The Convoy from Nicosia to Kyrenia
We have recently been contacted by Anne Woods who lives in the UK and who has many recollections of Cyprus during her working life as cabin crew with an airline. Anne has kindly written a lovely article about some of her experiences in Cyprus and we are pleased to publish this on her behalf.
I guess I can honestly say I’ve known Cyprus for a large part of my life. I was born in Central London during the war when bombs were falling all around us. I went to primary school with a mix of foreign children some of which were Cypriot and then much later on to college where there were many more Cypriots. Some became our friends. There was Gabriela who was always cold – Oh Anna, Anna I am so cold, I am so cold, there was little Phivos running around asking questions from Mario or whoever else would listen and so many more.
When we finally got the TV for the Coronation which was only on for 3 hours a night and which was mostly news programmes it was difficult to come to terms with witnessing British troops being shot in the back on Ledra Street (Murder Mile). But I can honestly say that we all remained friends.
By Anne Woods….
My first foray into the airline business was in the late 50’s when I saw an advertisement in one of the London newspapers for a check-in clerk with British Eagle at Knightsbridge Air Terminal. It was close to home so I could walk to work in 10 minutes, so I applied and got the job. I was there for about 2 years and then one lazy Sunday afternoon whilst reading the newspapers, my Mother said ‘look at this – Pan American Airways are now advertising for reservation staff at their Piccadilly Office ’that sounds interesting’ I said, and a better salary, so Mum said why don’t you apply. I did and got the job.
I loved my job but somehow I was looking for something more exciting and one day my boss said Pan Am at Heathrow North Side is looking for someone in their Special Handling Dept. would you be interested? Don’t worry, you will always have your job here with us if you decide you want to come back. As you can imagine I jumped at the opportunity but forgot to ask what exactly Special Handling meant – which wasn’t very smart of me. However, I soon found out the next day. It was a uniformed job of Meeting and Greeting famous names of stage and screen, and of course it put me at Heathrow Airport which is really where I always wanted to be.
A week later I was Meeting the arriving Pan American Clippers and looking after the likes of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner. Not to mention so many other famous names of that era. What a job! A girl friend who also worked with me at Pan Am in the Piccadilly Offices, decided she wanted to fly and wanted me to go with her to New York, however I had different ideas. I decided I wanted to stay in the UK and joined British Airways (in those days it was called BEA/BOAC).
I joined BEA as Cabin Crew in November 1964 and after a 6 week training course at Heston close to Heathrow Airport, one of my first rostered trips was in December 1964 to Nicosia, Cyprus. Our aircraft type in those days on that route, together with the Middle East, was the beautiful Comet 4 Airliner, beautiful to look at, wonderful to work in and the sound of those 4 Rolls Royce engines will stay with me forever. The Comet was the first passenger carrying jet in the world and the forerunner to the magnificent Concorde.
Our hotel in those early days was the famous Ledra Palace Hotel with its wonderful gardens and magnificent swimming pool surrounded by blue berets of the UN kind. So we felt very safe even though we were right on the Green Line and we quickly learned that on each floor was a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot soldier looking extremely stern at each other, and as we learned later, they were fully armed. We tried to lighten up the atmosphere a little by saying a shaky good night to each of them, in their respective native languages, but they were having none of it. The joke went around amongst the rest of the crew “be careful not to sleep walk in the night as you are likely to be shot!”
Of course our very favourite destination in Cyprus was Kyrenia and the Dome Hotel now nicknamed the Doom Hotel – can’t imagine why? Although BEA’s hotel of choice for cabin crew was the Ledra Palace hotel our senior pilots fought hard to remain at the Dome and won. We didn’t have the seniority they had of course!
In the early sixties the atmosphere at the Dome was an interesting mix of feathered Boas, wide brimmed Safari hats and Zimmer frames with a faint overriding scent of moth balls, the final end of the British Colonial Era. They were quite delightful people who just wanted to talk about all their life experiences all washed down with afternoon tea and Victoria Sponge cake.
Reportedly there were still sharp shooters in the mountains and a number of people had been killed, so as a consequence, we had to join the UN convoy that departed for Kyrenia at 8am and returned at 6pm on a daily basis. We were given a list of do’s and don’ts before we left.
So, the four of us would pile into a small hire car which was delivered to the Ledra Palace Hotel and off we would all go in the UN convoy with the UN flags fluttering in the breeze whilst snaking up through the Nicosia – Kyrenia pass of the Five Finger Mountain Range, excavated years before by the British Army during the British Colonial era. It was still only a dirt track then. Every so often we would hear shouts of ‘Keep up Keep up’ in the convoy. The UN personnel got very nervous if one of the vehicles broke down, and there were numerous army and UN vehicles protecting the convoy until it could continue. There was no air-con in those days and although it was very hot (40 degrees on most days) we were reluctant to open the windows of the car but when we decided we could stand it no longer we just had to open the windows and would immediately get covered with clouds of dust. It was such a relief to reach the crest of the mountain and see Kyrenia stretched out below us. We were almost there!
Every time we come to Cyprus on holiday now and we reach that wonderful view of Kyrenia laid out below us I think of those days. There was always a sigh of relief when we finally reached Kyrenia Harbour and the blue Mediterranean. As we left the Convoy we heard the shouts of Do not be late tonight, we have to leave at 6pm, we cannot wait for you! Then as usual we all went in search of Clito’s Bar and that long tall glass of ice cold Lager. I can still taste it now.
We were then ready for the Dome and absolute bliss! We had arrived! Clito’s Bar was situated in a warehouse in the old harbour area which was very quiet in those days with nothing much going on and I think the only other business there in the early 1970’s was Chimera Restaurant who put out a few tables and chairs for their visitors. We always used to buy our bottles of ..??.. now I cannot think of the name of it. It was very very sweet, red, like a sherry but I always bought a bottle like everyone else to bring home. Perhaps someone will remember the name of this drink. (Anne later remembered the name could be Commanderia, she said it was very, very sweet, not really to her taste, and she passed it on to her parents).
To all my BEA/BA pals both present and absent and all the UN guys who protected us so well. Thanks for the memories! It is hard to believe that after 40 years plus the UN is still required to be in Cyprus manning the Buffer Zone. Well done lads! (Anne has said the belly dancer shown in the photo was definitely not her!!)
Imagine my shock when back in Cyprus in 2003 for the first time since 1978 on holiday with my husband and crossing the border from North to South the sight of what was once the beautiful Ledra Palace Hotel covered in barbed wire and bullet holes and lots of UN Blue underpants hanging out to dry over the balconies. It was enough to bring tears to my eyes.
The following week we would probably find ourselves rostered for another dangerous place namely Belfast and the IRA threats but that’s another story for another time……….
We are including some pictures in a slideshow below which have been supplied by Anne of the Cyprus she remembers and some of the BEA aircraft which she worked on during her time as cabin crew.
Anne will be supplying us with more of her experiences in other parts of the globe and we look forward to receiving her articles to publish for our readers’ enjoyment.