Cyprus Rock Memorial at NMA : Looking back at its long journey
Intro by Margaret Sheard…..
Over the past year I have followed and written about the journey of the Cyprus Memorial Rock to its final resting place at The National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, UK and have liaised with David Littlemore to publicise his wonderful project. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the unveiling through a previously unscheduled trip to the UK, and was thrilled to be a part of this momentous occasion on Sunday 21st August 2016.
David has almost single-handedly seen this project through from start to finish and I feel he should be commended for his dedication over a long period of time and given official recognition for his achievement. The result of David’s perseverance for those who lost their lives during the Cyprus Emergency, can now be seen at the National Memorial Arboretum.
However, the costs for this Memorial has exceeded those originally estimated and bills now need to be settled, so this is a plea to seek additional funding to cover the deficit which can be donated by clicking here In David’s story, which you can read below, he explains the circumstances for the additional funding now required.
BUILDING THE CYPRUS MEMORIAL
By David Littlemore…..
This is the story of the attempt to put right Britain’s failure to honour the sacrifice made by 392 men who gave their lives for their country sixty years ago on the island of Cyprus.
In November 2009 I was waiting to catch a flight to Cyprus to attend the Unveiling of the Memorial in North Cyprus to the to the troops who lost their lives during the Cyprus Emergency half a century earlier, However I was shocked by the age and infirmity of my fellow travellers as they appeared to be so much older than myself, also a veteran of the same Emergency. It is so easy to be in denial of the time that has passed since our service days and as I sat waiting in the departure lounge for the flight watching them arrive with their walking sticks, I was reminded of time that had passed since my first flight to Cyprus was as a young National Service Military Policeman fresh out of the training depot at Woking in the Spring of 1956.
By 2009 I was used to the flight to Cyprus having some years earlier purchased a holiday home in North Cyprus and now fly there regularly to enjoy the sun, the islands wonderful scenery and its antiquities. But on this flight I was surrounded by fellow veterans exchanging memories of our experiences of some 50 years earlier and the friends that did not return with us, as old soldiers have done throughout time.
As a regular visitor I did not join them on all of the visits arranged for the visiting veterans, but the one to the Waynes Keep Military Cemetery, where most of the 371 British military dead are buried, was one that I could not miss. Most of my time on the island had been as a member of the Commander in Chief’s Protection Team and the grounds of his home, where we were based, was within yards of the Military Cemetery. This resulted in us hearing the bugles and saluting shots of the burials regularly reminding us of the high cost in young British lives during the Cyprus Emergency.
On our visit in 2009 we saw families of these casualties mostly young National Servicemen crying at their graves, some for them for the first time as the cemetery was and still is locked into the Green Line between the Greek and Turkish parts of the island. It was at that moment that I realised that if we did not have a memorial to these men in the UK then we should have. At the Memorial dinner after the Unveiling I discovered that there was no Cyprus Emergency Memorial in the UK when talking to the Stonemason, Keith Rackham, who had made the Kyrenia Memorial. I asked him about the possibilities and costs of providing one at the National Memorial Arboretum and after having all the challenges of such a project explained to me I made my mind up to do what I could to try and put right this obvious wrong.
Looking-back I am amazed at my naivety in thinking that I could find and achieve a simple solution to a very complicated problem. I was told that providing a Cyprus Memorial in the UK had been attempted before and had failed. It appeared that the problem was not just raising the funding, which in itself would be a major challenge, it was more complicated than that. I decided that I would try to ignore the political issues and concentrate on the practical ones. The most appropriate location would be the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) in Staffordshire so I approached the Arboretum to see if they would allow a memorial to those killed during the Cyprus Emergency to be built in their grounds and was told that no ‘individual’ could build a memorial in the Arboretum, it could only be done by national organisations. Having contacted the National Royal British Legion without achieving any support I approached the Kyrenia Branch of the RBL and, as a member of that branch, they were very helpful and gave me a letter of support which was accepted by the NMA.
The Memorial then needed to be designed and an application with plans and a fee to be submitted to the NMA for their approval so I was then faced with designing the memorial and raising the funds. The first task was to design the memorial, produce a plan and have a plaque made. Having drawn a simple plan of a large rock on a stone plinth I showed it to the then Curator of the NMA who agreed in principal to my design and I completed the formal application for the committee to make their decision whether to allow it to be placed in the Arboretum. Not yet having started the fund raising I paid the £1000 fee myself, hoping to cover this cost when I started to “rattle” a tin. The committee agreed the design and I started to check out the engraving firms who would make the plaque shaped to represent Cyprus and engrave it for me at a reasonable cost. I was fortunate to find Brunel Engraving who were very helpful and produced a wonderful stainless steel plaque with the words “IN HONOUR OF THE BRITISH SERVICE PERSONNEL WHO SERVED DURING THE ‘CYPRUS EMERGENCY 1955-1959’ AND IN MEMORY OF THE 371 WHO LOST THEIR LIVES, WE WILL REMEMBER THEM”.
Having the idea of identifying the right shaped large rock in Cyprus and carrying it to the UK’s NMA was easy but the practicalities of finding the appropriately shaped 4ton rock, transporting it from a quarry in the Cyprus mountains to the UK was a little more complicated. Fortunately with the help of the President of the Kyrenia RBL Branch, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, the RAF and an organisation called ‘Interserve’ this complicated task was managed brilliantly, matching my drawing better than I could ever have imagined. Another major piece of luck was on my side when Keith Rackham, the stonemason who had produced the magnificent Memorial in North Cyprus and I had met at the Unveiling dinner in 2009, agreed to turn the lump of rock, then on its way from Cyprus, into the wonderful memorial we now have at the NMA.
Keith, having agreed to take on the task also helped to persuade the NMA that the building of the Memorial was in capable and experienced hands and ensured that all ‘health and safety regulations’ were being taken care of. From my point of view the fact that Keith had also offered to do the work at a reduced rate, reduced my anxiety about the amount I needed to raise for the project. The raising of the funds was also greatly helped by another lucky contact, this time the result of me contacting a web newspaper, if that’s not an oxymoron. I had emailed Cyprusscene to tell them of my project to provide a Cyprus Memorial in the UK and the reporter Margaret Sheard suggested that I use a site called “GoFundMe” which has made a huge difference in the funding drive. The letters and messages from veterans and the families of those who had lost their lives during the Emergency were very moving and on many occasions the words of a bereaved brother or sister making a donation would bring a tear to the eye.
One of the main challenges to raising the funding was the length of time since the Cyprus Emergency. The changes that had taken place in the armed services has resulted in many of the regiments that had lost men in the 1950s having since merged with other regiments, making contacting the regimental associations very difficult. Many hours were spent trying to find the current addresses of those old regimental associations and trying to trace individual veterans was an impossible task. Regrettably the records of the trust who had organized the Kyrenia Memorial were not available to us so we had to rely on those who were keeping in contact with old friends and colleagues passing on the information. It was fortunate that there were a number of these informal webs that were active such as the RAF’s National Service Association which is very well organized and was particularly helpful to me later in the organizing of the Unveiling Day.
We had requested from each of the regimental associations a donation of £100 to cover the cost of the engraving of their badge and a contribution toward the Memorial. Most of those we were able to contact were happy to make that donation and only one refused, but I was unable to make contact with many associations. However the badges of all the regiments that had lost men during the Emergency were engraved on the base of the Memorial.
During the fund raising for the memorial the question had been posed about the inclusion of the 21 civilian police officers who lost their lives in the Emergency. When the Emergency was first declared by Field Marshal Harding the Governor of Cyprus in 1956, British Police Officers were seconded to the island from many forces in the UK. The officers were promoted one rank above there acting rank in the UK. Many of these officers had served in the armed forces during the war and were used to carrying firearms. In 2014 a memorial to the 21 police officers had been erected next to the military memorial in Kyrenia and the suggestion of combining the police in the UK Memorial appealed to me having served in Cyprus in the Military Police, and as a Special in Birmingham City for about 8 years after National Service. As both military servicemen and civilian police officers had shared the dangers together, why not be remembered together now, was my belief. In the Summer of 1956 I was on duty in a Military Police vehicle in Nicosia when a senior EOKA terrorist in custody, having falsely claimed illness, was taken to the General Hospital where an ambush had been set up. One of the two UK police officers escorting the prisoner was killed in the ambush together with 2 of the ambushers and a hospital porter. The police officer was one of the early civilian police casualties of the Emergency.
I decided to ask the police what they thought about the suggestion and without hesitation they said they were in favour of a combined memorial, they had in fact been following the project and were very keen to be involved. To combine both military and civilian police I would need approval from the NMA and their response was one of surprise as it had never been done before, they would have to give it some thought as the military had never previously allowed it. After some delay approval was given, I think because they could not find any written rule that said I could not combine the two. This response I welcomed, but it gave me a problem as I had already had the plaque engraved as a memorial to the military and it would either mean a new plaque or some additional wording to include the police officers. As I still did not know the final cost or how much we would raise I decided on the latter and having reworded with some additional text I received approval from both police and military representatives.
The Memorial was now the first to combine both military personnel and civilian police from one foreign conflict. It was also gaining interest with the press, much of this down to the Cyprusscene and Margaret’s articles on line. GoFundMe was also producing very encouraging donations. The plaque had been returned to Brunel Engraving and when they heard the reason for the change they did the extra engraving without charge! The inclusion of the civilian police casualty brought in increased funding from individuals and organisations such as the Police Mutual, my thanks to Steven Mann for their generosity.
The day for the Memorial’s Unveiling was rapidly approaching and the numbers of those planning to attend was rising at an encouraging but alarming rate as we realized that we would not have the space for all the seats that were being requested. All we could do was ask those who could not stand for the service to bring fold-up chairs and provide seating for any disabled veterans. I planned to stay overnight at my son’s house as the day before I would have to collect the wreaths from the local British Legion and arrive early on the ‘big day’ to help prepare the event. The organizing of the unveiling had been largely in the hands of Pat Honey, a veteran RAF National Serviceman, to whom I shall be eternally grateful together with Neil Trotter who acted as the day’s Parade Marshal. We arrived early at the Arboretum to find it overflowing with veterans and their families carrying wreaths and standards. I was, I must admit, overawed by the turn out and had difficulty getting through the reception area to take the VIP wreaths down to the Memorial. The rock was covered by the Union Flag and many people were already standing around chatting in readiness for the Unveiling.
I stood on my own for a few minutes and thought about the long road travelled to this event. I tried to remember why I had first started such a daunting project. My motivation had been mixed, it was partly seeing the families at the graves they had not previously been able visit as it is inside the Green Line, but primarily I believe it was the realisation that my long and fortunate life had been denied to so many of my young colleagues. The day was to give the families of those young men who did not return with us a memorial in the UK to visit and remember them. It was also in a sense a metaphorical way of ‘bringing the boys home’, as casualties on more recent Active Service have since been.
As the area around the Memorial filled with families and veterans I realised how many people there were that had come to the Unveiling Day. I have-to admit I was humbled by it all when suddenly I heard the pipes behind me and turned to see three pipers from the Gordons leading the march through the trees.
It was at that moment I knew beyond any doubt that what I had started back in 2009 and was being completed today, had all been well worth the effort. From then on the event went like clockwork thanks to Neil Trotter and his team. Sir Michael Unveiled the Cyprus Rock and we were all able to see what a fantastic Memorial had been provided to those military and police personnel who had lost their lives during the Cyprus Emergency.
“WE WILL REMEMBER THEM”
PS A few weeks after the Memorial’s Unveiling, the final invoices showed that we had not raised sufficient funds to cover all the costs. A major additional cost had occurred when we had unexpectedly to pay for the Cyprus Rock to be transported to the Arboretum from the stonemasons in Norfolk. Also one of the major shortfalls in raising the funds was not being able to contact all the regimental associations who had lost men during the Cyprus Emergency, to request donations towards the cost of engraving the 46 cap badges on the base of the Memorial. We must now again attempt to contact the regimental associations to ask for their contribution to the cost of engraving their cap badges on the Memorial to raise the funds to cover the shortfall.
To make a donation to help cover the costs of the Cyprus Memorial Rock click here
To see the cyprusscene article about the unveiling click here