Redcaps On Patrol in Cyprus
Can Money Buy You Everything?
SOME PEOPLE DO THINK SO
By Roy Oswick
Although Military Police in Cyprus during the EOKA Campaign were mainly involved in Anti Terrorist Operations they also had to carry out their normal police duties, that included investigating and reporting traffic offences and RTA’s (Road Traffic Accidents). RTA’s were frequent, due in the main to very poor road conditions and also the local standard of driving which has improved little over the years. It could be argued that there is no such thing as an accident and whenever RMP investigated an accident involving a military vehicle or a civilian vehicle owned or driven by a military person, the investigation invariably concluded with an indication that from the evidence gathered the military person was or was not to blame for the accident or that he/she could or could not have prevented it from happening.
The report was submitted to the Commanding Officer of the unit to which the serviceman belonged and the CO would decide whether Disciplinary proceedings should take place. Generally speaking these proceedings were held locally and the CO would hear the evidence, reach a finding and where necessary issue a punishment. Sometimes however the matter was so serious that the CO would decide not to deal with the case himself but to refer it to a Court Martial. I was involved in one such case early in my service.
The accused person was a middle ranking military officer. At the time, around mid 1959 there was a Squadron of the Blues and Royals stationed here. They were and still are a very high profile cavalry regiment and part of the Queens Household Division. The role of this regiment in Cyprus was to carry out extended patrols throughout the island attempting to gather information and win the Hearts and Minds of the people. This was almost always very boring and the patrols could last for several days. Returning to barracks from these patrols provided an opportunity for the Squadron to party, which they always did with much enthusiasm.
It should also be remembered that in those days it was still possible for the very rich to buy a commission and the Cavalry regiments, the Blues and Royals and the Lifeguards were particularly popular. It was not at all unusual to find a large contingent of young men from very wealthy backgrounds almost playing at soldiers in these regiments. Mostly they consisted of young men who had failed at university or were seen by parents as not yet fit to join the family business in any kind of trusted position. The officer in this case was one of these and his family had bought him a commission in the Blues and Royals. This young man was a member of a very well known wealthy family concerned in the production of confectionary and soft drinks. In the very early hours of a typically hot summer day I was sent to investigate a Traffic accident in the Troodos mountains. It was reported that the accident involved two military vehicles and several soldiers had been seriously injured. Military ambulance, recovery and fire crews had already been sent and it was not long before we arrived on the scene.
What greeted us as a scene of total carnage. The road itself was clear but we quickly learned that the two military vehicles involved were a Ferret Scout Car and a Saladin armoured vehicle. Both had crashed off the road and were now perched precariously on the side of a ravine, looking for all the world as if the slightest movement would send them crashing further down the mountain and into virtual oblivion. Army medics had acted very swiftly and had already got the injured out and conveyed them to the military hospital in Nicosia. Thankfully none was in a life threatening state but there were nonetheless some serious injuries. The Army Recovery team informed me that the vehicles could be recovered and that they had requested heavy lifting gear. And so began the task for The Military Police to investigate the accident and attempt to discover what had happened. We managed to locate the village policeman and with his help were able to establish that no other vehicles had been involved, but some of the locals said that the 2 vehicles had passed through their village going very fast and with one of the soldiers standing up in the turret of each vehicle. The policeman proceeded to take eyewitness statements which he said he would forward to us at our base in Episkopi. We assisted in clearing the scene and when the vehicles had been recovered returned to base. After a few days we were told that the injured soldiers were to be released from hospital and we made arrangements to interview them.
There were ten of them and we found that 4 had been in the Ferret Scout Car under the command of a Senior NCO, and 6 others had been in the larger Salladin under the command of an offtcer. Because of the number of interviews to be carried out we split the investigating team and began the investigation. At the end of the day we met and began to put together what had happened as far as we could from what had been said in the statements taken from the soldiers. It quickly became clear to us that the Officer in Charge was largely responsible for the accident because each of the soldiers said that the Officer in the Salladin had laid down a challenge to the Senior Non Commissioned Officer in the Ferret Scout car to a race back to barracks, the loser to pay for the first round of drinks at the return to base party that evening. I subsequently interviewed both the Officer and the SNCO, who both denied any such allegation. In the meantime we had received the reports from the REME who had recovered the two vehicles and they reported that both vehicles were so badty damaged as to be beyond repair. The cost to the army to replace these vehicles was several thousands of pounds.
Eventually the SNCO decided that he would be better placed to tell the truth and admitted to me that the accident was the result of the race, both vehicles had been speeding on very narrow and twisting roads, the drivers had lost control and both had crashed off the road. In the circumstances it was pure luck that nobody had been killed. Even when confronted with the evidence the Officer denied that he had issued such a challenge, however when his commanding Officer received the Military Police report he quickly decided that the matter was so serious and the financial loss to the Army so great that the officer should be tried by Court Martial
This was duly arranged and after a couple of months the hearing was convened. The Court Martial centre was nothing more grand than a metal Nissan Hut that served as courtroom dressing room and waiting room for the panel of judges, witnesses and the accused. The judging panel consisted of a very Senior Officer, in this case the Brigade Major, who acted in much the same way as the Chairman of a Magistrates Court, a member of the Judge Advocate Generals Staff, who offered advice on Legal matters, and an independent member who was responsible to ensure that the accused received a fair hearing. The Accused had an officer of equal or senior rank to act as his defending officer and the Army used an officer from the Army Legal Services to act as the prosecution.
I well remember that it was July and the heat was overpowering the only method of keeping the room at a bearable temperature was the fitting of two ceiling fans that served only to blow the legal documents of all parties all over the room. The wheels of justice are renowned for the tortuous speed at which they travel and the Army is no exception. Due to the number of soldiers required to give evidence I was examined and then cross examined as each gave evidence. The officer had maintained his Not Guilty plea and I well remember how often the Chairman offered him the opportunity to change his plea. After two days it was clear that the only possible finding would be that of Guilty and the officer was at risk of being cashiered out of the Army. As I said the officer came from a very wealthy family whose products were, and still are, sold worldwide.
As the court approached the end of the second day the Chairman announced that the accused officer would be called the following day to give his evidence, and told the officer that he needed to consider very carefully what he would say. The accused officer became visibly shaken as if at last the penny had dropped and he could see that his military career was about to end in a less than glorious fashion, also perhaps he had visions that the family may not be at all impressed.
The court closed for the day and reconvened the following morning. I remember that I was in dread of another long hot day in the dock, and praying praying for a miracle to happen, and have the day pass quickly.
As had been stated the previous day the first witness to be called was to be the officer. As the investigating policeman I was called first for the prosecution. I delivered my evidence and went through the cross examination by the defence and was about to be stood down from the witness box when there was a sudden turn in events. The accused officer was in deep discussion with his defending officer and was clearly somewhat distressed. His defending officer approached the bench and asked if his client may have permission to speak. After a brief discussion the Chairman agreed and allowed the accused time to address the court outside of the witness box.
What happened next is something that I had never seen before and in 23 years service never saw again. Striking a pose not unlike Perry Mason the Officer began to speak. “Gentlemen of the Court, may I please have your attention for just a few minutes? I admit that I may have made a mistake and that some of my men could have suffered more than they did and I am truly sorry for that. We had been on patrol for several days and everyone was more than a little fed up. I thought that having a race back to camp would cheer us all up a bit. Now, we have sat and sweltered in this room for the last few days and I am aware that everyone is hot and tired and totally peed off with the whole affair. Clearly this is set to go on for at least the rest of today, and possibly tomorrow. In exchange for a reasonable finding from the Court would it not be better for all concerned if I were to say. Yes, I am guilty, so why not just let me pay for the damage and move on?”
The Chairman of the Court was to say the least unimpressed. Needless to say the request was denied and he did eventually give his evidence, was found guilty and was cashiered. This was reduced on appeal to several year’s loss of seniority and huge fines from his salary.
Oh how I remember the look on the faces of the Court Martial Panel. Priceless.
Money cannot always buy you everything!