Cyprus Remembered by Jim Welford ex-Royal Navy

Introduction by Margaret Sheard …..

I just love the stories of Cyprus veterans who are willing to share the wonderful memories of their time in Cyprus.   Most of my previous articles have been about Army lads from various regiments but we received a comment from Jim Welford who served with the Royal Navy and he has agreed to share his memories of his time in Cyprus, so this is a first for this branch of the Services.

By Jim Welford …..

Memories of Cyprus 1956 to 1959

I served in Cyprus with the Royal Navy and have been asked to recall some of my memories of my time there, but first a little information of my early life and the reason for joining the Royal Navy.

I was born in Leiston, Suffolk  in 1932, not a very good year to arrive as life was really hard for my parents because it was the start of the Great Depression.  My father had come out of the army less than two years previously and he was put on the army reserve. There were 4 children at 15 month intervals, me being the eldest so when the Second World War broke out my father was one of the first to go, he was at Dunkirk and was successfully evacuated so had 2 weeks leave when he returned to the UK, only to be sent to Burma once his leave was finished and we never saw him again until he was demobbed in September 1945.

I became the man of the house at just over 7 years old so all my early years were lost. As you can probably imagine, life was pretty tough although we never had it as bad as thousands in this country .even though we had a munitions factory right in the centre of the town.  I left school in 1946.and got a job as a baker’s apprentice for 2 years before they went bankrupt, then I got  a job in a local wine shop bottling beers and soft drinks, Guinness being our main beer.

Time was marching on and I was rapidly approaching my 18th birthday, time for national service. I had met a young lady who worked at a boarding school just outside Leiston and as always your first real love is definitely the one and we both fell madly in love, so much so that when I got my call up papers I conveniently lost them thinking that they wouldn’t bother to chase me up, my first big mistake.  When I came home for lunch one day my mother said a police officer had been round to see me and wouldn’t say what for, of course mothers always think the worst, but he had said he would be back to see me when I came home for lunch.  As soon as I arrived home mother wanted to know what I had been up to and I said I had no idea.  The police officer came back and asked if I had received a brown envelope about my call up to which I had to tell the truth, but did tell one little white lie and told him that as I had volunteered for the navy I didn’t think it would apply to me. He believed me, so that evening I wrote to the naval recruiting office in Ipswich to volunteer, which was successful, and I joined up in November 1950 for 12 years. I didn’t meet Joan, my future wife, until 1957 and by then I had done nearly 8 of my 12 years.

So, I joined the Royal Navy and served in Cyprus from 1956 to 1959.   I went out as a young and single Navy lad and returned to the UK as a married man with a wife and young daughter.  My wife, Joan, was also in the services, in the RAF, she had a twin brother who was also in the Navy but sadly he passed away some 12 years ago.  Our courting period was only 3 weeks due to the fact that I was single, unaccompanied, and only had to do one more year in Cyprus but Joan had to do I think it was 2 years more and with me in the Navy and Joan in the RAF we would have had to continue our relationship by mail, as when I returned from Cyprus I would have had 18 months at a shore base before going back to sea again just as Joan would have been due back from Cyprus. I must just add to this part of my story the fact that I had promised my mother I would write a letter home once a week as, being a mother she wanted to know I was ok, so once week she got my short letter as usual then I wrote and told her I was getting married.  You can imagine what her reply was ha ha, but as I was 1 of 5 children and the eldest at 26 she wished us well but was sorry she and my dad couldn’t have been there.  Our marriage lasted for 51 years before Joan passed away with a massive heart attack in 2009.  God bless her.

We were married at the Garrison Chapel in Episkopi on 25th January 1958.  We had both always wanted to return to visit Cyprus but sadly Joan passed away in 2009 so we didn’t fulfil our wish, but our names will always remain in the chapel at Episkopi.

The Navy was a small unit in Cyprus, only just 100 or so but we had quite a few ships deployed patrolling around to stop gun running etc.  The unit mainly consisted of Royal Marines but our Senior Officers had personal staff and this is where I came in as I was a Chef.  There were also writers and communications lads etc.

Compared to the Army and Air Force, the Navy section was very small so we were really like a family. The Captain’s house was in Paramali, it was an estate for all the senior officers of all three services.   I cooked for the Captain and his wife, their children were at boarding school in the UK so his wife became the organiser for the few wives of our personnel who were in Cyprus.  She was a lovely woman and on many occasions she came into the kitchen and ask me to pack up a picnic basket for about 15 ladies as she had invited the Navy wives to a picnic on a beach or somewhere, I was asked to join them but was told I was not there to enjoy myself, I was to join the 4 armed marines who were always present for protection.   We were very lucky and never had any problems, but it was Mrs White’s way of taking our wives’ minds off the troubles the servicemen were going through, especially the Army lads.

The naval officers had sailors and stewards for staff, but the army and air force staff I think were mostly Lebanese, once again wonderful chaps.  Us lads used to laugh at them when they came swimming with us at Happy Valley, of course we wanted a nice tan to come home with, and they always lay in the sun like us, why we didn’t know, because they were as black as coal already!

My wife and I settled down to married life but with all the curfews we were only allowed out in the daytime so our bungalow became a watering hole for all our marine and navy boys.  The first Christmas after we were married we cooked for 15 lads plus another navy chief and his wife.  We were all armed out there and on several occasions I left my pistol at home then my wife had to hide it in her bag and bring it up to my Skipper’s house, she used to be scared to death someone would stop her.

One day a couple of marines brought my wife a puppy, she was so cute but she grew up to hate all the locals for some reason. Our landlady, who lived in a converted garage attached to our bungalow, would only come round if she saw Joan outside, I suppose it’s because of the difference in which we and the locals treated dogs.  Tony, our landlady’s husband, had a dog and it only got fed once a week when he would go to the butchers and bring home a complete sheep’s stomach which he would throw into their back yard and just let the dog eat it.

The Skipper’s wife came into the kitchen one morning and said they were having a dinner party that evening and the captain wanted roast lamb.   She told me there was a small shop which sold English groceries and if I went there before midday I could get a leg of lamb, so off I went and looked all around this little store for freezer cabinets.   All they seemed to have in them was ice cream.  After a while a local approached me and asked in broken English what I was looking for and with some gestures to my thighs and a sheep noise I got through to him and he pointed me to outside the store and said “he will be here in a bit”  I waited for about 10 minutes then up the dusty road came a Cypriot dressed as you no doubt know, driving about 6 sheep.  I looked at the Lebanese lad who was with me and he said – “here he comes”. When he reached a carob tree he simply cut the throat of one of the sheep and hoisted it up on a branch with a piece of rope and started skinning it.  I just couldn’t believe my eyes, but I got my lovely fresh leg of lamb for my dinner party!  When I got back my boss’s wife said “you got it ok then Welford”  before laughing her head off. She said when she was told about this she didn’t believe it and she only went there once and wished she hadn’t.

When we were first married we had a house in Limassol where we spent several months until we moved to Nicosia which came as a bit of a shock to both of us after living in service quarters in Episkopi.

All our civilian drivers were locals, Turks as well as Greeks, and you would never meet a friendlier bunch,  it’s hard to think they hated each other so much but I suppose they were being paid well so just got on with it. We had a fleet of cars, several Wyverns and 2 Humber Snipes, all with leather interiors.  That’s where my future wife and I did quite a bit of our courting, as apart from the NAAFI and open air cinema there was nothing else to do.

One unusual thing I remember was an Indian tea boy who lived in a cardboard tent outside our Mess, he used to wake us up every morning with a really lovely strong cup of tea.  He had a huge copper urn which he carried on his back which was so highly polished you could shave in it.    The tea boy’s other delicacy was “chip butties” which Joan and I lived on when we were courting.   He used to get the chips from the NAAFI.

We were able to travel anywhere in Cyprus at that time but always with an armed marine escort.

One of our drivers, Hassan, lived in a small village just a mile or so away and he asked me and Joan to go with him to his village one night.  We were rather worried but he assured us we would be safe, so off we went.  If we had been caught I don’t know what would have happened because it was strictly out of bounds!  Anyway, he said he would take us to his local drinking place, well you can imagine what the locals thought when a bloody great Humber pulled up because all you seemed to see in villages were men on poor little donkeys. We followed Hassan down some steps into what seemed to be a cellar.  Joan was holding my arm so tight I had a bruise for ages, when we got down there the only light was candlelight from about 6 or 7 candles, and right in the middle of the floor was a table around which 6 men sat.  As soon as Hassan introduced us and they realised there was a woman coming down the steps they all stood up and brushed at least an inch of dust off the table and the same amount off the chairs, then came the good part when they asked us what we wanted to drink, by this time our eyes were accustomed to the light and when we looked around the whole room was like a wine cellar, there must have been 100’s if not 1000’s of bottles from wall to ceiling,  all with just as much dust on them, but the landlord had his trusty old piece of rag hanging from his waist and as we didn’t know too many wines we just said Commandaria, and we sat and drank quite a bit, me more than Joan I might add.

One day my boss and his family had to go down to Admiralty House in Limassol, so Joan and I had a day off and we thought we would walk into Nicosia.  We had no idea where to go so we just meandered around looking in shops and having a Turkish coffee, lots of people stared at us and we didn’t take too much notice but were aware of the lack of English people around. Joan said I think we ought to get out of here, which I agreed, we were walking down what seemed a very long straight road with shops both sides.

As we got further along we spotted a sandbagged square with a tin roof right in the middle of the road with soldiers inside.  I was in civvies so I said to Joan just keep walking with your head down and we should get by without being spotted. No way, .just as we got alongside a voice boomed out “Jim Welford what the hell are you doing down here”. When I looked up it was a mate of mine from Leiston,  he was in the Suffolk’s, and we realised we had walked the whole length of Ledra Street, a road that was strictly out of bounds to all personnel and several soldiers lost their lives patrolling there. I wasn’t reported thanks to my mate, but we did invite him to our house for a meal or two and to catch up on all Leiston gossip.

Shortly after this there was an incident where our landlady’s brother, who was living with her, was killed in Ledra Street for being an EOKA informer.  That made us both a bit edgy but we carried on until it was time for home. We did have a marine escort everywhere we went so that made us feel a bit more secure.

Linda, my daughter was born in the service hospital Nicosia in 1959 by which time I was getting near to my repatriation back to the UK. .At that time my skipper had to move back to Episkopi and as they would not let my daughter fly until she was over a month old my boss said “Welford I am not going to let you move all the way back to Episkopi”, so he left me with a driver marine escort and said I could have 4 weeks leave which would not be recorded so when I got back to UK l wouldn’t lose any of the month I was entitled to.

HMS Belfast

When I got back to UK I still had 4 more years to serve in the Navy and apart from the first 18 months the rest of my time was spent at sea on HMS Belfast, HMS Bermuda and HMS Jutland.

I served my 12 years in the Navy but decided not to stay on as it was causing problems for my daughter, who was still very young, and when I came home on leave she didn’t recognise me and consequently I spoilt her but then she would wake up one morning and I would be gone again.   The Navy in those days was completely different to today because you were away for up to 2 years or more at a time.

After leaving the navy I got a good job at a nuclear power plant just 1 mile from my home in Leiston, l felt like a millionaire as my wages were five times what I was earning in the Navy but even then it’s nothing like the money they earn today.

Joan suffered with a fused disc in her back when we came home and was in hospital for several weeks in traction so our family planning was put on hold until our doctor gave us the OK.  We thought a year perhaps but it ended up being 8 years and even then the doctor was against it, but we discussed it and agreed we would make our own decision and went ahead.  This was my second bad mistake.  Joan went to the surgery one day and when she came home she said the doctor wanted to see me, but when I went to see him did I get it in the neck? I have never been told off like it before, but everything worked out ok in the end and Joan never had any more problems with her back.

We had a lovely son and both he and my daughter still live in Leiston.  They both had four children.  My daughter’s marriage broke up long before the children left school so she brought up her family on her own, of course with the help of Mum and Dad plus her grandmother who was still alive. My son lost his wife with cancer 4 years ago.  I am so pleased that both now have met new partners, so life is good for them.


1 reply »

  1. Hello Jim good to know you are still around, I answered your mail on Forces Reunited but you disappeared off the radar which must be almost two years ago. Well done with your story and give my regards to your friend from the Suffolks who I seem to recollect lives a few homes away from yours, a fact I remember from our first communications.