Remembrance Sunday 2013

The TRNC will remember the Fallen

By Chris Elliott

It is that time of year when many ex-servicemen who served with the British Forces and their relatives  turn their thoughts to those who served but did not return home to enjoy the peace.

Here in North Cyprus preparations are underway by the Royal British Legion, Kyrenia Branch for the National Act of Remembrance to be held on Sunday the 10th November at 12.30pm (10.30am UK time) at the Old British Cemetery in Kyrenia. The organisers have asked for those attending to be seated by 12.15pm.  On Monday the 11th of November we are proud and privileged to be taking a party of ex-servicemen to Wayne’s Keep in Nicosia to pay their respects to the  371 British Servicemen who fell during the EOKA terrorist campaign in Cyprus in the late 1950’s.

For those readers who would like to learn more of the British Forces in Cyprus we have included an article previously published in a local newspaper which gives a glimpse of the past and the importance of preserving this national heritage.

Cyprus 1878 – The Black Watch Were Here

By Chris Elliott

The launch of the National Royal British Legion, Poppy Appeal 2012 on the 14th October culminates with a National Act of Remembrance  at the London Cenotaph on Sunday at the 11th hour when all British people throughout the world take time to remember. At this time I am reminded of an article I wrote some while ago which brings into sharp focus what the Act of Remembrance is all about.  

There are many noticeable reminders of the British Administration throughout their time here in Cyprus but I think the most poignant reminder is the Old British Cemetery where both man and his passing come together and in particular there is one person like many others from the past who has not been forgotten.

SERGEANT SAMUEL McGAW,  42nd ROYAL HIGHLANDERS, THE BLACK WATCH.

Samuel McGaw was born in 1837 in Kirkmichael Village, Ayrshire, the eldest son of William McGaw and his wife Sarah Thomson. Samuel was one of a family of five sons, one of whom died in infancy and three sisters all born in Kirkmichael Village.

At twenty years of age on the 15th August 1857 Samuel enlisted in the 42nd Royal Highlanders in Glasgow. On the day before 001 Sgt Samuel McGaw VChis enlistment Samuel’s Regiment had sailed from Portsmouth for service in India where the Mutiny had broken out. Samuel was probably drafted to his Regiment the following year (1858) in which case he would have taken part in the Siege and Capture of Lucknow (March 1858); the Attack on Fort Rooyah (15th April 1858); the Battle of Bareilly (5th May 1858) and the Battle of Sissaya Ghaut (15th January 1858).

By March 1859 the Mutiny had been suppressed and two years later whilst still in India, on 12th September 1861 the name “Black Watch” was added to the Regiment’s title.

Over the next few years Samuel was promoted and demoted on at least two occasions but he managed to attain the rank of Sergeant and was again reduced to Private in 1865. This however did not deter him from pursuing his military career for on 20th February 1867 whilst stationed in Peshawar with his initial engagement due to expire, he re-engaged as a Private for a further term of service.

On 12th January 1868 after various postings in India, Samuel sailed with his Regiment for Scotland having served with them in India for nine years. On arrival in Edinburgh he was promoted to Corporal but by June some three months later he was again reduced to Private and by the end of the year (1868) the Regiment had been posted to Aldershot from where whilst on leave to Kilmarnock, Samuel on 21st December 1870 married a widow Mrs Ann Stalker. Two years later he had again been promoted to Corporal and the following year (1873) he had attained the rank of Lance Sergeant.

In 1872 the main port of the West African Kingdom of Elmina was transferred from Dutch to British control thus ending the annual payments made by Holland to King Kofi Karikara for use of the port. As a result of this the King of Ashanti (Ghana) sent his troops across the border in 1873 to attack the friendly tribes of the British Protectorate of the Gold Coast where very few British troops were stationed. Urgent reinforcements were required and amongst these were the 42nd Highlanders, The Black Watch, who sailed from Portsmouth on 3rd December 1873, arriving in the Gold Coast ten days before Christmas.

Soon after the New Year they set off for Coomassie (Kumasi) the capital of Ashanti 150 miles inland. During their advance many small difficult actions were fought but the main action of the campaign was at the Ashanti town of Amoaful where Lance Sergeant McGaw although severely wounded early in the initial attack led his 002 Sgt Samuel McGaw VC 2section through the dense thorny bush and engaged the enemy several times during the day. For his conduct throughout the battle Samuel McGaw was later awarded the Victoria Cross, one of four awarded during the Ashanti Campaign.

The following month King Karikara agreed to sign a peace treaty and the 42nd Highlanders arrived back in Portsmouth on 23rd March 1874 having spent less than four months in the Gold Coast. The Regiment remained in Portsmouth for the next eight months and whilst stationed there Sergeant McGaw was Gazetted on 28th March 1874 as having been awarded the Victoria Cross for action at the Battle of Amoaful. On 18th April he was presented with his award by Her Majesty Queen Victoria at Osborne House, Isle of Wight.

The following month whilst on leave in Kilmarnock he received a Presentation and Testimonial signed by dignitaries and people of the town in recognition of his bravery. From Portsmouth Samuel was again posted overseas to Malta on 14th November 1874.

From Malta the Regiment moved to Cyprus on board the HMS Himalaya where they disembarked at Larnaca on 22nd July 1878, and set off for Camp Chiflik Pasha some 7 miles to the north that same day. Whilst on the march to the camp Sergeant McGaw died of heat stroke. He was buried close to where he had died and a wooden marker was set up to mark the spot. His burial service was done by the Commanding Officer Colonel Wauchope as the Regimental Chaplain was not available to conduct the service.

Some three years later, Commissioner of Kyrenia, Colonel Scott Stevenson formerly of the Black Watch, learned that the Greek farmer who owned the land on which Sergeant McGaw was buried, had removed the wooden grave marker and had ploughed the land over the grave. Colonel Stevenson traced the site of the grave, exhumed the remains and placed them in a coffin which was taken to Kyrenia where covered with a Union Flag and carried by six Turkish Zaptiehs it was reburied in the English Cemetery. After the funeral Mrs Scott Stevenson decorated the grave with wreaths of passion flowers and jasmine. The grave was then marked with an ancient sarcophagus and is alongside the graves of other members of the Regiment who died in the Cyprus campaign from malaria.

So that was a Face of the times and what of the Places? It would seem that the Kyrenia Camp lay to the north of the cemetery and on the other side of the main road but no trace of it can be found today. A vision can be gained of the camp and Kyrenia from the words of a writer Sir Samuel White Baker in 1879.

“Cyprus As I Saw It – 1879

On the following morning, we enjoyed the splendid view from the covered balcony at the back of Mr. Holbeach’s house, which 006 The grave of Sgt Samuel McGaw (1)showed the richest foreground In Cyprus in the dark green of carob-forest and gardens of fruit-trees intermingled with plots of barley already in the ear. This rich front was backed by the wall of dark limestone cliffs two miles distant, 3000 feet elevation, with the castles of Buffavento and St. Hilarion perched left and right on the giddy summits of the highest crags, which in the clear atmosphere apparently overhung our position. We then breakfasted, took leave of our hospitable host, and rode back to Lefkosa to inquire into the cause of the delay of our baggage.

On arrival we found a string of mules just starting, as the camels that had been engaged yesterday had never appeared. I sent off the servants and animals, with orders to pitch the tent upon the site of the old camp of the 42nd Highlanders, within a mile of Kyrenia; we then once more encroached upon the kindness of Sir Garnet and Lady Wolseley for the night. On the following morning we rode to Kyrenia, sixteen miles, and found tents pitched in a delightful situation, and the camp swept and arranged in perfect order. There could not have been a better site for a military camp, as the ground was firm and sloped gradually towards the sea, above which the elevation may have been about 120 feet.

The beautiful carob trees afforded a dense shade for individual tents and for unlimited numbers of men. The ground had been well drained, and every care had been taken to ensure the health of the troops; but in spite of all sanitary arrangements they had suffered severely from fever, by which, although only four had actu003 Four Soldiers from 1878 at Restally succumbed, and now lay in the lonely little cemetery close to our tents, the regiment had been demoralised, and was withdrawn from this lonely position completely fever smitten.

I made close inquiries among the natives, and all agreed that the past year, having been unusually wet, had been exceptionally unhealthy, and the inhabitants had suffered almost to the same degree as the Europeans. It was painfully clear that when the rainfall was sufficiently plentiful to produce abundant harvests it at the same time ensured a crop of fevers.

We remained ten days in our Kyrenia camp, and we were both sorry to leave, as the neighbourhood is exceedingly beautiful and full of interest; there is certainly no portion of Cyprus that can equal it in the picturesque, or in the extreme richness of genuine forest-trees and foliage.

The town is small and most irregular: an old Turkish graveyard forms a boundary upon the outskirts opposite the fort, precisely similar in position to that of Famagusta. Within 300 paces of the point are the principal houses, mostly well built of stone and surrounded by high-walled gardens fruitful in oranges, lemons, almonds, apricots, figs, and the fruits commonly known throughout the island. The houses are generally one story above the ground-floor with a wide balcony that forms an open face to the first floor of five or six arches, which support the roof upon that side. This is a convenient plan for the climate, as it admits fresh air to all the rooms which open into the balcony.

By description these houses sound similar to the refurbished House and Garden Restaurant that is opposite the Colony Hotel 008 Memorial to British Servicemen on active service who died iduring the Cyprus Emergency in 1955 to 1959 smland both now front the area of Upper Kyrenia (Regiatiko) where the residents fled for safety during the Ottoman period.

So back now to the sad and lonely place that is the old British Cemetery but never forgotten as now it also holds The British Cyprus Memorial and remembers the 371 British Servicemen who fell during the EOKA terrorist campaign of the late 1950’s.

With the formation of the Royal British Legion, Kyrenia Branch, the memory of all of those that served in Cyprus and for the British Forces, they will be honoured and remembered forever.

We will be writing more articles next week to bring you news of the National Act of Remembrance to be held on Sunday the 10th November at the Old British Cemetery in Kyrenia and the Royal Britsih Legion lunch afterwards at the Ship Inn, Karaoĝlanoĝlu, plus we will bring you news of our visit to Wayne’s Keep in Nicosia with some British ex-servicemen who served in Cyprus and their thoughts and feelings after all of the years that have passed since those sad days when so many people lost their lives trying to preserve the peace in Cyprus.