Cyprus 1955-57 and Field

Marshal Sir Geoffrey Baker

Cyprusscen.com is fast becoming a media channel where readers are asking for help or offering to share the news and reviews which mostly have a Cyprus flavour and we do all we can to share this with a worldwide readership.

The latest enquiry was from Rupert Baker whose father was the late Field Marshal Sir Geoffrey Baker, who was Governor Lord Harding’s no 2 in the EOKA conflict of 1955. Rupert has written a private biography of his father but now wishes to share this with those who would find it to be of great interest.

By Rupert  Baker

I have just published privately a biography of my father,  Field Marshal Sir Geoffrey Baker, who was Governor Lord Harding’s no 2 in the EOKA conflict of 1955 and a distinguished soldier. This may seem an act of vanity, but at leaGeorge book coverst proves the adage that everyone has one book in them.

I’ve run 200 copies at a slight loss, but reprints are much cheaper, so break even is around 250 copies, if I get that far. Selling price is a no doubt unreasonable £10, plus if you want it £2 for a DVD of an interview of Field Marshals Harding and Baker re the Cyprus emergency of 1955-1958, which is not publicly available. (There is a transcript of the interview in the book, but you’ll miss out on archive footage etc).

Once break-even is reached all “profits” will go to military charity – do specify one or more if you wish.

This elegant volume, of which I have a few copies on the desk available for inspection, may appeal  to any of the following –

  • Old Wellingtonians
  • Ex RA or RHA types, or any other ex-military for that matter.
  • Those with connections with The Tower of London.
  • Veterans of WW II, Cyprus in the 1950s, the Cold War, or Northern Ireland in the years leading up to Bloody Sunday.
  • Military historians.
  • Those interested in politics and society in the late 1960s.
  • Those interested in man management techniques (clearly not inherited by the author)
  • Those tempted to write something similar about their own family.
  • Those who are always stumped for something different to give as a present.

Do contact me if you need more information.

Rupert Baker
0044 207 8660241
rupert.baker@mirabaud.co.uk

You may also read more of my father on Wikipidia by clicking here

 

Cyprus 1955-57 and Field Marshal Sir Geoffrey Baker

In early 1955 George (my father had been nicknamed George aged 13 at Wellington College) was attending the Imperial Defence College (IDC).  At the same time the situation in Cyprus deteriorated rapidly.  The EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) party was demanding secession from British rule and unity with Greece, complicated by the fact that the north of the island was largely Turkish.

Strictly speaking Britain was not at war with Cyprus, it being a colony and therefore under the political control of a British Governor.  It was however clear that a military commander was urgently required, and thus Field Marshal John Harding, who had been Chief of the Imperial General Staff from 1952 to 1955 and who was now retired, was asked to take over as Governor of Cyprus.

He took up his post on October 3rd 1955, and one of his first tasks was to appoint a military right hand man.  George was approaching the end of his course at the IDC – in fact he was never to complete it, and he still remains the only CGS not to have done so.  His next posting had been due to be in Hong Kong, the dream job for any senior officer.  Harding was told he could choose anyone of brigadier rank that he wanted, and so it was that George had to inform his wife, Tim, (she was christened Valerie but nicknamed Tim from the age of 5) that Hong Kong was off, and that the whole family (Alix was 8, Charles 6 and Rupert 18 months) were to be sent to a war zone.  Her reaction was unprintable even by modern standards.

GHB photo portrait FM GCB regalia - Picture cortesy of Rupert Baker
Sir Geoffrey Baker in FM GCB regalia – Picture courtesy of Rupert Baker

George took up his post as Director of Operations and Chief of Staff to the Governor of Cyprus in November 1955.  Over the next 18 months both he and Harding were under constant threat of assassination (including on one occasion a bomb under Harding’s bed which failed to go off) and the children in danger of kidnap.  The family lived first in Nicosia in what is now the High Commissioner’s Residence and latterly in the idyllic port of Kyrenia, and Alix and Charles have many happy memories of their time there, but aspects of security were a permanent concern.

The story of the campaign is best told in an interview given by Lord Chalfont of Harding and Baker in early 1980.  It formed part of a series of recollections by senior officers of the campaigns in which they were involved.  They were for internal training purposes only, the principle being to obtain first hand evidence while the participants were still capable of giving it.  A transcript of the Cyprus interview is to be found in the appendices, but it is far more interesting to see the DVD, a copy of which is available.  The physical contrast of Harding and George is striking – Harding about a foot shorter, sixteen years older, and bright as a button; George, admittedly playing second fiddle to his old boss, but tired and almost somnolent at the start, before warming up later.  What is quite evident is the enormous respect and affection between them, as well as complete mutual confidence in the execution of strategy in extremely trying circumstances. In the event George was to survive only a few more months, while Harding died nine years later at the ripe old age of 92.

Due to the existence of this interview any further description of those times would be superfluous.  Maurice Johnston, George’s assistant adjutant in 3 RHA only six years before (who was later to become Vice Chief Defence Staff (VCDS), made a telling observation in 2010.  “I’m almost certain that he was picked to become CGS because of his time in Cyprus.  That’s where he made his name as being totally competent, efficient, level-headed, diplomatic cum political etc. He was exceptionally good at dealing with Makarios and so on”.  Maurice also made the general observation that a reasonable amount of ability in the Army should get you as far as brigadier; thereafter it is a mixture of good luck and extra qualities, allied to a defining moment which shows the Army Board that an exceptional candidate for higher honours has arrived.

George later went back to Cyprus from his next posting in Germany under conditions of total secrecy.  Over a period of two months in 1958 he compiled a report of the campaign and presented it later that year to the Government.  Judging by the reactions to it, it would appear that Maurice’s comments are entirely accurate.  In the 1958 New Year’s Honours List, George was awarded the Cross of St Michael and St George (C.M.G.) in recognition of his contribution to the Cyprus campaign.  This particular order is normally reserved for members of the diplomatic service; the award reflects the fact that Cyprus was officially an internal conflict rather than a war against another country.  For a serving officer to receive it is a highly unusual event, indeed for many years he was the only Army holder of that decoration.

1955 Kyrenia from the castle - Picture courtesy of Rupert Baker
1955 Kyrenia from the castle – Picture courtesy of Rupert Baker