By Patti Foch-Gattrell…….
When I came to Cyprus with my mother and sister Shirley in 1956 I can remember how excited we were. I was seven and Shirley was nine and this was going to be our first flight, all our friends were very jealous. We stayed in the Harbour hotel in Famagusta; I haven’t been able to find it since so perhaps it is no longer there, but I would have loved to have seen it as it had many happy memories for Shirley and I.
It was a very carefree time, learning to swim and to fly kites. Riding on camels, playing on the beach and collecting the Coca Cola bottles left behind every day to get the deposit money. I can remember dad giving us two shillings every day to spend which is worth about £2 now. We thought we were in heaven.
Many days were spent with dad’s bodyguard Nevsat and his family and friends. It felt as though life was one long holiday. We were shielded from all the fighting going on at that time, the nearest we got to that was dad having to carry a gun which we thought was very exciting.
It would be wonderful to find some of the people who dad had worked with. Shirley and I did go to visit President Denktaş who worked closely with Dad when he was a solicitor and mum and dad visited him and his wife often before dad’s death in 2000. I have many signed books and letters which he had sent to them over the years.
Although those days were difficult, I have many fond memories of the people and places and although I have now come back to live here in North Cyprus I have lost contact with those friends from the past and would like to make contact with them and hope some of the readers of cyprusscene.com can help me establish contacts with these families and also help me preserve some of those memories for future generations to understand what Cyprus life was about in those days.
Those were wonderful yet sad and frightening times and I would like to share with you the following journal written by my late father on the 10th June 1981 about his recollections of his time spent in Famagusta although he had also been stationed in the main police station in Nicosia and also Kyrenia close to St Andrews church and you can see the pictures below.
“Cyprus Reflections by S Middler
Sam Middler, a retired police officer now living at Trimley St. Mary, Suffolk, recalls a nostalgic trip to Cyprus.
It was the Spring of 1956 that Sam made his first reconnaissance journey along that narrow neck of the Island, known as The Panhandle and saw a floral carpet of anemones, irises, flowers of every hue banked by masses of glorious mimosa. A clear blue sky meeting the deeper blue of the Mediterranean, attractive coves with untrodden sands, goldfinches as common as sparrows twittering happily amongst the early blossom.
After the snow and ice he had left behind, this was worth a million dollars. Who could possibly be unhappy in such a paradise?
Sadly, this placid scene was not to last. As a member of the United Kingdom Police Unit recruited to assist the Cyprus Police, Sam was soon busily engaged with Special Branch work and was so engaged for 21 months.
Since then the island has been divided. Here is his report of a recent return visit to Cyprus.
By Sam Middler – 10/6/1981
We have just returned from our holiday in Cyprus and as you will well imagine, we all had a glorious time. The weather was perfect….temperatures during our stay varied between 85 and 100 degrees…. needless to say we are all well tanned, kneecaps and all!
I found many of my old friends and have made many new ones. We could not attend all the parties that were arranged for us. One I will describe in more detail later on – it’s one which will interest you.
In the Federated Turkish State of Cyprus, all Greek names, with the exception of a few blurred EOKA signs, have been replaced with Turkish names. Many of the homes, previously occupied by Greek families stand empty. It is 7 years after the war and the houses are falling into a state of disrepair and collapse.
As you will appreciate, there were only 10% Turks, the remaining 90% were Greeks, so there is an insufficient number of Turks to occupy all of the empty Greek houses. Many of the dwellings are used to store grain and straw bales – the harvest was nearing completion whilst we were there.
FAMAGUSTA, new town Varosha, (now MARAS) is a ghost town – Kanaris Street and others with famous Greek names are still there, unoccupied with their furnishings still intact, except in a few instances where it is obvious looting has taken place, possibly soon after the Greek occupants left hurriedly for the south and before the Turkish army arrived to restore order and put up barricades around the entire town of Varosha.
We hired a car and toured round the outer perimeter of Varosha. Every street leading into the town was heavily barricaded and well guarded by Turkish soldiers.
It was a very sad sight – every street we knew so well in happier times, is now covered in weeds. From high vantage points it was possible to look right along the streets and they are all showing signs of decay, the result of having stood vacant for 7 years.
The verdant green orange groves and beautiful gardens are now dried scrub….. due to lack of attention.
All the shops in the enclosed area are still fully stocked but as you can well imagine, little of it will be of any use after standing idle for 7 years!
As I understand it the problem of Varosha is a political one. The former Greek owners have been invited many times to return to FAMAGUSTA but have refused to do so. Apparently they are afraid of repercussions because of the terrible atrocities committed by some Greeks on the entire population of three small Turkish villages in the FAMAGUSTA area.
The fact that the Greeks refuse to return leaves a huge political problem unsolved. Greeks, Turks, British and many German companies have interests in Varosha. It is a stalemate situation with no sign of an agreement being reached. Goodness knows when normality will return to this delightful old, historical town.
All the big hotels along the golden sands stand empty with the exception of the Sandy Beach Hotel (300 bedrooms) which is occupied by Turkish soldiers and their families. (This is the hotel Ivy and I stayed at in 1973, six months before the Turks invaded the north of the island).
The Constantia Hotel is in the Turkish part of FAMAGUSTA and is now called the Palm Beach Hotel. We called there and spoke to the manager. The hotel is now managed by a German firm and has recently been refurbished. They cater for all nationalities and many British visitors are staying there. (When Ivy and I return at a later date, we will seriously consider staying at the Constantia – now Palmbeach – because it is very convenient for the town.) The Salamis Bay Hotel is too far out of the town and inconvenient without one’s own transport. It is six miles east of Famagusta and almost half-way to Bogaz. Despite its situation, it was one of the best hotels we have stayed at – the food was superb!
As I mentioned earlier, we hired a car for one week (£8 per day) and toured the northern half of the Island.
We started off by calling at the Police Station in the Old City – you will recall in our day, it was the H.Q. of the Mobile Reserve under the command of Mr Baxendale.
The Police Station used by the U.K. Police Unit and the fine Law Courts buildings now stand in ruins after the bombing when the Greeks and Turks were fighting each other.
My old Special Branch building nearby is still in one piece and the small railway engine – the first in Cyprus – still stands in the garden.
When I called at the police station in the Old City, with my friend Jimmy Mitchell from Aberdeen who had joined us on holiday, we were made most welcome. After reminiscing over many cups of delicious Turkish coffee and CokaCola (Nescafe) for Jimmy – we found that we had sat ‘blethering’ the whole afternoon. The Superintendent in charge of the Famagusta Division, introduced himself and was pleased to arrange for ‘phone calls to be made in order to trace many of the former Turkish policemen I knew.
The first enquiry was for my friend A.S.P. Kemal Tünay, who was at that time in charge of the Karpas sub-division at Leonarisso – now Ziyamet. (I did not ask Kemal if he was the same Kemal referred to by Michael Kouras). On my previous visit Kemal was an Inspector in Famagusta.
Later at 6pm Ivy and Jimmy’s wife Emma, found us at the Police Station still ‘blethering’ and supping coffee!
I was able to speak to Kemal on the phone and arranged to meet him at his house in Ziyamet at 12 noon on Sunday 31st .
It was now time for us to say ‘goodbye’ to the staff at the police station and head for the Salamis Bay Hotel.
During the rest of that first week we spent some time visiting former Special Branch colleagues – I managed to trace them all except one. The situation was such that I was unable to contact former Greek colleagues.
In the meantime while waiting for Sunday to arrive, we toured the immediate area and visited a number of farms. It was here that Jimmy being a farmer was very much at home and was allowed to drive a combine harvester – very modern now in Cyprus. Gone are the days of 25 years ago when the cow or bullock trotted round pulling a big, broad board like a door with flints on the underside on top of the piles of cut corn to thresh it. On top of this board, the farmer sat in an old chair which was fixed to the board and guided the cow in a circle.
On one of our visits to the harvest field, two farmers took Jimmy and I to the local bar in the village where we spent nearly all the afternoon enjoying Cyprus brandy and local beer. This particular bar was aptly named “The Old Home” in English – the landlord having spent a long time in England. He also served in the auxiliary police force for some years during EOKA troubles, so you can imagine what the topic was!
However, after umpteen brandies, we dragged ourselves away and went to meet Ivy and Emma who had remained in Famagusta enjoying themselves amongst the shops. Before leaving our ‘host’ insisted that we return on the Saturday night for a meal – (I think this was two days later). We compromised by saying we would return Saturday evening but after we had partaken of dinner at our Hotel.
We kept our promise and set off about 10pm, following the dusty, winding road until we finally arrived at “The Old Home” once more, but this time with our wives. A great welcome awaited us. In the meantime, another two policemen had been contacted (via the grape-vine) and were there amongst the many guests to greet us. We were treated like long lost heroes. Ivy and Emma were fussed and spoiled with all the usual goodies and mezzies.
It was a wonderful party and 2am. seemed to arrive far too soon. We had to insist on taking our leave amidst a lot of weeping and wailing. Jimmy and I had partaken of many brandies and chasers and we were in a very happy mood. We finally managed to get away and set off on the return journey, along the same dusty road. Fortunately we had the lights of the Salamis Bay Hotel in the far distance to guide us in a general way. We had had travelled some distance when we came to a Y junction and were undecided which way to go. Of course we chose the wrong one! After driving about 3/4 mile we landed bang in the middle of a field of growing barley…….. you would have roared with laughter at our antics trying to turn the car around in that barley field! (Had you been awake nearby at the time, I am sure you would have heard the unkind comments and abuse shouted at the driver by Ivy and Emma). We finally managed to extradite ourselves and after that laughable escapade, duly arrived back at our hotel.
After breakfast the following morning, we felt rather sheepish on our return to the hired car, to find ears of barley sticking out everywhere from the underside of the car and spent some time pulling the barley out. There was so much of it, we had to destroy the evidence of our night escapade! Fortunately it was Sunday so we did not have many spectators.
At 11am we set off to keep our appointment with Kemal at the Sub. Divisional H.Q. at Ziyamet. After an interesting 26 mile journey up the Pan Handle, we reached Ziyamet where we met Kemal, who extended a very warm welcome to us all. We were given a conducted tour of the Police Station – a very modern building – which I found very interesting.
Then a convoy of cars were mustered – our car, two others with Kemal, his wife, Inspector Taner, his wife and two girls and Sergeant Hasan, his wife and son, then we all set off.
We travelled East towards Apostalos Andreas for 13 miles, crossing over to the North Coast where the convoy stopped at a very nice Restaurant. We were all enjoying drinks outside when we were joined by Kemal’s relatives from Nicosia. They were Hasan Binalti, an English History teacher from Nicosia, his wife and two children. With typical Cyprus hospitality, we were all plied with more drinks and mezzies. It was very jolly gathering and then to our astonishment, a table was laid and a super banquet prepared for us. In the centre of the table someone placed FIVE bottles of Cyprus brandy and one full bottle of Whiskey! Our party numbered 17 and we all found a seat at the same table. It was a glorious meal which was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone with drinks very plentiful – after two hours of eating and drinking I am sure we all felt like “stuffed chickens” ourselves!
In one of the letters I had written to Kemal prior to our arrival on holiday I mentioned that I would like to see village of Rizocarpasso (now Dipkarpaz). Now during the meal Kemal confided and told me that he had arranged that we all go to Dipkarpaz. I was very pleased to hear this and shortly afterwards the convoy which was now made up of four cars, set off eastwards. The views at times were very spectacular but after travelling 5 or 6 miles we pulled up at yet another restaurant, to learn that a disco had been especially arranged for our party.
For the next two hours, we drank and enjoyed the music. I might add that Jimmy did not miss one dance…. he was the life and soul of the show. By the end of that session everyone was very merry and feeling the effects of the drinks…..we had still not reached our objective – Rizocarpasso.
The time came for us to leave the disco and we set off once more. Unknown to us Kemal had a surprise or two up his sleeve. Bearing in mind that the people we were with were all Turks, we were taken to a very nice house, a beautiful English type dwelling in the middle of an orange grove, and to our great surprise the occupants were Greek and close friends of Kemal. It was here that I learned the Dipkarpaz is the only village in the Turkish Federated State where Greeks and Turks live happily together. At the time of the troubles the Greek families of this village refused to leave their village and their life-long Turkish friends to go South to safety. I was also surprised to learn that it is possible for this Greek family to visit relatives in the South of the Island and for those same relatives to come North to visit relatives in Dipkarpaz.
We were greeted by the housewife who offered the customary tray containing a dish of candied fruit in syrup and a glass of water. After the preliminary welcome, we were all escorted to the big village restaurant, which had been decorated with garlands of colourful flowers. It was very well done and looked very attractive, creating a real gala atmosphere.
All seventeen of us, together with our five new found Greek friends were escorted to a large table, set out with dishes of food and fruits. Kemal and I were seated together near the middle of the table and directly opposite were two empty chairs. They did not remain empty for long because a man and his wife were ushered into the seats. They were the VIP’s the company had been waiting for and Kemal got up to announce that we were about to have a meal with the Greek Mukhtar of the village, Mr Evangelos Kolatsis and his wife. I was pleasantly surprised and felt really honoured. During the very excellent meal, I soon learned that the Mukhtar could speak English fluently and was very, very pro-British. He emphasised that the majority of Greek and Turkish people in Cyprus did not want separation and that all the troubles had been brought about by a few fanatics led by Nicos Samson. I took it as a great compliment when the Mukhtar pointed out that all the Turkish people and most of the Greek community would wish that the British were back on the Island.
Readers will understand my concern at the end of a three hour session of eating and drinking, I could hardly move! I felt very full and this together with all the various kinds of drinks, I was feeling very happy but hardly fit to drive and was not at all keen on the idea of driving 40/50 miles along the dusty roads back to the Salamis Bay Hotel.
However, before we departed around 11pm, I felt so honoured having the village head-man join us for a meal, I asked Kemal’s permission to say a few words of thanks for the lovely meal. Kemal was very pleased with my suggestion (I have since learned that Kemal and the Mukhtar are very close friends – drinking pals).
Kemal thumped the table with an empty bottle and after a long hammering session, he succeeded in quietening the happy crowd of diners. Everyone was quiet when I got up to speak a few words. I said how honoured we were to be invited to a meal with the Mukhtar and his wife. It had all been most enjoyable. For Jimmy, Emma and Ivy’s benefit, I explained that the Mukhtar held a very important position in the village and described him as being equivalent to a Lord Provost in any of our own Scottish towns and that this official took an active part in local Government affairs, taking care of the needs of the whole community. My remarks were well received.
Kemal kindly got up and translated my remarks for the Greek and Turkish friends present who did not understand English.
Then the Mukhtar got up and speaking in excellent English said how much he and his wife had enjoyed our company and hoped that it would not be long before we all met again to continue our happy relationship. His kind remarks were translated into Greek and Turkish. Most of the Cyprus population understand English which is a great help on occasions like this.
On reflection….I never ate or drank so much in one day in my life! I secretly kept undoing button after button – so much so that my shorts started to fall off! what a carry on and very embarrassing!!
At last, I was able to get my party together for the return trip….no one wanted to make a move and Jimmy was very nearly a stretcher case! My police pals had been passing extra brandies to Jimmy under the table and kept encouraging him to try just one more…. knowing Jimmy you will appreciate he finds it difficult to refuse a dram offered so kindly! Needless to say, Jimmy loved every minute of it and kept everyone in tucks of laughter with his antics but finally I was able to get the ladies and Jimmy into the car and set off with the others for the return journey to Famagusta and our hotel.
On arrival at Ziyamet, we halted to say, “cheerio” and express our grateful thanks to Kemal. the Inspector, the Sergeant and their families. They really had been so hospitable and had treated us like “royalty”. It is a night we shall always remember. It was a sad moment, saying goodbye after such an enjoyable time but we needed to press on as it was already late. So our “cheerio’s” said, we made good time to our hotel, tired but happy.
We shall be able to relive our wonderful holiday in the Turkish portion of the Island because I made a lot of slides and these, I hope will be a constant reminder of the many friends we met there and the joyful times we had.
As you have read of my father’s memories of Cyprus during the troubled years and when he came back for a holiday in 1981, cyprusscene through the use of family photographs and others, have tried to convey what life was like in those days and I hope someone reading this article may remember him and I would ask them to contact me by commenting on this article with their contact details. There is a lot more information about my father which can be read by clicking here
On Remembrance Sunday (8th November) 2015 as an official standard bearer of the Royal British Legion, Kyrenia Branch it is with great pleasure and an honour that I will carry the British Cyprus Police Standard to the Memorial in the old Kyrenia Cemetery wearing my father’s medals.