Keeping the Peace – Cyprus

In January 1957 the Glosters were dispatched to Cyprus and were allocated the difficult task of internal security duties in the capital, Nicosia. This involved operations against the EOKA terrorists who were seeking union with Greece. This objective was violently opposed by the Turkish Cypriot population. Operations in Nicosia involved endless rounds of guard duties, escorts, patrols, riot control, cordons and searches.

Roy Giles recalled the anti-riot drill his platoon employed when he was in Cyprus:-

“The drill followed this sequence: I marched my platoon forward in hollow square formation down the street towards the crowd. At a distance beyond stone-throwing range but well within earshot, I would give the order “Platoon, halt”. Then, by loudspeaker, “You are an illegal gathering. Disperse or we fire”. The crowd would then be given time to disperse. If they did not do so, I would carry on: “Platoon – fix bayonets”; Wiremen – lay out the wire”. Two soldiers from the platoon would run forward and stretch a coil of barbed wire across the road, some 20 metres in front of us – I may say that in training we taught this distance as the length of a cricket pitch. Then: Bannerman – raise the banner” – the banner was inscribed in the English, Greek and Turkish languages: “Disperse or we fire”. Then “Bugler, sound 3 G” – this strident and definitely alarming blast, blown by my bugler from the centre of the square, was the equivalent of a warning on a ship’s siren. Then: “Front rank, kneeling position, down” – by this stage, any crowd would be in no doubt that we meant business. Finally, if the riot was still in progress, or the crowd was not dispersing: “Front rank, one round at xxxxx (I would nominate a distinctive person in clear view) to kill, fire”. Each man in the front rank was to fire one round, in a volley, so that no individual could be picked out as the executioner – the same logic as for a formal firing squad. While all this was going on, in the centre of my platoon square I had a photographer equipped with an Army-issue box Brownie, taking pictures of the changing scene, and a clerk taking notes and timings, doubtless in a shaky hand, of the events and my orders. This sequence of clear, orchestrated and unambiguous drill movements – which remained in vogue until the Northern Ireland troubles of 1969 – had been laid down in our army since the Amritsar massacre of 1919, when troops commanded by a British general had fired indiscriminately and without warning on an Indian crowd, killing hundreds. Our experience in Cyprus proved the efficacy of this often-rehearsed choreography. Never did we have to open fire to disperse illegal gatherings. The British Army dealt with, probably, thousands of crowd scenes the length and breadth of the island, and everyone knew that, once the army came onto the scene, it was time to pack up and go home.”

Major Capel, who documented the time the Glosters spent in Cyprus 1957/195, was already thinking about the day when the Regiment would be transferred to Germany, in a verse he composed whilst on the island:-


Soon once again we’ll pack our kits, and go
From yet another land we’ve just begun to know.
I wonder what we’ll think about next year
Sitting and talking o’er our sauerkraut and beer.

I think we’ll remember only the best
Things. And glancing at that medal on our chest,
We’ll boast of Murder Mile [1], and Omorphita [2],
And how our camp at Kermia [3] got daily neater.

And K.T. guards [4], and Luna Park [5], and thirst.
Bitter cold or flaming heat, which is the worst?
We had them both in Cyprus, it was hell!
‘Twas Active Service [6] there, of course, as well.

So we’ll boast on, and talk of Forest Ops [7],
And Tanzimat Street [8], and clashes with the cops.
And the recruits will think “what fun they’ve had!”
For we’ll have forgotten all that was really bad.

Those nights of bitter cold, soon after Bahrain[9]!
We suffered then, and how we did complain!
Those Valor stoves[10], so easily o’erturned.
Those tight-packed tents how easily they burned!

That summer heat, and sweat. That thirst.
Those sleepless nights, and how we tossed and cursed.
Those constant guards. The boredom and the strain
Of doing something time and time again.

All these forgotten. Remembered only the fun,
The swimming, the Greek girls, the beer, and the sun.
For that is the way of the British Army.
No wonder the rest of the world think us barmy!!

[1] The Murder Mile was an informal nickname for Ledra Street in Nicosia. It was so-called by British forces due to the hazards presented to patrolling British troops by nationalist fighters. Also later used for other hot spots, notably in Belfast.

[2] Omorphita is a Turkish Cypriot suburb of Nicosia.

[3] Kermia was a British military base outside Nicosia.

[4] Origin unknown.

[5] Luna Park is a park in Nicosia.

[6] National Service men on Active Service overseas.

[7] Forest Operations looking for EOKA terrorists were undertaken by the Glosters in the hilly Troodos and Paphos forests.

[8] Tanzimat Street is in the Turkish part of Nicosia.

[9] The Glosters left Bahrain for Cyprus in early 1957.

[10] Valor is a make of oil-fueled stoves.

After a year The Battalion embarked on HMS Devonshire for what was to be a stormy voyage home, landing at Liverpool on 14th February. Before they left, Major-General Kendrew, General Officer Commanding Cyprus District and Director of Operations had addressed the battalion:-

“There is nothing more that any general would want than that the Glosters be in his particular command. I do not think that in all my service I have met a battalion which has carried out its duties so quickly and so efficiently as you have done out here. You have got down to the job quickly and carried it through thoroughly. It is tremendous credit to you.”

Picture: Cordon and search of Lymbia village, Cyprus 1957.