People

Cyprus Remembered by Mike Bickmore Royal Artillery 1956-58  

Introduction by Margaret Sheard ….

Here is another lovely account by a British national serviceman of time served in Cyprus with the Royal Artillery 1956-58 which has been sent to us via the Cyprus Veterans.

By Mike Bickmore …..

Unlike my 80-plus years of tennis and 50-plus years of badminton, my life in the Army only lasted for two years.   My call-up was delayed until January 1956 due to my five-year architectural course at Leicester.

I chose to serve in the Royal Artillery and my one-way train ticket to Oswestry on the Welsh border duly arrived.  From the station we were transported in open-backed lorries to Park Hall Barracks for our six-weeks basic training.  The light snow covering soon increased to deep snow and freezing conditions, so our visits to the parade ground were very limited.  However, we were drilled on the areas that we had cleared of snow and taught how to march and salute the officers.

Life was very difficult for the younger recruits who were used to home comforts.

We had very little time to visit the NAAFI and often we were woken by our NCO in the middle of the night and, after dressing in denims, we were ordered to shovel coke for the boiler, then scrub the barrack room floor which, by morning, had become a skating rink!

I trained as a TARA (Technical Assistant Royal Artillery) working out data for the guns.

The weather improved in early February and we were drilled daily for our passing-out parade, which duly came.  We all looked forward to our posting to a regiment in England or overseas.  My posting was to 39 Heavy Regiment, in Hampshire, where I had to meet new recruits and learn more about life in the Army.

I was the senior member of our squad and given the responsibility of keeping our “spider” secure. [Spider was the nickname given to groups of eight barrack blocks which were located four on each side of an ablutions block].    The Librarian had been demobbed and I was also asked to manage the small library for which I was given a separate room for myself and the books and maps.

Army life became a little easier and I soon decided that I could use my 48-hour weekend pass to cycle home to Derby via Marlborough, Swindon, Cirencester, Moreton, Stow and Warwick, taking me some ten hours for the 150-mile journey.

I was asked to race for the Southern Command cycle team so Wednesdays were taken up with cycle racing at various venues in Southern England or race training, which involved a 110-mile ride through the New Forest, along the South Coast and an evening meal at Salisbury YMCA.

Being loosely attached to the motor transport section, I was asked (or rather instructed) to be mail orderly, collecting the regiment’s mail from the post office in Andover and gaining promotion to Lance Corporal and a rise in pay from 30 shillings to £2 a week.

All the regiment’s vehicles (some 50-plus) were painted pale yellow, with the proposal that the whole regiment, with vehicles, would be going to the Middle East – Palestine, possibly.

I was given the job of stencilling the various signs on all the vehicles which excluded me from most parades, guard and fire picket duties. This plan was eventually cancelled and I returned to normal Army life and duties.

The summer weather was excellent and besides cycle racing, I played regular tennis matches and tournaments at the officers’ club in Tidworth and visited local hostelries for darts and domino matches against the local villagers.

After a year of Army life in Hampshire, I was asked if I would go on the advance party to Cyprus as a motor transport clerk and typist, for which I was sent on a crash course to the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, London.

The regiment was sent to Cyprus in the advance party and, after the train journey to Southampton, we embarked on the SS Dilwara, sailing through the Bay of Biscay and calling at Gibraltar, Algiers and Malta.

We arrived at Limassol, Cyprus, after a three-week “cruise”, the only duty being a four-hour fire picket, with eight hours rest, which often occurred during the night.  Midnight to 4am was the worst shift.

Our camp at Episkopi consisted of two-man tents, larger tents for offices and a brick building for the armoury.

Our advance party of 45 from various regiments took over from the Warwickshires at very short notice and, as motor transport clerk, I helped sign for their 50-plus vehicles, some of which had to be recovered from deep valleys and needed extensive repair and replacement engines, windscreens and all valuable items, which had been looted by the locals.

Besides the 40C temperature, the sand was a great problem, appearing in your boots, clothing and food!

Breakfast was 6am, PE at 6.30am, parade and work at 7am.  We soon adapted to these hours and, after lunch at 12 noon, we were given four hours off so we could visit the local beach or rest.

Twenty-four hour guard and fire picket duties came at regular intervals, which meant losing a night’s sleep before the usual routine of meals, PE, work, leisure and more work (or duties).

On occasional free days, we hitch-hiked to various hill villages, which we had often raided at night looking for EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) members.  Our one success was the discovery of an 18-year-old in a cave with radio, bed and food.

The main party finally arrived and I was relieved of my typing duties but I continued as motor transport clerk which included night duties collecting officers from the mess at 11pm, fetching the regiment’s mail from Limassol every day and taking used tyres to Famagusta every Friday.

I joined the local church and the geographical club, which visited remote villages and monasteries in the mountains.

One Sunday in November, electric storms and lightning were seen over the mountains and were forecast to visit Episkopi in the evening.  The church service had to be stopped due to loud thunder, lightning and heavy rain on the corrugated metal roof.  The heavy rain resulted in the sand turning into mud, from which numerous small flowers appeared.

On one of my rare days off, I visited Pissouri, where a wedding was being held. I took some photographs and, some years later, my wife, Jean, and I visited the village, found the couple (and their children) and gave them some enlarged photographs of their wedding, for which they were very grateful.

As Christmas approached, I was asked to arrange the Christmas dinner for the regiment at a local friendly cafe.  However, in mid-December, I was given the opportunity of an early release by sailing on the SS Devonshire on Christmas Eve.

We called at Malta on Boxing Day and Gibraltar on New Year’s Day where I met up with an old college colleague from Leicester who worked in Gibraltar as an architect. I was entertained to lunch at his big house and rejoined the ship at 4pm.

The sea was very rough in the Bay of Biscay and many were seasick. The usual fire picket duties continued.

We docked at Liverpool in early January 1958. I was discharged from Woolwich Barracks in time for me to travel to Derby on my birthday.  My future wife had made all the arrangements for our wedding on February 12, 1958.

I look back on my Army life with mixed feelings but regard the two years as part of life and an opportunity to travel and get paid for it – £4.50 a week while in Cyprus!

1 reply »

  1. I followed the same route as Mike Bickmore,to Cyprus,I was in the REME, attached to 39 Heavy Regiment RA,It brought a few memories back.