Cyprus had gained its independence and become a Republic in 1960, but tensions between the Greek and Turkish communities remained high. The new Constitution had allowed the United Kingdom to retain some military bases on the island, and it was in March 1962 that the Gloucestershire Regiment returned to the island. For most of their time there the officers and men of the battalion were making the most of the opportunities to participate in a wide variety of sporting activities, which were punctuated by periodic training exercises in both Cyprus and Libya.
By Christmas 1963 friction between the Greeks and the Turks in Cyprus had sparked into a state of open hostility and the Glosters were rushed from their base at Episkopi to Nicosia to occupy the “Green Line” separating the Greek and Turkish quarters of the city. While in Nicosia the Glosters took part in the largely thankless task of trying to keep Greeks and Turks from each others’ throats and, by mid-January 1964, a routine of sorts had been established, as was reported in the Regimental Journal:-
“The Battalion’s task did not change and by this stage both sides had got their second wind in Nicosia and kidnapping, minor battles, arson and looting were rife. Again by negotiations the situation was eased although both sides were very trigger happy and the Green Line had to be manned day and night. . . .”
A United Nations Force was being assembled to help keep the peace on the island, and for the Glosters:-
” . . . It was with great relief that we heard that we would not be included in the U.N. Force, as for three months we had been working day and night prising the two sides apart with little praise. Both communities in their own way despised and insulted us all, the soldiers had kept their heads, and from the newest joined private had restrained the urge to shoot and calmed both sides by negotiation.”
On 8th March 1964, Captain M.A. Crush, who commanded the Reconnaissance Platoon (which had been equipped with armoured Ferret scout cars), led a detachment of two Ferrets and infantrymen of the battalion’s Corps of Drums into a firefight that had developed in the village of Mallia, where he tried to diffuse the situation. On the following day, 9th March, as Captain Crush recalled:-
“. . . I returned to the Turkish school and continued watching the firing. The Greeks continued to fire from positions in the hills north, north-east, south and west of the village. As I could get no co-operation from the police I decided to go to the eastern firing position to request them to stop. I got out of the Ferret and walked there. At first several shots were fired over my head but this soon stopped. I approached their position and spoke with them. There were about 15 men in civilian clothes. Their spokesman, who had a cockney accent, was manning a bren gun, the remainder had rifles, sub-machine guns and a large quantity of ammunition and grenades. The spokesman was truculent and said they had not fired all morning. He also said that he had only just arrived there since the firing began although in spite of this he added that my night patrols had provocatively shone their headlights on their positions whilst turning their vehicles at the Turkish school. As I left, one of them held a grenade as though he was about to throw it at me, and the whole group laughed.”
The dominating location of the Turkish school at the top of the village ensured that it was to become the main target of the Greek security forces and irregulars attempting to gain control of the village, and they claimed that the Turks had started the fight by attacking the police station. The following day, the Glosters’ detachment based itself near the school, where they came under fire from the Greeks, which they returned. A morning of unsuccessful negotiations ensued, all the while under fire, with the Turks refusing to lay down their arms and the Greeks refusing to cease fire unless they did so.
“. . . The firing began again in earnest and the irregulars started moving from the Greek quarter into the Turkish quarter from house to house. They used bazookas and Stens mostly. The bazookas frightened the Turks drastically and the fighters withdrew rapidly in spite of their previous “sabre rattling” leaving the first group of Turk houses defenceless. I realized that the Turks would make for the school at the top of the village which we were occupying and I decided to try to get up there to give Sergeant Ramsden a hand. I and my second car with Privates Wood and Price followed by the Royals Troop commander, followed the main street up which the fighting was progressing. As we rounded a corner I came across six women running screaming out of a house. I heard a Sten gun shooting and saw a small girl of about eight running out behind them with a bullet wound in the thigh. On of the women had a flesh wound in her arm. . . .”
Turkish refugees were pouring from the village into the school, and as they arrived were searched for arms by the Glosters who confiscated any that they found. Captain Crush was able to persuade the Greek police that he had disarmed the Turks, and that the Greeks should cease firing at the school, which now housed about 500 Turkish fighters and refugees. Once the Greek police were convinced that all the Turkish arms had been found and confiscated, they withdrew their men from the village. Captain Crush concluded:-
“It was lucky that there were so few casualties as the method of clearing houses which I saw being used was to kick open the door and then spray the room with a Sten gun. The Greeks thought there were seven dead and considered this very few in the circumstances. I saw five other persons grievously wounded besides the mother and child.
“The whole business was a typical example of the combination of callousness and arrogance which has so often been the tenor of these actions. Many innocent and unaware people suffer for the sins of the politically-minded few. Those who had anything to do with the Mallia incident can, however, feel some consolation in that our presence probably avoided considerably heavier casualties.”
With the arrival of United Nations Forces on the island, the role of the Glosters as peacekeepers in Cyprus was ended, and they returned to the less tense task of guarding British bases on the island.
The Battalion returned to the United Kingdom in March 1965.
Picture: Glosters’ Ferret scout car, Cyprus 1963.