British Army memories in Cyprus 1958-1959
Memories of Cyprus
and Absent Friends
by a British ex-Serviceman
By Margaret Sheard and Chris Elliott
I have previously been doing research about Newman’s Farm in Kyrenia which is now the site of The Chinese House Restaurant on the Karaoğlanoğlu road. The article I wrote at the time prompted some response from British ex-servicemen and although it did not fill in the gaps for me I started to think what interesting stories these people must have to tell about their time here. To see these articles the links are shown at the end of the following article.
One such person was Derek Chilvers, who came back to Cyprus in 2012 for the first time in 53 years since his army days when he served here as a Rifleman with the Suffolk Regiment in 1958/59. Unfortunately Derek’s wife, Shirley, is suffering from cancer and as he had been her carer for some 16 months at the time, their eldest daughter, Kim, and son-in-law, Steve, treated him to a week’s respite to attend the Remembrance Day Service in Kyrenia in 2012 and he attended this with a colleague he served with in Cyprus. Derek said he found it to be a very uplifting experience. Derek contacted me to see if I could let him have some photographs of this event and the lunch which followed and since then we have been keeping in contact and he has kindly supplied me with information and photographs covering his time in Cyprus.
He and Shirley married in 1960 and have 2 daughters, Kim and Karen.
Derek has said how supportive both of his daughters, and their husbands, have been during these very difficult times of his wife’s poor health and without their help he would not have been in a position to help me to write this story.
So I would like to say thank you to Kim and Karen for making it possible for their father to be able to spend some time recalling his life all of those years ago and sorting out the many photographs and explanations for a lot of them which he has painstakingly written and emailed to me. As Derek has explained, he is not a “computer whiz kid” and he has spent a lot of time writing down his memories and sending them periodically to enable me to build up this story. I must say I have enjoyed reading his memories probably as much as he has had recalling them.
Derek ran a Country Music Club until Shirley’s health problems occurred and he had made a CD of country music for a friend containing her late husband’s favourite songs. “Special Absent Friends” is a song always played at the get-together after the funeral of a member of the Country Music Club and Derek thinks it would perhaps be a nice finish to future Remembrance Day events as it is very uplifting. “Can We Go Round Again” is the most requested song on their country music radio shows.
Derek told me that he had phoned his good friend Wes Cardy who co-wrote Special Absent Friends and told him about all that is happening in his life at the moment and explained that we would like to suggest to the Organisers of the Remembrance Day events in Kyrenia to perhaps use his song and he is very happy for it to happen, in fact he would be honoured and he told Derek that years ago he wrote a song for the Suffolk Regiment called Minden Rose and said he would make a copy available, which we have since also received via Derek.
“The Battle of Minden is one of the battles fought by the Suffolk Regiment and as the troops went into battle they crossed a field of flowers which were Red and Yellow and they picked the flowers and put them on their clothing and so the colours became the colours of the regiment to honour those who died and every year on the last Sunday of July at the old barracks at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, where Derek did his training, a Minden Day celebration is held and all the old and young comrades from way back and their families all get together for the day. The Old Soldiers do a march past and a service is held much the same as in Kyrenia. Derek asked his friend about “Can We Go Round Again” and Wes said nobody would mind it being used for whatever purpose.” We were given a photo of Wes and Jan Mellon, his partner, and it is Jan who does the wonderful spiritual thing towards the end of Special Absent Friends which makes the whole thing special.
I am sharing some of the information supplied to me by Derek, who was nicknamed Chilvo, and I think it makes very interesting reading of how things were in Cyprus all of those years ago. Maybe these reminisces will jog the memories of some of the people who served in Cyprus at the same time and perhaps even in the same areas. Up to now Derek has located 10 of the lads who were in the same Company at Kykko and it would be nice if there are some more out there who would like to be reunited with their old comrades.
So here goes with some of Derek’s memories:-
” I was stationed at Kykko East Camp, Nicosia in 1958/59, and I was mainly on guard duty at Wayne’s Keep, Mitsero Mine, Kambia Mine, Camp K, Central Prison and Peristerona Police Station. There were also foot patrols in Nicosia and other areas.”
Note: The picture of Kykko Camp is courtesy of “Britain’s Smallwars” website to view click here
The following 2 memories are recorded in Forces Reunited which Derek has asked us to share.
“Patrolling the streets and lanes of Nicosia, Cyprus, after a shooting or something of that kind leading to a curfew being enforced leaving everywhere dark and very quiet, broken only by the sound of yours and the rest of the patrols footsteps and any sound other than that tickling the hairs on the back of your neck until the challenge came and you were met by another patrol doing the same as you. All very eerie but that was army life then”
“On a more happy note than my previous memory, brings me to those wonderful ham salad rolls bought from a Cypriot man who owned a small kiosk in the Lunar Park which was sometimes our base for patrolling the city. Very tasty and very filling in contrast to having thirty or more of us opening cold hard boiled eggs which made the room we lived in rather smelly and to this day I still dislike being anywhere near to where there are boiled eggs “
There is also a recollection from Derek of Kyrenia Beach on hot days when they were not on duty.
” A Bedford 3-tonner was provided for swimming at the beach and it called at the ice factory for a block to put in cold boxes for drinks. We went on the only road I knew of over the mountains and straight down, turning right at the end and along to the beach. Most of the lads did not know there was a town called Kyrenia. “
On one of the photographs Derek sent he referred to a “show of strength” and he explained this as follows:
” The show of strength was a result of something that happened months earlier. I had landed at Nicosia Airport on February 4th and was detailed to go into 7 Platoon C Company of what was then the Suffolk Regiment where I met my Platoon Commander and Platoon Sergeant and on 14th March they took us out somewhere on the Nicosia to Peristerona road to carry out a road block for practice where we stopped all traffic, and we did a check and search of all the males and from a bus I was told to search a young man probably in his late teens which I did and found in one of his pockets a very tightly squeezed and tightly folded piece of paper, a thing we had been told to watch out for. When I opened it up there was a lot of Greek writing which I didn’t understand but in the middle of the writing were four large letters EOKA. That discovery stopped our road block and we went along the road to Peristerona police station where they confirmed what was written was a courier letter to the terrorists saying that on a certain date the blood of the British “Tommies” would run down the street. I had to remember the young man’s name in case I had to appear at his trial, I didn’t have to in the end but it was quite a find for a practice road block. My Platoon Commander was in quite a sweat over it all, being worried as to whether we had over-stepped the mark as it was only a practice but it is results that count and the show of strength, mentioned at the beginning of this piece, was held on the day the blood was to be spilt”.
Derek sent a copy of an original EOKA leaflet and he said “they used to appear by the 100s on the streets occasionally and at one time almost under our lorry but it was always done in a crowded place so you had no idea as to who did it, in our case it was on the circular outer road which we used to return to camp and we passed the general hospital on our left which was another place we used to do guard duty when any detainee from either of the prisons was in residence. The leaflet was sent to me by one of the lads who joined the Suffolks, the same draft as me and through him I am now in contact with four more lads and we have met up at one of the Minden Day celebrations that I mentioned in an earlier email.”
Derek’s wife had to spend some time in hospital due to a reaction to the chemotherapy during the time this article was being put together and when she came home it was necessary to make changes to their home to accommodate her needs. During this very stressful time for Derek, he said that recollecting his time in Cyprus was taking his mind off his problems and he was glad to be able to spend a little time coming up with some of his memories. Here is another :
” Private Kershaw and me were detailed to go to a mine known as the Incline, I never did find out its proper name, where as with all mine details we had to check that all the explosive materials supplied for blasting the rock face were used and, after blasting, check that there were no leftovers. We were often detailed to mines and the ones I had been to before were open mines but this was underground, hence the name, and to reach the face we rode on an angled trolley on a small rail track each passenger sitting behind each other and you leant backwards onto the knees of those behind you, I hope you can picture that, it’s hard to describe. On reaching the face, which I was told was getting on for a mile deep, we watched the miners drilling into the face and pushing sticks of explosive into the holes then pushing detonators into the final stick and attaching the electric wires which were then taken to a cave like hole in the side wall out of the blast line and attached to the plunger. After the warning klaxon was sounded the plunger was pushed down but there was no bang so we went back to the face and all the connections were checked then back to the hole and again the plunger didn’t work so it meant a trip back to the surface which Kershaw volunteered to do and the end to this story meant that I was down in a dark hole with about six miners with only the light coming from the little flames coming from our helmets with them all talking to each other and I couldn’t understand what they were saying. It took Kershaw just over four hours to return with a new plunger and believe me he was a welcome sight and from then on everything went as planned and as the explosives went off the volume of air coming up the shaft snuffed out our little flames but everything finished ok and I was very grateful to see the sky again. “
Some of the lads Derek has located have returned to Cyprus in the past and found where their camp was and the concrete bases where the tents were erected and have actually had photographs taken where their beds used to be. Unfortunately when Derek came to Cyprus in 2012 he was not able to gain access to this area.
I have received a lot of photographs taken by Derek with his little Ilford 120 roll film camera in 1958/59 and these can be seen in the video at the end of the article.
As well as photographs, Derek also sent me a CD of a request made to Steve Cherelle who has a programme on BBC Radio Essex and he asked for “I Missed Me” by Jim Reeves to be played. Steve was very touched by the letter and read the message out over the radio and then played the requested song. Apparently, Derek and Shirley had seen Jim Reeves and the Blue Boys at the USAF Base in Bentwaters, Woodbridge, Suffolk many years before and Shirley had taken a photograph of them and asked for her favourite song. Jim Reeves had said I will now sing this for the lovely lady at the front but first we will pose for her to take a photograph and so Shirley took her photograph.
Here are some more memories Derek has sent to me. I am getting very intrigued with all of these reminisces and it makes me realise just how much stress the young men serving here must have experienced during their tour of duty during those troubled times.
” Another little gem – When on duty in Nicosia we stayed at a variety of locations and the place on my mind at the moment was on the opposite side of the city to Ledra Street. The property was a single room in a place with a covered veranda and courtyard out back and a type of shed/outhouse with a grapevine growing on a trellis like feature ( I think we now call them gazebos ) and to my mind they were the most wonderful tasting grapes I have ever found anywhere. The room was quite large and on one wall was a blackboard so we assumed it must have been a classroom at some time so some of us bedded down in there but some of us slept/lived on the veranda. Music from the forces radio at that time included a song called One Eyed One Horned Flying Purple People Eater by Sheb Wooley, (later on in life to be Pete Nolan the scout in the Rawhide series). Our group of four privates and a corporal arrived back at base after a two hour patrol through the streets and when we entered the room where the drinks were kept we found that one of our boys had drawn his version of the People Eater on the blackboard, looking something like a big fat bee, so we joined in the fun by adding little bits to the drawing and as time passed everybody had added a little bit until we finished with quite a gruesome picture and for a while this little bit of fun took our minds off more serious things. Some of the lads I have now located can remember this but so far we have no idea who started it off, but it was fun.”
It is nice to know that there were some light-hearted moments and I can well imagine the following one as well.
“During our guard duties at Central Prison and Camp K, being stuck in the watch towers for two hours at a time was very boring just staring at the same old thing but on a Thursday evening things improved depending on which NCO was on duty in the control room as it was top twenty night on the forces radio and it would be put through to all the towers by field telephone. In those days Connie Francis was the in-singer and very often she had two songs in the ratings. Central Prison had a brick tower on the first corner, this is still there (I saw it on television when two young lads were in the news about a car accident with a Greek youth and the prison was shown where they would be staying). To get to it you crossed the compound the prisoners were in and through a locked door only ever unlocked when we changed guard. At night you were in the dark and it was all very quiet apart from hearing the beetles in the roof dropping down to the floor where you were sitting. One night I admit to dozing off to be brought back to reality by stones being thrown in the windows from outside the wall and when I eventually looked out the 2nd Lieutenant was standing under the trees that formed the fence and he accused me of sleeping on duty, which I hastily denied to which he asked why did it take me so long to appear, I replied surely you don’t expect me to stick my neck out until I had established who was out there, to which he said ok and I never heard another word from anyone about it.”
One of the photographs I really liked was of one of the lads feeding a young goat (or lamb) which they found all alone on Five Finger Mountain. They adopted it as a mascot and called it Fingers and it then travelled everywhere with them. They used to warm up milk on the vehicle engine to feed it. I think that is lovely.
The next 2 memories are of a more serious nature and it makes you wonder if there was a guardian angel watching over these servicemen at the time these events happened.
“I have to tell you about this memory because it haunts me to this day. Ambush training was sending a couple of NCO’s out into the countryside along a chosen road which we then drove along in our Bedford three tonner and the NCO’s did a mock ambush by throwing a thunder flash (large firework) from where they were hiding and I had to shout ambush left or right and the person either side of me had to move quickly out of the way. I gave covering fire with my Bren Gun and the driver stopped as quickly as he could and all the lads jumped off the lorry and we gave chase across ploughed fields, it was hard going and after three fields you could hardly move yet alone give chase. C Company travelled in three lorries to a dried up river bed, about mid afternoon, where we did some shooting practice and another lorry brought food out to us, then as it got dark we did some night firing then all four lorries began the trip back to Base. As we were going through a village a large sparking object was thrown onto the road in front of our lorry and before I could shout the driver put his foot down and took us out of danger as the object exploded and by then we were well past where the object was thrown from so we didn’t get a result and I didn’t get a chance to put all that practice into action. The lads on the lorry behind us witnessed what had happened but were too far back to take action. The ambush was put through to the Special Investigation Branch who raced out to us and found evidence that the object had been thrown from behind the wall of a school and those responsible had counted our lorries going to the river bed and heard the shooting and waited for us to come back, but this time there were four lorries.”
We had told Derek that we were going to see if we could find Luna Park in Nicosia so that we could try to relate to some of the photographs he had sent. With this in mind he asked us to try and imagine where he was and gave us another amusing anecdote.
” When you have a look at Lunar Park, the building on the left of the gate was our sleeping/living quarters for doing patrols into the city or doing escort duties with UK Police Sergeants in their Land Rovers. One afternoon some of us were relaxing on our beds reading or playing cards and a teargas grenade was thrown into the room causing all sorts of chaos as we very quickly got out into the fresh air and after about fifteen minutes we ventured into the room leaving doors open to clear the air. We found the 2nd Lieutenant standing there grinning and he said the grenade was his idea to see how fast our response would be if it had have been a bomb! We aired the place and tidied up wiping the burn marks off the floor from the grenade, there was one rather large one near my bed which I wiped off with my duster. For two or three days every time I wiped my boots or polished my belt buckle my eyes stung and then I realised it was the residue on it from when I wiped the floor. Just another little gem for you to ponder over but think of me when you see the place.”
We went to Nicosia and retraced Derek’s steps, standing in the area of Metaxas Square where he and his colleague can be seen in a photograph on the balcony on observation duty. I feel I will not go to this area again without imagining how dangerous it was then.
Luna Park is much smaller than I imagined it would be but the gazebo is still there standing in the middle of the now empty water feature. The old Post Office is at the front of the park and we found the building where some of the servicemen were billeted. From there we walked along an area where there is a lot of construction work going on and Derek told us this used to be a sunken paved garden (city moat) area where people would sit in the sunshine and have their lunch or chat.
“Another memory has come to mind which any of the lads I was with would recollect and that was inside the walls of Central Prison. All patrols we did or guard duties were on a rota of two on four off and after spending two hours in the sun sitting in a little pillbox you needed a cooling off and to do that we used to change into swimming trunks and go for a cooling dip in the static water tank which was probably 20 foot square and about 30 inches deep. This was situated in the middle of the garden area where trusted prisoners had small plots of land for cultivation and that’s where they got their water from, it doesn’t sound very good but to us it was wonderful. Over here in this wonderful country of mine if we have a spell of sunshine we get a hosepipe ban but over there, way back in my days, the little farmers had it all worked out. We went out into the country to carry out patrols and at one of our bedding down places we stopped in an orange orchard, at the time there was a curfew on and everyone living around there had to be in their homes by dusk. On one very dark night we had a local farmer come to us in rather a state because he owned a piece of land nearby and at midnight it was his turn to open the sluice gates allowing water to his land and when we took him out to it there were many of these little squares of ground each surrounded by a ditch and a system of these sluice gates and each owner was allowed water to his patch at given times.”
One of the photographs was of the end of a patrol and this is what Derek had to say about that:-
“The return of successful potato patrol because somehow we came across three plump chickens which we thought would be a good meal but a UK Police Sergeant turned up with two Cypriot constables and asked questions about chickens missing from a local, which we obviously knew nothing about, and then later towards evening time the Sergeant came back and enjoyed a chicken dinner.”
A serious memory with a comical ending.
“We all went for shooting practice with Lee Enfield 303 Rifles and part of that was we all in turn walked with our Platoon Sergeant down a footpath and as we progressed targets popped into view and we had to quickly snap shoot at them. At the end of my trip the Sergeant said I had done very well and and went off to speak to our Platoon Commander and on his return he said, on the showing you have just done, it is decided that you will have a Bren gun and be lookout on our lorry when we are in transit. Many weeks later we were on duty in Nicosia and a curfew was in place and our Platoon Sergeant came to me and asked if I felt like a walk to which I agreed not knowing what it was all about and as I joined him he said swap your bren gun for a rifle, I remember you know how to hit things with that and off we walked into the very quiet dark city one each side of the road and keeping to the shadows. We caught a few people breaking the curfew by being outside their homes so they received a telling off by him and we spent almost two hours doing this then returned back to where we were based but as we walked up the road beside the building I saw against the sky a shadow on a rooftop and told the sergeant who looked up where I pointed. He wasn’t sure if I was right so he said he would throw a tear gas grenade onto the roof and if the shape moved I was to shoot so we positioned ourselves facing each other away from the wall and he threw the grenade upwards but his angle wasn’t very good and it bounced off the wall and came down almost hitting me so I jumped out of the way. The shape disappeared and all we got from it was sore eyes and a laugh but I enjoyed being out there with him and it was good to think he trusted me that much.”
One point which Derek recalled towards the end of his memories was as a result of friends visiting him and when looking at some of his old army photographs they raised the question of body armour. Of course this was not an option all those years ago and Derek told them the following:-
“The answer is the same every time as it is the truth, on a warm day it was our standard army issue shirt and on colder days it was a knitted army issue woollen jumper with reinforced elbows over our shirts and our vehicles had one layer of sandbags on the floor. People are visibly shocked and ask why we didn’t have the stuff the army has today. People not involved just don’t realise the truth until it is brought to their attention then they ask how on earth did we go out on patrol every day and the answer to that is easy, we were paid, and my weekly pay was 75 mills which was the currency in Cyprus in those days. ”
I am sure Derek can recount a lot more memories but as the article is getting rather long, I have now included a further 3 recollections from his time in Cyprus and maybe at some future date there may be an opportunity to write a further account of his memories and maybe those of other ex-servicemen who spent time in Cyprus in those troubled years.
“The guard at the General Hospital was the most boring of all the guard duties we had to do because all we looked at while on duty was a large iron grill with one door for doctors etc to go back and forth doing their duties and the ward we were looking after was behind us and around the corner. We did our 2 hour stint behind a barricade of sandbags with a space for a bren gun and a sergeant or corporal sat at a small table beside it to attend the door when needed. Our sleeping and living quarters was a small room down the corridor where we had bunk beds and a table and next to that was a washing/shaving room and then a toilet at the end of a short passage. The first time you went there on duty was very strange to get used to because as we were guarding people from prison they could creep up behind us and to stop this all of our quarters had no doors which didn’t seem too bad until it came to using the toilet but the nurses never looked in.”
“At Camp K the day in question was no different to any other then suddenly there was a lot of shouting from the wooden living quarters of the inmates and next there was a lot of smoke then fire and windows being broken so those of us not on duty in the watch towers turned out and spread ourselves at intervals around the pathway between the outer perimeter fence and the inner one and by this time things had got very nasty because the inmates were now chasing the warders and splashing them with paraffin and trying to set them alight. For a few minutes in was sheer mayhem but the warders eventually got things back to something like normal then the police turned up and we and the warders were all interviewed to find out if we could identify the inmates throwing the paraffin and the outcome of that I don’t know, but because it was now getting late and was too late to do repairs to the living quarters damaged, someone in authority decided the inmates did the damage so let them live in it for a night and during the night I did one of my stints up one of the towers and all you could hear in the still of the night was ‘Johnny shoot me please, I am cold’ so they learnt a lesson the hard way.”
On a more light-hearted note Derek recalls the visit of Yana, a very popular UK singer of the time.
” The visit of Yana was wonderful and she cheered us all up with her singing and afterwards she was given an escort to return her to the Ledra Palace Hotel but for some unknown reason somebody fired a few shots at the Hotel, there were no injuries, the shots just made a few marks on the wall but because of that a 7 platoon lorry and its driver were instructed to escort Yana to her next venue. Of course guess who was looking over the cab in his usual position, but good old Derek. The trip was to the King George Hotel in Famagusta and luckily was very peaceful so I managed to see a little more of Cyprus. After sitting down in the hotel and having a quick drink with Yana and her crew we returned to camp.”
“That’s about it for now I think I have covered most things which should show what our lives were like in those days but I wouldn’t change it because I found a lot of good friends in those days and learnt a lot about life.”
I have found the things that Derek has recollected to be an real eye-opener and although these servicemen had perhaps some happy memories of Cyprus, the main reason for them being here was very serious and of course life-threatening, there were many who returned to lead a normal happy life but sadly there were those who did not return. I attended a memorial service at Wayne’s Keep on one occasion which was a very emotional experience and I do make a point of attending the Remembrance Service at The Old British Cemetery in Kyrenia every year. I can well understand how Derek must have felt when he came to North Cyprus in 2012 for the first time in 53 years to pay his respects to those who lost their lives here.
From Derek’s conversations with some of the lads he has located, he has found that alarm bells are ringing because, as with himself, they are all proud of what they did in their army times but when they tell about what they did, an awful lot of people know nothing about it and as they get older there are less of them to tell the stories, so Derek is asking if we could please give a few words in our article about the Memorial and the 371 service members who died, then anyone who does read it on the net may decide to turn up at the next Remembrance Service as he intends to do if he is able. So that is Derek’s message in his own words.
If there is anyone who may have been in the same company as Derek he would be delighted to hear from them. This can be done through this website and will be passed on to him and we will be pleased to publish any new information received from him or his friends about their recollections of their time in Cyprus.
One final request from Derek, who has asked us to convey a “thank you to the lads of C Company, especially 7 Platoon, for their friendship and good company through our time together”.
As a closing paragraph, Derek has recently sent me some photographs of the snow in his garden during the awful weather experienced in the UK. He also remembered that when he was in Cyprus there was snow on the Nicosia plain and he was told by a local that it was the first time in 25 years. At this time the lads were supplied with an extra blanket each and some additional paraffin for their stove, so that must have been a cold winter, even here.
Following are 2 videos which relate to the above article – Memories of Cyprus and Absent Friends by a British ex-serviceman
Video No. 1 shows shows present day photographs as well as ones taken in 1958/59 which shows how times have changed and Cyprus has moved forward. For best viewing click full screen.