BRITISH SACK THE CRIMEAN CITY OF KERCH
[ 24 May 1855 ]
On this day in 1855, thousands of terrified citizens of the Crimean city of Kerch had their homes broken into and their possessions looted, while men and even children were slaughtered and hundreds of women raped. The local population had begged general Sir George Brown, who was in command of a force of 15,000 British, French and Turkish troops which had captured the city to protect them from the local Tatar population, but not only did he fail to prevent the subsequent slaughter and looting, but his troops actively participated in the attacks, which as historian Orlando Figes comments, “soon descended into a drunken rampage, and some terrible atrocities by the allied troops.”
The highly decorated British general had given orders to destroy anything that might be of use to the Russian war effort, but the order, as historian Saul David observes, “was taken a little too literally, and hundreds of buildings were sacked and burned, including Kerch’s museum with its priceless collection of early Hellenic art.” During this orgy of destruction, the soldiers were “completely out of control, looting homes, killing civilians and raping women.”
A correspondent from The Times described how a “poor child” was “hacked to pieces,” and of other “horrible outrages” and “atrocious crimes” against men and women and of how the floor of the museum was “covered for several inches in depth with the debris of broken glass of vases, urns, statuary, the precious dust of their contents, and charred bits of wood and bone mingled with the fresh splinters of the shelves, desks and cases in which they had been preserved.”
EMPTY ENVELOPES PROVOKE HARSH BRITISH REPRISALS IN NICOSIA
[ 24 May 1956 ]
On this day in 1956, Martin Clemens, the British Commissioner of Nicosia, ordered the closing down of shops across several streets, and the expulsion of all inhabitants for three months as a collective punishment for failure to cooperate with the colonial authorities. The order, which was to take effect from 8 am on Sunday 27 May, was a gross violation of the Geneva Conventions; a punishment directed against innocent civilians, most of whom probably had no information which would have been of any aid to the British authorities.
On the preceding Monday a soldier had been killed and several civilians had been injured during clashes between protesters and British security forces. A curfew had immediately been imposed on the area, which was wired off while British troops set up gunposts on the rooftops and conducted a house by house sweep.(2) When the search revealed nothing Clemens informed the residents that
“Tonight a policeman will visit every home in the curfewed area with envelops and paper. Every householder will write on the paper everything he knows about EOKA (the Greek Cypriot guerrilla organisation fighting British rule), then seal it in the envelopes… Here is your chance to help the police without fear of any consequence.” (3)
However when the envelopes were collected and handed over, Clemens opened them himself to find that they were all blank. This infuriated Clemens who immediately ordered that the entire area, including 31 houses and 20 shops, be closed for three months. The residents were only allowed to take away with them whatever possessions they could carry and the long closure of the shops forced many into bankruptcy.
The Daily Herald explained that “the order hits doctors, chemists, tailors and publicans” and noted that Clemens made the announcement “sitting in a cafe behind a table draped with the union jack.” Clemens assured a silent crowd that had gathered that the British governor, Field Marshal Sir John Harding, had given him his full support, reminding his audience that “I told you all before what your duty is when incidents like this occur.”(4)
- Saul David, (2007), “Victoria’s Wars: The Rise of Empire,” Penguin Books, London, p261.
- The Times quoted in “The Expedition to Kertch,” The Staffordshire Advertiser, 30 June 1855 p6 and “Horrible details of the sacking of Kertch” The Durham Chronicle 29 June 1855, p3
- John Newsinger (2015), “British Counterinsurgency,” Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, p99, “Murder Mile is Shut Up: Toughest Reprisal Yet for Monday’s Riots in Nicosia,” The Birmingham Gazette, 25 May 1956, p1 and “Shops and Houses Closed,” The Birmingham Post, 25 May 1956 p1.
- Martin Clemens quoted in John Newsinger, Ibid p99.
- Martin Clemens quoted in “Shops Shut,” The Daily Herald, 25 May 1956 p2 and “Murder Mile is Shut Up: Toughest Reprisal Yet for Monday’s Riots in Nicosia,” The Birmingham Gazette, 25 May 1956, p1