By Margaret Sheard
Following last year’s Remembrance Service in Kyrenia, I was contacted by one of the ex-servicemen, Derek Chilvers, who had attended during his first visit back to Cyprus in 53 years and this subsequently resulted in my writing an article about his experiences in Cyprus during his time here in 1958/59.
To see the article and many photographs click here.
So I was pleased this year, at the time of the Remembrance Service, to be able to meet Derek personally and 2 of his friends, John and Mick, who also served in Cyprus at the same time with the Suffolk Regiment. I wanted to make this visit a special one for them all so I organised a trip to Wayne’s Keep to be made the day after the Remembrance Service.
We met up with Derek, John and Mick at the Pia Bella Hotel where a lot of the veterans were staying, and also accompanying us was a Turkish Cypriot friend from London, Ismail Veli, who was on a separate visit to his homeland and we invited him as a guest to the Remembrance Service and Lunch and also to come with us for the Wayne’s Keep visit.
We travelled into Lefkoşa in 2 cars and our first port of call was the Museum of Barbarism in the Kumsal area of Lefkoşa. Chris had suggested including this as it would show our ex-servicemen friends why British servicemen were sent to Cyprus to try and keep the peace and prevent bloodshed between the two communities of the island. I was a little apprehensive as, having visited the museum previously, I was not sure of what their feelings would be, but they were very interested and very pleased to have the opportunity to visit this scene of the atrocities which took place on 24th December 1963. For myself, although I find the pictures and many bullet holes you can see throughout the building very disturbing, it is important for people to know just how bad the situation was in Cyprus at that time.
We then made our way to the Ledra Palace crossing and sat at a little cafe for a coffee and a toasted sandwich before making our way across the green line into the South and then we walked as far as the Old Post Office at the top of Ledra Street and adjacent to Luna Park. This was where Derek, John and Mick were billeted during some of their time in Cyprus. It was lovely to hear them talking of their memories of the place. As time was getting on we had to retrace our steps and return to Ledra Palace to meet up with Sergeant Mark White, the Wayne’s Keep Custodian, who had been so helpful with the arrangements for this visit.
We all boarded the UN mini-bus and off we went to the first place on our itinerary, Wayne’s Keep Cemetery. Chris and I have visited the cemetery before and every time find it a very peaceful and yet humbling place to see. There we met Captain Andy Oliver, a Padre, who was to accompany us during our tour of the cemetery. Mark had given us a wreath to lay wherever we chose and we decided to lay this at the main memorial at the end of the tour. One of the other ex-servicemen who had visited Cyprus for the Remembrance Service had asked the lads if they would place a small wooden cross on behalf of relatives on the grave of Kenneth Henry Spragg who lost his life on 4th November 1956 at the age of 20 years, we found the grave and the cross was laid. Derek, John and Mike had also brought another cross with them as their token on behalf of the Suffolk Regiment, and this was laid on the grave of Lance Corporal R D Fermor of the Suffolk Regiment, who lost his life at the age of 20 on the 19th November 1957.
We made our way to the main memorial and John was elected to lay the wreath, with which we had included a small inscription from our group, and then the Padre gave a short Service of Remembrance, which I think we all found very emotional and, as a small group, we were touched by the effort which had been made to make this a memorable occasion for us all.
We eventually said our goodbyes to the Padre and then continued on our journey. This was to have been a visit to a small chapel but as time was moving on and the lads desperately wanted to visit the site of their old camp, Kykko East Camp, this is where we made for and Mick, who had visited a few years ago, remembered exactly where it was. We arrived at a desolate area of land and with that the lads were off running and getting very excited that here they were at the site where they had spent so much time during their National Service in Cyprus. Mark made a comment as John sprinted off waving his arms around that he was a young serviceman again. Derek located what he thought was the base where his tent was pitched. It was all very nostalgic and wonderful to see the expressions on their faces and hear them talking of the old times, re-enacting staggering back to the tent down a small path with a torch. What a lovely experience for them and for us as well.
There was even more to come. even though it was getting late and the light would soon be going, Mark took us to the old Nicosia International Airport, this was an added bonus and we are all so grateful to him. Ismail, our Turkish Cypriot friend, was suddenly as excited as the lads were as he never thought he would ever set foot on the airport again and here he was suddenly remembering the last time, when he was 16 years of age, using this airport in July/August 1972. We looked through the broken windows and Ismail could recall seeing a young girl who was waving to someone and he looked at her and thought how beautiful she was, in later years he wondered how she had fared. We then saw an aircraft still sitting on the tarmac which didn’t get to take off in 1974. 3 aircraft were allowed to take off but the remaining one was grounded and there it still sits, although it has since been moved from its original location, which was probably near the runway. The aircraft is now just a shell but it is a reminder of the sad times of Cyprus and the unnecessary waste of life.
What a wonderful experience this was for all of us and we cannot thank Mark enough for making this such a memorable visit. He has been the Wayne’s Keep Custodian since he arrived at the Ledra Palace base some 6-7 weeks ago and he has obviously researched his knowledge of the area and was able to make this such an interesting and informative visit. So from all of us, thank you Mark, the visit could not have been better and our ex-servicemen and Turkish Cypriot friend will go away with some wonderful memories.