from 6cm Krupp gun

10 from light field guns

56 from Nordenfelts

About 1800 rounds rifle ammunition.

There was a great deal of unnecessary and useless firing from the Turkish outposts which I was unable to control personally as I felt bound to remain close to the Blockhouse where the French and English were manning the battlements and which was central. At daybreak I visited all outposts and informed officers and men of the folly of wasting their ammunition.

There are no grounds for forming any opinion as to whether the attack will be renewed during the next few nights or not. But the position is quite strong enough even without the from the ships near the coast.[4]

As far as can be determined, this was the last serious attempt by the Cretan Christians to take over the Blockhouse and with the evacuation of Greek troops from Crete in May 1897, the situation quietened down.


[1] National Maritime Museum MS86/074 Letter dated 5 April 1897 from Fred (Blomeley?) to his grandmother describing firing on Greek attack on the Aptera outpost of Fort Izzedin. The reference to ‘sinking the Victoria’ relates to the fact that H.M.S. Camperdown had accidentally sunk the battleship H.M.S. Victoria, while on manoeuvers on 22nd June 1893.

[2] National Archives. ADM 116-92. Inclosure 183, Major Bor to Flag captain H.M.S. Revenge. 20 April 1897.

[3] National Archives. ADM 116-92. Inclosure 184, Major Bor to Flag captain H.M.S. Revenge. 21 April 1897.

[4] National Archives. ADM 116-92. Inclosure 192. Major Bor to Flag captain H.M.S. Revenge. 23 April 1897.