By Margaret Sheard…..
Having written many articles in conjunction with UK ex-servicemen who came to Cyprus in the 1950’s for their National Service, 2 of which were about another member of the Welch Regiment (see links at end of article) I was pleased to receive a comment from Brian Taylor on one of our articles and when contacting him discovered that he was coming to Cyprus for a holiday with his family. We arranged to meet up with him and spend a nostalgic day visiting some of the places where he had been stationed with the Welch Regiment in Cyprus.
Having lived in South Wales for some 33 years, I was interested to learn that Brian and his wife, Teresa, live in Bridgend. I worked at a local industrial estate there for many years during my time in Wales as well as 17 years for a company in Cardiff, so we had a lot to talk about regarding the area and he kindly brought me a recent South Wales Echo to catch up with local news. Brian’s daughter, Christine, and son-in-law, Mike, and their 2 children live in Southampton.
Brian and his family were staying at the Acapulco Resort which is very close to where we live and so we arranged to meet up with them there ready for our day out. Teresa and the boys had decided to stay behind so we led the way and Brian, Christine and Mike followed us. Our journey was to be to the east to visit 2 of the areas where Brian had spent some of his time in Kaplica (Dhavlos).and Bűyűkkonuk (Komi Kebir).
Brian did his National Service with the Welch Regiment 1st Battalion. He was a keen boxer and as part of his initial training, at Maindy Barracks in Cardiff, he joined the regimental boxing team and got as far as the finals, although he was not keen on following this through and chose to be an ordinary serviceman. In the meantime the rest of his unit had been sent to Cyprus by sea on the “Devonshire” and Brian learned that they had a very rough journey around the Bay of Biscay and most were very seasick. Because of his boxing commitment Brian then made his journey to Cyprus on the 17th/18th December 1957 by air in an RAF Hastings aircraft. It was normal with this type of aircraft that boots could not be worn and so he had to wear plimsolls and as there was a stopover in Malta he felt rather foolish not having the correct footwear but it was a bonus for him to be transported by air and have a chance to see Malta as well.
On arriving in Cyprus, Brian spent the first 5 months at Aberdeen Camp, Xeros, after which the Battalion was split up and went to different areas of Cyprus and also one went to Tobruk, Libya. Brian’s unit was stationed in Kaplica (Dhavlos) where they spent a further 7 months before serving the rest of their National Service in Benghazi, Libya.
Brian had visited the Lefke area on the previous day and travelled back in time to when he was stationed at Aberdeen Camp. He had many photographs taken way back in 1958, some showing the copper ore being ferried out to a ship. He mentioned the pier which was then used but is now falling into disrepair.
A few months ago while visiting the Lefke area we discovered the site of the once Aberdeen Camp which is now a UN base. We chatted to the UN soldiers on duty at the gate and were joined by another UN soldier who permitted us to walk along the main road of the camp with him. We felt very privileged, although we were not allowed to take photographs, even though we explained our interest in the old British military camps.
After visiting Cyprus 4 times since his National Service Days, it has been 13 years since Brian last visited and he said maybe he wouldn’t be able to make the trip again so it was a very nostalgic journey for him.
Our first port of call was Kaplica (Dhavlos) where we visited a beach area. After wandering around for a short time Brian realised it was not the correct bay and so we travelled to the next bay which was the right one and Brian pointed out where the camp had been situated.
Of course nowadays there is no evidence that there was a military camp there and Brian pointed out the beach area which in his day was used for parking military vehicles and just up the hill from there was a building which has since been replaced by the Hotel Mavi with a car park opposite. On the brow of the hill overlooking the sea and opposite the turning for Kaplica village and Kantara there stands a restaurant with a cleared area around it which is where the officers’ quarters were situated, but I am sure Brian could visualise exactly how it was. On the road leading to the village there was once a nissen hut used as the NAAFI and many tents for the servicemen. All of the servicemen and officers were housed in tents. The entrance to the camp was through 3 guarded points, two being on the coast road either side of the bay and the third on the road leading to the village.
It wasn’t all hard work as the lads spent a lot of time on the beach and swimming and also diving from the diving platform the regiment had constructed on the end of a rocky spine leading out to sea.
We were able to see this rocky spine with also a new harbour wall currently being built.
Most of the time spent in this area by the Welch Regiment was patrolling, keeping watch on villages and searching suspects who might be involved in EOKA. This included time at Kantara and also Bűyűkkonuk (Komi Kebir) where some of the unit spent time at a building at the edge of the village which later became the Police Station.
Brian had visited Kantara on his last visit 13 years ago and was able to record the building where they were billeted. Unfortunately we did not have time to include this area in our trip this time.
Our next journey took us to Bűyűkkonuk (Komi Kebir) where we firstly called to see our friends Ismail and Lois Cemal at the far end of the village and to introduce Brian, Christine and Mike to them. We were made very welcome and sat with them for coffee/tea and a chat. Lois was pleased to show our guests her chickens and other livestock and to point out plants which are native to Cyprus. We discovered sweet lemons from their tree and Ismail peeled some for us to try and they are indeed sweet, we had never heard of them or sampled them before.
Lois has custody of the keys to the restored Agios Afksentios Church so she was able to let us see inside the church which is now able to be used for religious ceremonies. On the road near this church there stands a recently constructed bus shelter which was a project undertaken by students of Medipole University in Istanbul, Turkey, who designed the shelter and used traditional materials of the best clay earth in the area and chaff to form bricks, everything used was taken from the land and the finished item is really impressive. The bricks made for the shelter are able to be recycled back into the earth. This is such an interesting eco village and well worth visiting.
Ismail said he would later show us where the Police Station was located. When Brian visited 13 years ago it was still a Police Station and he took some photographs with 3 of the policemen standing outside which he was hoping to give to the policemen but it is now closed as a Police Station and taken over by the Bűyűkkonuk Muhtarlığı, the gates were locked so we were not able to get a close look when we arrived there. Again Brian had some of his old photographs so we were able to compare what we were seeing to how it was all those years ago.
There were also some old photographs of children of the village who would now be adults in their 60’s/70’s. Chris took a photo of Brian outside the gate standing as if with a rifle and Brian said that he would have stood just inside the gate more or less in the same position. Brian told us that from the building it was possible to see the elderly lady next door baking bread in the outside oven. The lads would exchange some of their rations for her bread and they were glad to pass on the tins of Irish stew which they had an abundance of and a bit fed up with eating.
We had spent a long time at the various areas we visited and so unfortunately Brian, Christine and Mike were not able to continue as they had planned to visit Famagusta and so we started the long journey back to the Acapulco Resort.
I was interested to learn of some of Brian’s experiences while he was in Cyprus in the 1950’s and so we sat with him for a while and listened to his reminiscences. These are some of the incidents which occurred back then.
One of the requirements for national servicemen was that their weapons should be kept clean and woe-betide them if they were not. They used live ammunition and the Sergeant expected to be able to look down the barrel and see it totally clean and polished. A group of men were in the back of a truck and the man next to Brian pulled the trigger by mistake and the gun went off right next to Brian’s ear which caused a very bad sensation for a while. The gunshot was heard at the camp and questions asked but in order to protect the unfortunate serviceman it was said that the truck backfired. This is the camaraderie which was formed in those early days and still continues today when Cyprus veterans have their reunions.
The village of Kaplica (Dhavlos) turned the water supply off to the camp area so they had to collect water from a well which was to the east of the bay and close to what is now a ruined church. The well was the only source of water and was guarded 24 hours a day to ensure the diesel pump wasn’t damaged or the water contaminated. The men had to wash in the sea.
There was an occasion when a local shepherd got shot (in his rear end), it was thought an attempt was being made to blow up the well and the shepherd was probably in the wrong place at the wrong time. Brian still has his cigarette rolling machine and it shows an impression where the bullet hit one corner and probably stopped the shepherd’s injury from being more serious.
Brian remembered his mother sending him packages containing the local newspaper, The South Wales Echo, which could take 2-3 weeks to get to him in Cyprus but he read them from front to back and then passed them on to other members of the regiment to give them some news from home.
The unit was probably lucky not to be involved in any serious incidents but they of course had to be prepared at all times and on occasions they had to arrest suspects and Brian gave us a photo of one of these incidents where people are being marshalled at rifle point.
We spoke to Brian of the wonderful memories of the lads who did National Service and he said that although it was not thought so at the time, he can now look back and recall that it was one of the best times of his life and he wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Here are some more photographs from 1958 at Kaplica (Dhavlos) :
Here are links to some previous articles of ex-servicemen in Cyprus:
Cyprus 1958 – Memories of a member of the Welch Regiment click here
Cyprus 1958 – Part 2 recalled by a member of the Welch Regiment click here
British Army memories in Cyprus 1958-59 click here