Introduction by Margaret Sheard ….
We received a comment from Cyprus veteran, Colin Hewgill, asking if we had ever written anything about the Wiltshire Regiment and as we hadn’t, I asked him if he would like to put the memories of his time in Cyprus on paper so we could publish them on cyprusscene.com
By Colin Hewgill – Wiltshire Regiment …..
I decided to attend the Memorial unveiling in Kyrenia in 2009 not knowing how I would feel about going back after such a long time, I had left Cyprus in 1958.
Driving from the airport to Kyrenia in 2009 was emotional and disturbing, so many memories came flooding back, especially when we passed the place where our battalion HQ had been at Aghirda, just in the foothills of the Kyrenia Pass.
I must have travelled through the Pass many times but I remember it only for the sad event of one of our lads called Colin Read getting shot and killed. This was in September 1956, and he had only been on the island for a few days. He had volunteered to be part of the escort to take a WVRS lady called Mrs Horton back to Kyrenia from Aghirda camp where she had been visiting to help entertain the lads. Unfortunately Mrs Horton died in the ambush as well. It hit us all pretty hard, and even more so as Colin Read was buried within 24 hours, only the burial party left camp, so we were not allowed to attend. So going back in 2009 was my chance to visit his grave and say goodbye, even if it was 53 years later.
Editor’s Note: Private C V Read – 23301983 of 1st Btn Wiltshire Regiment is buried at Wayne’s Keep Cemetery in the Buffer Zone. He died on 28th September 1956 aged 21 years.
I signed on in the army on the 5th September 1955 and elected to join The Wiltshire Regiment, the regiment of my birthplace. After a short stay in Devizes, I then spent some months in Exeter on courses and returned to the Depot at Devizes as a training NCO. On 15th Sept 1956 I left with an intake for Cyprus and was there until demob in September 1958.
When we landed at Nicosia airport we were ferried in 3 ton lorries to Aghirda, sweating profusely in our serge battledress and carrying full kit. We were lined up and the RSM said “anyone been to grammar school, one pace forward” There were three of us, Alan Bishop, myself and I can’t for the life of me remember the other chap’s name. “You three, report to the Orderly Room”.
The following morning we reported to the ORQMS who said “you will learn to type”. We each had a typewriter, and up at eye level there was a diagram of a keyboard, we were not allowed to look at the typewriter just at the diagram. Two weeks later I could touch type, amazing. I hated the Orderly Room, I wanted to go to a Rifle Company, but it took me some months to get out of there and I was then posted to ‘C’ Company at Ayos Amvrosios (now called Esentepe).
I was thrilled to be in a rifle company, I took to the work like a duck to water, after all this was what I had joined for. We were either out on patrol, in the hills or round the villages or we were on guard. Sometimes we did road blocks on the main Kyrenia road. I /we could not believe how many people could get on a small, wrecked old bus, but they could. When we stopped them it took forever to get them all off, search them, and the bus, and put them back on again. Most of the road blocks were a complete waste of time as we were not allowed to search the women so they carried everything under their long skirts and dresses, bombs, bullets guns etc, etc, It suddenly dawned on the so called dopey, thick, officers in charge, so we eventually had women police to do the female searching.
Behind our camp were the mountains, and this was where we did a lot of patrols. On top of the mountain chain we had a small camp called Yaila where we guarded a Naval communications post. It was manned by two RN staff, and they monitored radio traffic on all ships passing along the north coast of Cyprus. It must have been one of the most boring jobs on earth, stuck in a couple of small huts on top of this hill but someone had to do it.
When at Yaila we did patrols but also night time ambushes. This needed real discipline as you had to be in a position on your own, in the dark, for two, sometimes three hours or more, completely silent. I never knew how much sound there is at night, but unknown sound that could frighten the life out of you. Was it the enemy? Was it a donkey? How long should I wait before I either challenged it or shot it? The Para’s were notorious for shooting first and finding what it was afterwards. A lot of donkeys died that way. Us, we never saw, or ambushed anyone, but we all had lots of frights.
Shortly after I arrived in C’ Company I got my one stripe back and became second in command of a section!! (about eight blokes) It did carry a lot of perks and I could now tell others what to do instead of having to do it, just think of the power!!!
Life was pretty rough in both camps, we did every third week at Yaila, and I always looked forward to it as it was more relaxed and a bit less formal but more professional, you could not take chances at Yaila.
I was only with ‘C’ Company for a few months, as I was promoted again to full Corporal and this meant I had to be posted, and off I went to ‘B’ Company stationed in the Castle in Kyrenia. None of our postings in Cyprus could be called relaxed but the Castle was certainly more formal as we were far more visible to the public and the expat community who lived there. I was to get my eyes opened to the ‘British Abroad’ syndrome. Kyrenia is a picture postcard city, with the Castle situated right on the shoreline with a very pretty harbour beside it. Overlooking the harbour are lots of different shaped houses all tumbled together to make a lovely picture. Behind the harbour lies the town with a warren of little streets and passages.
The Castle has been there since the Crusades and for me it was to be home for some eight months or so. My platoon was billeted in one of the corner towers, quite a large room with rough stone walls and floor. Not a lot of light as the ‘windows’ were no more than large arrow slits.
Having believed that we worked hard enough at Ayios Amvrosios it was a holiday compared with being in ‘B’ Company. We slept and ate when we could and the rest of the time was being either on patrol round the city, guarding important strategic buildings, on patrol in the surrounding countryside, road blocks or on guard. The best part was being able to jump in the sea at any opportunity. We had our own lagoon beside the Castle and we all made good use of it. Snorkelling and fishing for small squid were popular. We would remove the hanging arm from a coat hanger and shove a darning needle or large pin in one end to try and spear the squid with. I do not remember anyone ever catching anything but it was good fun trying Sporting facilities were very limited, we were occasionally allowed to play football, but this meant leaving the security of the Castle so it did not happen very often.
Recently I have received some photographs from a chap who was in Cyprus at the same time as myself and we then spoke on the phone for the first time in 60 years. I have always been isolated from reunions where I now live, far away from Wiltshire, especially in my younger days and then the years drift by and one forgets.
I have enjoyed recalling my early life and time in Cyprus, it is surprising how the memories start flooding back once you start putting pen to paper. I had already decided to write the story of my life for my grandchildren, from my early years during World War II, working life, army days and then again working life, marriage and generally getting older. I am now retired and enjoying life with my wife, children and grandchildren but it is nice to reflect on the past from time to time and recall some of the happy (or not so happy) times experienced many years ago.