Visit to Ledra Palace

For anybody that has walked across the Ledra Crossing through the Green Line buffer zone, it is impossible not to notice that this is a time warp

Having made contact with and starting to follow the preparation of the 29th Regiment Group United Nations Peace Keeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) efforts through the Cyprus Charity Cycle Challenge Team, I was delighted to receive an invitation to visit Ledra Palace to meet some of the cycling team members.

For anybody that has walked across the Ledra Crossing through the Green Line buffer zone, it is impossible not to notice that this is a time warp that portrays those bad days of yesteryear when the island was full of intercommunal strife.

Leaving the Turkish Cypriot border and walking alongside and chatting to an Australian military policeman, I soon arrived at the entry gate to Ledra Palace and I was bid welcome by a huge friendly guard who came originally came from Fiji . He led me inside the hotel and through to the guardroom where I was made welcome again and waited for my contact to arrive.

Second Lieutenant Elysia Ridley soon arrived and she led me through the building into the restaurant where we sat and had coffee to await the arrival of some of the other members of the team. I was soon to learn that cycling is a very important and competitive sport in the British Army and no more so than here in Ledra Palace and I was amazed to learn that the UN team riders have spent a lot of time cycling around and enjoying immensely, North Cyprus.

Some while ago, the team came up with the idea of cycling around the island and at the same time raising £2,500 for the Army Benevolent Fund and as would be expected of a fine military unit, they have meticulously planned the event and overcome both logistical and political problems to stage the event which is to cycle 452 miles around the island starting at Escape Beach Club on the 5th September at 6.00am and returning on 9th September to Escape Beach Club to complete their challenge.

Soon we were joined by Staff Sergeant Gerard Arthur, Captain Clare Sapwell, Major Verity Crompton,  and Warrant Officer Billy Webb and out came the maps and they explained the route they will be taking in North Cyprus and the location of their lunch stop and overnight rest area before heading south from the Karpaz the next day.

Soon it was time for me to leave and as I walked out through the hotel I stopped and looked at a display that documented the history of the hotel and became aware that during its commercial lifetime the Ledra Palace Hotel was a 5 star hotel in Cyprus. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton once stayed in a room now used by the Quartermaster.

Sadly the history of Cyprus is interlaced with wars and conflicts and Ledra Palace which was completed in 1949 has had its share of trauma with a murder attempt  on the life of the Governor of Cyprus, Field Marshall Sir John Harding in November 1955 by a hotel worker and EOKA member, Yanis Pafitis.

Unbeknown to Pafitis, Sir John Harding had been delayed from attending the charity ball being held in the hotel as he had been engaged in announcing through the media, that a State of Emergency had been declared in Cyprus.

At the time of the planned arrival of Sir John, the ballroom was plunged into darkness by the would be assassin and two grenades were rolled across the floor to where Sir John was to have been seated. Thankfully only a few people sustained light injuries received by the blast or being injured in the melee in the darkened room.

The perpetrator was later detained for questioning but subsequently released and no more is known of him. At the height of the fighting in 1974 the hotel was shelled by both sides and on one occasion, the Canadian Airborne Regiment rescued and evacuated guests while under fire.

Thankfully those days are long gone and we must pray they never return again and as I sit here writing this report I have received, like others, a message from Warrant Officer, Billy Webb via Facebook, telling the team to get plenty of rest and that the donations pledged have almost reached £2,000.

Well done all, I look forward to seeing you at the Escape Beach Club on Wednesday 5th September.

 Read more at Cyprus Cycle Challenge