Cyprus – Childhood Memories
1950 -1961 – RIP
By Eren and Sermen Erdogan and Tulen Erdogan Young
(from Melbourne Australia)
We were all born in Nicosia at the Governor’s house, now the Presidential Palace. Our father, Erdogan Hasan Karabardak was the person in charge of all British governors’ grounds. We have obtained a video clip of our father with Governor Foot and Mrs Foot and it brings back so many memories to my brother, my sister and I, Eren said. Our neighbours were all English and Scottish servicemen and we have been trying to locate them without much success through the internet.
One family was the Archibalds from a Scottish background, that used to live next door to us. We do not know the first names of the Archibald adults (maybe Arthur and Jill or Julie). The man was a Chef in the Governor’s Palace in Strovolos Nicosia. They had 4 children Margaret, Joyce, Robert and David and they lived in Cyprus from 1956 until 16th August 1960 when the British Governor left.
They were all loaded up with their belongings in army trucks and taken off to Famagusta port with the last British Governor of Cyprus, Sir and Lady Foot.
So this is what Eren can remember from those days of his childhood:
I recently asked my brother Sermen how did our dad get to work in the Governor’s house and this is what he told me.
Our father Erdogan Hasan Karabardak got enlisted as a British soldier for support in the 2nd World War. He used to send all his wages to his parents who were living in the village of Poli in Paphos Cyprus. When he returned all the money that he had sent back home was spent by his family. He got upset with his parents and left Poli to go to Lefkosa where he got a job at Atalasa and moved to Vali Konagi (the Governors House).
I asked him what did our dad do at Atalasa, Sermen said he was working for the agriculture department and he was recommended by his English superior in the agricultural department to the Governor. Our dad was a soldier serving with the Cyprus Regiment in Palestine and Italy during the World War II, the Governor heard he was in the British Army as a soldier and a good gardener and he was accepted as a supervisor for the Governor’s Palace in Strovolos, Nicosia. His salary was improved from 15 Cyprus pounds to 45 Cyprus pounds. He got married to our mother Gulten Irfan Yildirim and during the 10 year period we children were born and grew up in our home in the Government Palace grounds.
First our neighbours were all Greek Cypriots in the Palace grounds. Sermen remembered this young Greek man sometimes sitting in the sun next door to us whose house was just one single bedroom. My father told us he was the chauffeur of the British Governor. Sermen did not understand what happened, but one day he vanished from next door never to return.
The story then came out that he was involved with the EOKA guerrilla movement and placed a bomb under the bed of the Governor from Britain which was discovered and he was either taken away or went to jail. As the result of this incident the rest of the Cypriot Greek families were evicted from their homes and English families replaced them. The Governor’s Palace grounds and orchards were fenced in with highwire fences to keep intruders out. After that time new neighbours were brought in and these neighbours were speaking a different language to the Greek families.
Our father Erdogan could speak their language which he said was English and he learned it at night school. It did not take long for us to become friends with these new neighbours next door as they had four children, some older and some younger than us.
We walked with my dad and mum up the road to the Governor’s Palace all dressed up one day. What the occasion was, why we were going there? I did not know but soon to have another surprise, and a surprise it was. All the children of neighbours and Eren and Tulen were seated on a separate long table in a large dining room. Our new neighbours were Margaret 12, Joyce 10, Robert 5 and David 2. The Archibald’s father was the chef in the Governor’s kitchen and their mother was a friendly blonde.
I noticed that there were little shiny crucibles containing salt and pepper and another one with a strange yellow looking cream which I promptly took a spoonful of and gulped down. With my eyes wide open and breathing fire through my nose and mouth, I placed the crucible on the table and immediately started screaming and crying.
Yes it was mustard I was told and that I shouldn’t have put it in my mouth. My mother rushed and washed my mouth to ease the pain and the bitterness in my mouth that gave me relief. After our dinner we were seated on the floor in front of a stage where a fat white bearded man in a red dress was sitting in a large armchair.
He started calling the children over. The English kids were not scared but for sure I was of this strange looking character. My name was called out as well but I did not budge when my father took me off the floor and took me and placed me in the lap of the fat white bearded man. I promptly started screaming and yelling from fear and disbelief that my father can trust this strange character and put me into his lap. I screamed and yelled until I was removed from the man’s lap by my mum and put out of my misery. It was Father Christmas I learned later from Robert!
After the Republic of Cyprus was announced we were thrown out by the President, Archbishop Makarios. The reason being we were Turkish Cypriots. So every time I watch this video with my father and Foot Family I feel sad and nostalgic, remembering our days from our childhood and wanting to go back to see our house now in the Presidential Palace grounds.
By Sermen Erdogan
The Palace grounds were hundreds of acres of land hemmed in between Strovolos Rd and the River. Our house was in the grounds with other houses where people lived that worked in the Governor’s Palace. I remember the beautiful landscaped gardens around the Palace itself that my father made sure was kept trimmed and proper. There were lawn areas as well as flower beds and a swimming pool around the U shaped palace. I remember the first motorised lawn mower arriving and how my father read a book on it and started it. It made hell of a noise. Beforehand the lawns were trimmed by the gardeners by hand pushed mowers.
We were sitting on top of the hill watching the view below one day with my mum, and my siblings, Tulen and Eren, when gunfire explosions were heard and then a fire in the forest could be seen from the hill and my mother whisked us away to home saying the EOKA was attacking the palace. The next day I watched hundreds of people moving down Strovolos Road in trucks and carts with their belongings. I asked my father what was happening. He said they are Turks moving out of Deftera and Lakadamiato, the Turkish sector in Lefkosa, as they are scared for their lives because of the EOKA attacks.
Every Sunday my father and mother would dress us up and take us down to Lefkosa (Nicosia) which was about 5 kilometres either walking or taking the Greek bus as there was no Turkish bus service in the dominantly Greek area where the Palace was. These outings used to make me happy as we were going to my grandparents place in Lefkosa where everyone spoke Turkish. Also I loved playing with my uncle who was only one year older than me and knew a great deal more about life than I did as he lived in the town. He knew and played different games and had friends that we could play with on his street and up the road in the Yeni Cami area.
Our new English neighbours Archibald’s kids – Margaret, Joyce, Robert and David were very friendly and we used to play together a lot. We used to enjoy each other’s company. There were two girls who were a lot older than my siblings and me. I was probably only 9 years old when I thought I was in love with Margaret the older girl and told her so in front of the other kids who all broke out in laughter. I took off very quickly into the darkness of the night when all the boys and girls chased me to make fun of me but I was nowhere to be found as I hid in a dark corner outside of our house and they passed me one by one and did not notice me.
It was as if nothing had happened the next day when we met to play again and I took a breath of relief as I was worried that Margaret would have told her parents which could have caused some consternation from my mum and dad! I never repeated the same mistake again.
The English neighbours left on the 16th of August 1960 when Cyprus became an independent Republic. Archbishop Makarios became the Greek President and Dr Fazil Kucuk the Turkish Vice President for the island of Cyprus.
Greek families replaced the English families again and moved into the houses in the Palace grounds that the English families left. There was tension and we kids could feel it as we were told by my mum and dad to be careful of the Greeks as their fathers were all EOKA guerrilla fighters before the English left . We were not so keen to play with the Greek children unless we had to. But children being children we soon made friends with the Greek kids down the road where there was a row of prickly pears that we used to pick in summer.
As we listened to dad talk we became aware that things were not going well with the Greeks now in power around the Presidential Palace. Dad said they were going to cause trouble for everyone in Cyprus because they wanted to unite Cyprus with Greece which they called ENOSIS. He was right, it did not take long afterwards that my dad’s transfer was announced that we were moving to Lefkosa and father had rented a house in the Turkish sector. It will be good he said because we will be safer that way. I found out the reason for his transfer years later from mum.
There were prisoners who were brought to the gardens every day under police guard to work. One of these prisoners Mustafa Dayi was released after a while and came back to see my father to give him an invitation to his daughter’s wedding. Evidently Archbishop Makarios was sitting on the balcony of the Palace and saw this exchange. At that time the TMT (Turkish National Resistance Organisation) who were resisting against the Greek wishes of ENOSIS used to send directions to its members through secret letter deliveries. Makarios thought that my dad was getting instructions from TMT. As Makarios was the driving force behind the idea of ENOSIS, as part of the Greek church he was scared for his life. He interpreted my dad getting an invitation as a ploy of some form and saw to it that my father was sent on his way out of the palace grounds with his family.
For us kids this was our home and we had grown up in the beautiful settings of the gardens and the palace. On the last day of our life at the Governor’s Palace, I remember climbing up an eucalyptus tree to watch the scenery thinking this my last day at my home. It was a sunny warm day and I sat on a branch taking in all the views, our house, the gardens, the palace, the growth of wattle trees and the prickly pear rows down the road below where the Greek kids lived. I felt jealous of them because they took over and we had to leave our home.
We never saw the place again for 46 years. It was by chance that when we were on a holiday in Cyprus in 2007 that I met a friendly Cypriot Greek fellow named Glafcos who arranged for us to go and see the Presidential Palace on an open day. My sister luckily arrived on the 1st of October on the day we arranged to visit. So Tulen, my wife Janan and I went together with Glafcos and refreshed our memories of the Palace grounds. It was a very emotional visitation, but we were not allowed to walk to the area where our house was due to security around the place.
By Tulen Erdogan Young
I don’t know when our father started working at the Palace gardens, it must have been before he married our mum (GultenYildirim) in the early 1950’s. He told us he went to a night school to learn English during his first years at the estate. He attended to the gardens in the estate. Around the Palace there were nice lawns kept green at all times with a beautiful swimming pool and flowers and ornamental trees scattered around. Further down were the tennis courts and the old circular helipad which wasn’t used much, as there was a bigger one at the front of a palace. The end of the helipad led to a set of stone stairs that took us down to the next level of lawns followed by the garden with the fruit trees, flower beds and veggie gardens plus the stables for horses and barracks near the river for the soldiers that were guarding the Governor’s Palace.
My father was a charming man and like us all he enjoyed his years working there. He married my mother in 1951. He brought his bride to his modest house which consisted of two main rooms opposite to each other with a little corridor which served as a kitchen for us initially. Some of the furniture and photos on the walls (Queen Elizabeth and her young family) were part of the house fixture. Later the house was extended for us to accommodate the family with three children, one extra bedroom, a huge kitchen and a modern bathroom and toilet added to the front of the house plus a little garden patch for dad to plant his very own flowers I shared the old bedroom with my brothers Sermen and Eren which had a lovely fireplace. Winter nights were cosy and our father did some lovely drawings and paintings for us.
The years we lived on this estate were the happiest years of our lives in Cyprus (we all live in Melbourne/Australia now). The gardens were splendid and maintained well with plenty of space for us to roam around. There were three rows of houses built for the staff that worked for the Governor. Our house was the closest to the palace by proximity (only 50m away). Unfortunately it has been demolished since and now it is being used as a car park. We tried to locate it on Google maps in vain!
Although we were free to roam around we weren’t allowed to go in the immediate palace grounds unless we were invited. We would only be allowed to enter the flower room with dad to take some flowers to the girl who arranged them. Zuhre was one of the flower girls, her father Hasan worked as a gardener and was our part time hairdresser with his dreaded hair clippers. Another Cypriot Turkish family worked and lived on the estate Nadir abla and Ali Dayi– the plumber and electrician. Some of the people who worked as gardeners were prisoners who were brought in every day. We got to know a few of them, I only remember one of them whose name was Mustafa.
During the Christmas Eve celebration we would sit around the area which was used for military tattoo and other entertainment for the guards and staff. I vividly remember seeing my first Laurel and Hardy clip on a white portable screen that was erected during these festivities. One Christmas Day I remember being invited to the Palace and given little gifts and treats by the Governor Foot and his family. My gift was a little watering can and Eren was given a little monkey puppet. The Foot family had two boys and a daughter (who I do not remember). The boys were at high school at the time and we didn’t get to see them unless they were swimming in the main swimming pool, riding the horses, playing tennis etc. For one of the birthday parties, my father was asked to make them colourful hexagonal kites to fly during their party which we had the pleasure of watching. The only time we spent time with them was when my father and few of the other staff were building them a cubby house with cane and available branches and leaves.
Our immediate neighbours, the Archibalds, had four children Margaret, Joyce, Robert and David and we spent a lot of time playing together before they left in 1960. We learned to speak some English which I forgot by the time I was 12, and had to learn it all over again at school. One of our favourite pastimes was climbing up the trees which wasn’t very popular with their parents, but I think they tolerated us. The watering pool was a treat which was specially cleaned in the summer so we could all go swimming.
My mum and Mrs Archibald got along well and even went shoe shopping once. I remember my mother buying a jumper and these really high heeled shoes which she didn’t wear much! They even had a photo taken together after their shopping spree.
By Eren Erdogan
Being the youngest, I was always spoiled; I was given everything I wanted, ate whatever I could get my little hands on. My grandmother called me doldurcuk – dumpling – because of my appetite for sweet things. I was known to scull down undiluted lemon Lanidis cordial and anything else that was full of sugar, Coca Cola was a particular favourite of mine. Naturally, if I could get my hands on a bottle, I wouldn’t share it with anyone. I was with my father once when he was working in the gardens of the palace and in search of a toilet, I stumbled into a nearby washroom in the process of being cleaned. By the door I saw the biggest, shiniest bottle of cola, already opened and still full. I was the luckiest boy in the world! I picked it up with both hands and took the biggest swig my little mouth could hold. It was a little bitter but thought I’d give it another shot in case it got better. Suddenly, one of the cleaners caught me and quickly took me to my father; that lovely tall bottle of cola was actually a highly toxic antiseptic cleaner. I was bundled onto the back of my father’s Bismarck motorcycle, and rushed to Nicosia hospital where my stomach was promptly emptied. I never looked at cola the same again, but that didn’t stop me from following my stomach.
Our favourite aunt from Lapitos often sent us huge terracotta pots full of hellim in brine, each covered in a protective muslin cloth. This hellim was unlike anything else I had tasted. They were so fresh, so squeaky and tender. At the first chance I could, I snuck into the kitchen where my mother kept the pots of hellim, lifted the protective muslin cloth of the pot that just arrived and reached into the opaque brine, my arm fully submerged up to my shoulder and grabbed the biggest piece I could reach. I was only able to take one bite before my sister caught me and told on me. I still haven’t forgotten the hiding I received because of it.
Living nearby the Governor’s house, I had a lot of fun memories of the Archibald kids who I’d often play with. I used to help myself to young David’s Smarties. Once I remember getting encouraged to jump into the pool by Robert and the older girls Margaret and Joyce, unfortunately though, I didn’t know how to swim. I was sinking to the bottom of the pool, when I was saved by Robert and taken to mum. I never forgot the fright I had. We had lots of fun climbing trees too, but being as cheeky as I was, I couldn’t resist getting up to a little mischief. While the girls were climbing, I’d pull down their shirts so they couldn’t fix themselves until they jumped down from the tree. We use to declare war on European wasps trying to save honey bees. I’ll never forget how my sister used to throw stones and hit my head, I still have the scars to prove it! She still claims I used to run under the stones to deliberately get hit.
I remember the very sad day the Archibalds left, watching them being loaded into military trucks and driving off. We were heartbroken and the void they left stayed for a long time. Their departure left a hole not only in our lives, but also in the town around us. The houses around us began to empty, and new Greek neighbours were hard to communicate with. The atmosphere became tenser, sounds of explosions became more frequent, and the sight of smoke became a common occurrence.
My mum was given a part time job for couple hours per day by my father before the Foots left, it was to picking all the dead flowers from around the palace. She continued after Governor Foot left and ROC administration took over the grounds. One day when mum was trimming all the flowers I was hanging around to help by collecting what mum was cutting away. Suddenly, I watched as a man with a black beard flecked with white in a black dress approached us from across the dying gardens. Mum didn’t realise he was there until he started to speak to me in Turkish but with a heavy accent. He picked me up and asked my name, but couldn’t pronounce it properly, so I corrected him, and he of course laughed. He was a gentle person and was genuinely interested in being kind. Mum spoke in Greek explaining what she was doing I suppose. After a while he left. My mum later told me he was Makarios, this was the man who took over the Governor’s House and now we worked for him. That’s the only memory of him I recall. Not long after I remember we were loading the truck with our belongings and moving to our new home. It was a very sad day for us to leave this haven, the home I had known.
Tulen, Eren and Semen
Please come with us on a video vist to the British Govenors House and see our father hard at work and close by is where we lived. See below: