Cyprus in 1958

recalled by Clive Williams OBE

of the Welch Regiment

By Margaret Sheard…..

I am always so pleased to receive the memories of ex-servicemen who served in Cyprus mainly in the 1950’s. These young men in many cases were thrown in at the deep end at a very young age and suddenly found themselves in a very different country and culture from their own.  These young men were doing a hard job especially in Cyprus but there were lighter moments mixed in with the serious side and some of their exploits are worth putting on paper.   Clive Williams has sent us some of his memories of Cyprus which, although maybe not amusing at the time, all these years later they are funny and well worth reading.

In front of Morphou Police Station
Clive in front of Morphou Police Station

Clive started his National Service in the Royal Welch Fusiliers and was then commissioned into the South Wales Borderers.  While on embarkation leave for Malaya he was transferred to the Welch Regiment in Cyprus.  He says it is quite unique that as a national serviceman he actually served with all three former Welsh Regiments.

Unfortunately, someone “nicked” Clive’s camera on the troop ship on the way out to Cyprus so he has a limited number of photographs, but he has provided those he has of his time in Cyprus and he has recounted some very amusing incidents which occurred.

I have 2 Cypriot claims to fame – I literally once painted the grass green at Xeros and I also literally painted a town red – Rizokarpasso or Dipkarpas as it is now known. The latter exploit got me a mild bollocking from the Brigadier in Famagusta but it also made the headlines of the Cyprus Times.  The headline as I recall was  ‘Mixed Anglo-Turkish Force invades Rizokarpasso’.

Clive has been writing his memoirs recently for his family and wanted to get hold of a copy of the Cyprus Times article.   Clive is in contact with Martin Bell, the author of The End of Empire covering his own time in Cyprus, and Martin had suggested contacting cyprusscene to see if we could help.  The incident must have happened in early summer 1958.

We are trying to locate a copy of the newspaper for Clive, so far we have not been successful but we will keep persevering.

This is a letter Clive wrote in April 2002 to Major R P Smith (now deceased), who was Clive’s Captain in D Company serving under Major Dicky Randell (also now deceased).

“ Your article on Aberdeen Camp, Xeros, Cyprus, back in 1958 and the visit of Lita Roza (in issue No. 7 of the newsletter) brought back happy memories. I well remember the concert and the voluptuous Lita but, as I recall it, we subalterns did not get much of a look-in with so many senior officers around!

Your story brings to mind the occasion of the Brigade Commander’s visit to Aberdeen Camp,  Xeros in the late spring of 1958. At the entrance to the camp was a triangle of grass, which was green in the wet season and brown in the dry. It being the dry season, Lieut Col John Traherne, the commanding officer, thought it would be a good idea to paint the straw green, so I was given the job. I selected a few men from my platoon, who knew a thing or two about painting and the result was quite agreeable for about 30 minutes, after which the paint started to dry and turned a horrible sickly-brownish-green colour. The commanding officer realized there was no turning back and told me to have a stand-by painting team ready to put fresh green paint on the triangle the moment the brigadier’s helicopter was seen approaching the camp the following day.

The heli-pad was about 100 yards away from the guard room, and when the helicopter landed, it covered everything, including the triangle of ‘green’ grass, in dust. Fortunately the painting squad was to hand and while Colonel Traherne distracted the Brigadier and got him looking in the opposite direction, the triangle was painted green once more.

When the time came for the brigadier to leave, the grass had again reverted to its sickly brown-green colour, but on a signal from the RSM, the paint squad leaped into action again and daubed on another coat of green. If the Brigadier noticed the chameleon-like character of the swathe of grass, he might have thought his tea had been laced, but he said not a word and even followed up his visit with a very complimentary letter.

The CO was delighted but he was less so with my next painting exploit, which this time involved red paint.  Read on! “

“ ‘A’ Company 1/WELCH took over Akrades Camp, Yialousa, on the ’Panhandle’ of north-east Cyprus, in the early summer of 1958. Soon after our arrival, Major Dicky Randell, the company commander, told me to take 5 soldiers to Rizokarpasso, a small town of some 6,000 inhabitants, 15 miles further along the Karpass peninsula. This place was a hotbed of support for Enosis (union with Greece), but all was quiet when we arrived. Then, about 30 minutes later, the place erupted when the Greek Cypriot population demonstrated against our presence by marching with Greek flags flying, shouting slogans and support for General Grivas and EOKA (the terrorist movement), scattering leaflets and putting up posters. The school closed and the schoolchildren were at the van of the protest.

Akrades Camp duo

Yesilkoy Fire Station - Main entrance and old building
Yesilkoy Fire Station – Main entrance and old building

There was nothing I could do with just 5 men, so I withdrew to Akrades camp and then returned in the early hours  armed with red paint. We then had a whale of a time painting the whitewashed town red. We painted whatever slogans we could think of with plenty of references to Volkan (the Turkish equivalent of EOKA). All the Greek posters were taken down, the leaflets gathered up and all were stuffed down the town’s wells. My final target was the school.  Making use of my classical education at Cardiff High School, I recalled the lines of Vergil’s Aeneid, Book 5, ‘Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes’  – ‘I fear the Greeks even when they bear gifts’. That went on the wall by the entrance to the school. For the front of the school, which overlooked the town, I painted in letters 2ft high:

‘Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerchwyrndrobwll llantysiliogogoch’ 

There was a stunned silence in Rizokarpasso, when its inhabitants awoke the following morning and found their brilliant white buildings covered with graffiti and in fact we never had another hint of any protest out of the town during the rest of that summer. The following day the Cyprus Times carried banner headlines: ‘MIXED ANGLO-TURKISH FORCE INVADES RIZOKARPASSO’.

Nemesis followed quickly. I was admonished by Major Dicky Randell in a fatherly kind of way and then given a mild rocket by Colonel John Traherne. Then I was summoned to appear before the Brigade Commander in Famagusta with talk of a possible ‘Court Martial’.  But before setting off for Famagusta from Battalion HQ at Davos, I was much encouraged by a rousing send-off from the whole battalion, (except the CO and adjutant).

The Brigade Commander was very decent about it and as far as I can recall, his admonition was along the lines ‘We encourage initiative in the Army, Williams, but it must be in the right direction. Don’t do it again and you will have to paint out the slogans. Dismiss.’

So in the early hours of the next but one day, I and my 5 soldiers went round Rizokarpasso again, this time with white and black paint, painting over our slogans. Our hearts were not really in it and we left the town in a bit of a mess, rather like the grass at Aberdeen camp. “

“In 1992, my then partner, Christina (now my wife) and I visited Turkish Cyprus.  Akrades camp is now the local fire brigade station (the roof of the former officer’s mess still bears the scars caused by a hand grenade thrown by a ‘jock’ of a Scottish regiment before our arrival in 1958). We went on to Rizokarpasso, (now called Dipkarpass). It looked very much the same in 1992 as I remembered it from 1958, though with far fewer inhabitants. But what is surprising is that in 1992 we were still able to read, somewhat faded admittedly, across the front of the school, in letters 2 ft high

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerchwyrndrobwll llantysiliogogoch’  “

Here is another amusing recollection from Clive.

“On one occasion in the Panhandle, I stopped a war. I was touring the Turkish villages in a lorry with a driver and 2 men in the back, to reassure the Turks that the Army were protecting them, when we reached the escarpment and saw a few hundred Turks on the top of the escarpment and several hundred Greeks in the plain below. They were all tooled up with clubs and the like and obviously about to have a pitched battle. I wondered if I should drive on and let them get on with it but decided I ought to do something. So I had my driver drive off the road into the middle of the plain and then I got out and beckoned to both the Turks and Greeks. I wasn’t sure what would happen.  I half expected a bullet to come whizzing but eventually a couple of Turks and a couple of Greeks approached. ”Now lads’ I said, ‘I don’t know what all this is about but the war’s over today. You will have to go home and you can come back tomorrow, when I am not here’. To my amazement they then all dispersed.  Never knew what was behind it. I was just 19 years old then. There is no doubt that my two years in the Army – I served in Berlin before Cyprus – were very formative. Just serving in the Regiment with tough working class lads was an  experience in itself. Coming from an academic middle–class background, rubbing shoulders with the working class was a shock to the system but I like to think it made me a much more rounded and mature personality. “ 

Clive also recounts another incident which although amusing to a point  also seems to have a moral to the story.

Site of cafe opposite Fire Station, Yesilkoy
Site of cafe opposite Fire Station, Yesilkoy

“ Near the entrance to the Turkish Fire Brigade at what was Akrades camp stood a burnt out cafe in 1992, – I assume destroyed when the Turks invaded. Interesting story here.  It was built by a Turk called Osman, most of whose trade came from the Army. We used to barter food with him, giving him army rations for fresh eggs and fruit. We thought we had good and friendly relations.  When our Co Commander Dicky Randell left we had a party and Osman and his wife came and Osman gave Dicky a nice box of cigars. Then one day Osman gave us a bill for everything he had ever supplied, including the cigars!  We said “B….r  Off” and put his cafe out of bounds. Osman then complained to the Army and the Army top brass ordered us to pay the bill and to show there were no hard feelings, invite Osman and his family to a tea party.  It says much for army discipline that we went through with this charade. My share of the bill amounted to a month’s pay. You have heard of schadenfreude and I experienced a moment of delightful schadenfreude when I visited my old stomping ground and saw Osman’s burnt out cafe.“  

The former cafe appears in this recent photograph and is now being renovated.

One of Clive’s operations also featured in two articles written for the South Wales Echo by a reporter sent out from Wales to live with the Regiment for a month.

South Wales Echo Newspaper report 2

South Wales Echo Newspaper report

Clive was born and grew up in Cardiff, South Wales, UK – his father was Deputy Head at Cardiff High School and once taught John Humphrys, the well-known broadcaster on ‘Today’. The father of Andrew Davies, whose ‘War and Peace’ is now on the screens as well as ‘Mr Selfridge’ taught Clive French and Clive and Andrew went on several holidays together as boys.  After National Service Clive went to Cambridge University and read law. He qualified as a Solicitor and practised first in local government and then in private practice for over 50 years in the Thames Valley before retiring in 2012.

Clive said he now works harder than ever for charities but without being paid!  He was awarded the OBE in 1998 for community and charitable work.