Jun 16 2013

1/Seaforth Highlanders in Crete – an unofficial diary


From the frontispiece of:

Diary of the detachment 1st BN. Seaforth Highlanders at Canea Crete

During the early days of the international Occupation 1897.

“In March 1897 the 1st Battn. Seaforth Highlanders commanded by Colonel R.H. Murray C.B., were sent at 48 hours notice from Malta to take part in the International Occupation of Crete.

D Company 1st Seaforth Highlanders under Capt G.G.A, Egerton with two subalterns Lieut F [L?] Daniell and Lieut. E Campion, were landed as a detachment at Canea, the remainder of the battalion proceeded to Candia. 6.4.97. This detachment was augmented by G Company with Lieuts. Gaisford and C. Stockwell and Major S.B. Jameson came from Candia top command the two companies. “

The Seaforths remained on Crete until November 1897 and this particular detachment spent their time both patrolling the streets of Canea and alongside French, Austrian, Italian and Russian troops, providing a buffer force between the Cretan Insurgents and Ottoman troops on the Akrotiri peninsula.

Whilst in Canea, a number of Seaforths’ officers kept a very informal and, possibly highly illegal, diary describing what they got up to. The following are extracts from that diary, the original of which is kept in the National Army Museum in London. The spelling and punctuation are as per the original document, hard to read words are indicated thus [?] and the author of each section has been identified where possible.

Seaforths leave Malta en route to Crete

Sunday 29th March. Move to Municipal Gardens.  “ It has been a great relief to be out of the Nazimen [?] Barracks – and clear of the dirty Turk soldiers – also clear of the French who might in time prove a great nuisance; but as it was we got on with them very well – and the men fraternised with them immediately.” [Lt. E. Campion…from internal evidence]

Monday 30 March.  “ This morning an international expedition marched to Sebachi, a fort s.w. of the town and about 3 miles distant, to protect the watering place. There were, so Buman[?][1] (a correspondent) informs us 5 shots fired in the air  as signals by the Insurgents – this appears to have much excited the Froggies – who with many ejaculations of [?] – Sacre Blue etc. etc. entered the fort and immediately sent an official report saying that they had been fired on – poor excitable little men, no doubt they imagined they had fought to gain an entrance – these French paraded with I should say no less than 40 lbs on each mans back, with them went wine to refresh them – and after the wine they had feather beds on which they couchied – they seem to do the thing with some idea of comfort.” [Campion]

2 April. “ I took out about 25 men, and we marched through Halepa to the extreme Turkish outpost below Akreterion. The Insurgents showed much interest in our movements, and we were all very anxious that they should send a shot or two at us when I should have smacked in two volleys at them for firing on the British Flag, which we carried in front of us.

But though we trailed our coats all along the front of our position they were too wise to let off their “bundooks[?]”. We had to put in 4 hours out of door somehow, so we loafed about under the olive groves, passing the time of day to Turkish Officers on the outpost, and generally had rather a good time of it.”

4 April. “…at 7.30 am found the Det. About to fall in – to surround Colicut and disarm the inhabitants: they were all full of blood – and very [ham?] – all thinking that at last we had got the chance of showing what sort of stuff we were worth…We watched the Det. With great excitement for 2 hours – every moment thinking we should see them rise up and with Egerton and their head knock the Bashi Bazouks to blazes – but the sight of our warlike appearance – (I don’t think they cared about anyone else) quite intimidated them and after a good deal of parleying 92 rifles were handed in and the Turkish C.O. promised that the remainder – about 1000 – would come in within 24 hours.”

11 April. “ ….Messers Egerton and Campion very handsomely dressed in serge uncovered helmets, kilts, steel scabbards, and wearing all their decorations good conduct badges and honourary rewards proceeded to the city where they promenade on the Quay and were much admired – They then paid an official visit to the German Naval Offices at their barracks where they drank some very sour Rhine wine, which 2nd Lt Campion, being young and having a palate like a paving stone, declared was very good but which made the more mature  Capt. E. Retch violently. [Capt. Egerton]

Later, undated, entry.

 “Capt Egerton as before stated was in command of a large detachment of French, Austrian Italian and British Troops and this novel command, which at first gave him much anxiety, passed off without any trouble or friction whatever.

The orders given by the Council of Admirals who controlled the whole of the fighting forces of the various powers, were to guard the neck of the Akrotiri peninsula and prevent a largebody of insurgents encamped therein from breaking out, and equally to prevent any body of Turks or Bashi Bazouks from the mainland from breaking in and attacking the insurgents. The two chiefs of the insurgent bands on Akrotiri were Messers Fourmis& Venezelos, both Athens’ educated natives of Crete, who spoke and wrote excellent French.

With these gentlemen Capt. Egerton entered into excellent relations from the start, and had frequent meetings with them under a Flag of Truce. At the beginning of the investment the neutrality was distinctly an [assumed?] one, and the respective picquets and sentries not above 500 yards from each other.

Neither side trusted the other a yard, but as time went on and the Island quieted down, the mutual vigilance became easier. The worse danger was that the Insurgents might get out of hand at one of their constantly recurring saints-day festivals and dis-obeying the orders of the chiefs who had really but little hold over them, make a rush to get through the outposts, and attack the hated Turk in the valley beyond.

I think it is perhaps better to continue the narrative in the first person. Nothing serious ever happened, but for the two months that I was in command at Akroriti Lt.Campion and myself, took it in turn every night to visit the sentries and patrol the neighbourhood, after 12 midnight. I did not trust the Italians a yard, and had no great confidence in the French, but my Austrian detachment Officers and men, were reliable to the last degree.. The Italians were very fond of the English and were ready to black our boots, and they have never forgotten how much we assisted towards a united Italy. The Austrians were on very friendly terms always, their Officers were nearly all gentlemen, which was not certainly the case with most of the other foreign Officers. The Russians we saw little of, they were mainly kept outside of Canea, on account of their rowdy habits. Their Colonel was an ex Guardsman exiled for St. Petersburgh for his numerous crimes. He was often seen drunk.

The French were all Infanterie de la Marine “Les Marsouines”, riddled with Madagascar and Touquin [?] fever and undisciplined devils I thought. “  [Capt Egerton]

The frontispiece of the diary gives the following further information:

Major S.B. Jameson retired as Colonel after commd the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders.

Captain G. Egerton was promoted to command the XIX Yorkshire Regt. Became a Major General in 1912 and retired in 1919.

Colonel Daniell. Col Gaisford, Major Campion & Major Stockwell all fell in the Great War.

[Signed] G. Egerton M.G. 20.12.20

[1] Probably A.G. Hulme-Beaman, correspondent of The London Standard.

1 comment

  1. Dave Evans

    Hi. Will send you an email later on today about your brilliant site, but thought I’d put this here. The ‘Touquin’ mentioned above is probably Tonquin or Tonkin in Vietnam:


    This is from the book here:

    “The wonderful restorative virtues of Orezza water are
    such that in Corsica it is almost considered the fountain of
    youth. The French Government send their soldiers invalided
    with the Tonquin fever to it and in a fortnight nearly all of
    the stricken soldiers have regained their health.”

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