By Ismail Veli
There are many stories of heroes and unknown Martyrs who served the British Commonwealth in its hour of need.
Britain’s need for fighting men at the outbreak of WW2 was desperately needed. Nazi Germany hadoverrun Europe, and its new concept of Blitzkrieg (Lightning war) and military might had brought it to the point of total European domination. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, all the Nordic countries and France were totally overrun. The Soviet Union signed a pact with Germany. Italy was part of the axis and Britain stood alone.
Defeat seemed inevitable and only the very few, if that, saw any chance of surmounting the power of Nazi Germany. It was against this background that Cypriots rallied to volunteer to the tune of 20,000. Amongst these was a family that lived in Larnaca but originated from the village of Lurucina. Hasan & Hussein Mehmet Ramadan (twins born in 1921) together with their brother Seyit Mehmet Ramadan joined in earnest. Their other brothers Kemal & Numan stayed in Cyprus as policemen.
Their father Mehmet Ramadan had already proudly served as a policemen all his adult life and was a Corporal in the Cypriot police force. As a result he had lived in many parts of the Island. The twins Hassan and Hussein were born in Limassol and Seyit was born in Larnaca. The family were brought up in Larnaca and Mehmet Ramadan was proud that his sons were either policemen or soldiers in the British army. The adventurous and courageous nature of these men was nothing new to the family. They had come from a long line of military men that went back to the time they arrived in the village of Lurucina in the mid or late 1700’s. Their grandfather and all their uncles had carried the name of Kavaz,(bodyguards/Guards which is now used by many as the family surname) through generations. Their blood was running high and staying behind was not an option. They volunteered early in the war. Though Seyit Mehmet Ramadan born in 1925 was still underage he lied to enlist and the British being desperate were asking no questions.
The Cyprus Regiment was soon formed and in 1941 Hassan M. Ramadan was shipped out to help defend the island of Crete against the tough and experienced German paratroopers. Unfortunately after some tough and brutal fighting the British army suffered a defeat. Hassan was captured together with other Cypriots. Many served out the war as prisoners but Hassan was having none of it. He soon escaped and joined the Greek partisans in Crete. Like other Luricinali’s his knowledge of the Greek language gave him a great advantage in passing off as a local Greek civilian. He came close to being captured a second time when an alert German soldier stopped and questioned him. The German suspected him of being a British soldier but staying calm he dismissed such notions as ridiculous. He soon convinced the German soldiers that he would ‘collaborate’ with them by pointing out the real members of the Resistance! Hence, he spun them a yarn, by saying that whoever he tapped on the shoulder would be one of the Fighters! Well, apparently, they let him go and proceeded to follow him.
He, obviously, didn’t tap anyone on the shoulder and entered a house and escaped through the back and fled to the mountains, where he continued to fight with the Resistance, until the British Army managed to liberate the Island and he returned back to his Unit in the 8th Army ( better known as the Desert Rats) in North Africa.
In the meantime his younger brother Seyit was doing his own stint.
The story of Seyit is most vividly described by his daughter Tina Kemran and the following are her words:.
‘Corporal Seyit Mehmed Ramadan, witnessed many historical moments during WW2 ( i.e.: the bombing and destruction of Monte Cassino) and got into quite a few scraps, also. (whilst playing billiards in a café, one winter, in Senegalia and hearing a commotion outside he rushed to the rescue of a younger Greek Cypriot soldier, who was surrounded by an Italian mob and had been set upon, whilst others – including his fellow soldiers – stood by. Apparently, dad unleashed his belt and ”dived-in” and let loose, left/right and centre and, in his own words, ”liberated” him! He was so hyped-up that he picked up the bike of a bystander and threw it at them! But, they all had to leg-it, as the Military Police were on the way!) As a 17 year old, one night, in March 1943 whilst on Guard Duty, he saved the life of his Platoon, whilst they slept. Apparently, he heard a noise in the distance and, of course, shouted out for them to halt and identify themselves. When no response came, after the third? time, he let out a shot. Obviously, everyone awoke and they went to investigate further, in the dark of the night, only to find a dead soldier.
When my dad had seen that he had a bullet wound to the forehead, he got very upset but his Platoon Commander told him that it was a very good thing that he had done, because he had saved all their lives. As, obviously, had he not done so, or was shot himself, the German soldiers would have proceeded to kill the rest of the platoon, whilst they all slept.
Death escaped dad ( Seyit ) on a number of occasions. The first was when they were on a ship, one night before landing, and they were being bombed. He told my sister that he was convinced, he would not see his 18th birthday! On another occasion, whilst in Haifa (Palestine), he was walking down the main street, when he was stopped by some Jewish Freedom Fighters (who were not averse to killing the odd British Soldier) and only escaped with his life, because he told them he wasn’t English but Turkish Cypriot! That convinced him to leave the Army and so, in June 1947 he was demobbed and returned to Cyprus. He was due to join the Cyprus Police Force and all his uniform was laid out for the next day, but dad didn’t want to stay in Cyprus and so got on a ship and came to England! For my father, the event of his brother’s death over-shadows all that took place during the War, and is the most important link to that time.
As for recognition, there is a letter from Prince Charles to my father, which acknowledges my dad’s contribution to WW2, but I haven’t seen it since my dad died. He had loads, from The Queen, Prince Phillip, Prime Ministers etc and I should have kept them, but – maybe – one day, I’ll get to find them. Dad’s family are/were pretty eccentric and eclectic? Their lives have been very eclectic and varied, indeed, and have spanned many countries, continents and cultures. Their sense of duty and honour seems to have seeped down through the generations, of which I am very proud to be a part”.
In 1943 the allies invaded Italy and Seyit’s unit was one of the first to enter Rome. The war was not over but the Allies were advancing on all fronts.
Seyit was also present when the body of Mussolini and his mistress were strung up by Communist Partisans by their heels at a petrol station at the Piazzale Loreto in Milan. Though they had been lynched while attempting to escape from the advancing allies his column was stopped before crossing into Switzerland. Taken into custody by the Partisans his fate was a foregone conclusion. After the Lynching they were taken to Piazzale Loreto in Milan which was the site of a fascist massacre of resistance fighters the year before.
In the meantime Hussein met a beautiful Italian girl named Lina who captured his heart. The dashing young Hussein cut a fine figure as a handsome young man and both fell in love. They managed to get engaged and the photo in this article was given to Hussein by Lina, but the happiness was short lived. Tragedy was to engulf the family. It was 9th September 1944 at 5pm when Hussein was leading a convoy in the mountains of Italy. As it had been raining the roads were narrow, slippery and treacherous without any warning an American convoy suddenly came head on from around the bend. His motor bike skidded forcing him off and caused terrible head and facial injuries which caused instant death. Seyit his brother was called to identify the body.
At 19 years of age the sight of seeing his brother in such a state was to leave a lasting impression and sadness which he never forgot. Due to the shock Seyit was confined in camp for a week. The official version was ‘battle accident’ and he was buried at the Ancona military cemetery where he still lies today. On his tombstone he is listed as ‘Corporal Hussein Mehmet, CY/1217’. Another twist to this sad story was that Hussein sent his photo to the family not long before his fatal accident.
Previously Hussein, had gone missing in the Sahara desert for a week and survived through many dangers only to be killed in an accident. Three brothers went to war only two came back. They showed great courage in fighting for King and Country. Whether evading capture, and serving the Commonwealth in Cyprus, Egypt, Crete, Italy or Palestine their sense of duty made them risk their lives when staying at home in Cyprus would have been the easy and safer option.
The total Cypriot contribution in WW2 as part of the Cyprus Regiment was 20.000 personnel. At the end of January 1944, the Regiment consisted of 10.008 recruits. 7,967 Greeks, 1,999 Turkish, 37 Armenian’s 3 British, 1 Polish, and 1 Maltese. The casualties totalled 358 dead and 250 missing. They are buried in 56 cemeteries in 16 different countries. Their decision was to fight against Nazism and help play their part for freedom and democracy. It is to these heroes that we owe the freedom we have today, it is their sacrifice that have provided our children with the safety and comforts of a free democratic society that we take for granted, after all is said and done let’s not forget the echo of their words.
”When you go home
tell them of us,
for your tomorrow
we gave our today”
The following poem is courtesy of Tina Kemran daughter of Seyit M. Ramadan
For Corporals *Hussein. M. Ramadan. Hassan. M. Ramadan & Seyit. M. Ramadan Cyprus Regiment 1939-1950. *Hussein. M. Ramadan died in Italy, 9 September 1944.
Commonwealth soldier please die for me,
Your King and Country is in dire need,
Of your body and soul to fight to be free,
Of all persecution, oppression and greed.
Enlist voluntarily, fight like a man
Lay down your identity, by sacrificing your land.
Never complain, never ask why?
The Motherland needs you, at this moment in time….
Proud old soldier, what is your story?
Standing there, in all your fine glory.
What horrors have you witnessed,
What atrocities have you seen – Did you take part in battles,
Where you would rather not have been?
You wear your medals with so much pride,
But underneath your dapper jacket – You cannot disguise the hidden scars,
Of what war really means.
For Freedom, we cry an endless ocean.
For Freedom-We deny it, to those
Who have, yet, to know it!
Corporal Hussein. M. Ramadan. Died in Italy, 9 September 1944.
Copyright Tina Kemran