Introduction by Margaret Sheard …..
Since writing the memories of Cyprus of an ex-serviceman of the Wiltshire Regiment, I received an interesting comment from another Wiltshire Regiment veteran, who appears to have served at some of the same camps, and I asked if he would also like to write something himself.
Maybe they knew each other. I hope we will find out from the memories now being shared by David Scott.
Cyprus Remembered 1957/58 – Wiltshire Regiment
By David Scott …..
After a delay in Woolwich Barracks London, I was left off the flight that day because of overcrowding, and was told I had to fly out on the next flight, (hence I was the only one on that flight from the Wiltshire Regiment. I eventually arrived at Cyprus International Airport. We flew out on a rather old prop engine Dakota aircraft. I arrived about the end of April 1957 and my time in Cyprus started at Agirda Camp (Ağırdağ).
I remember it was very hot out there at that time of year, and it was the first time I had been outside of the UK, and had never experienced such hot weather before My thick battle dress. uniform was most inappropriate. After 24 hours at this airbase, a truck was found to take me to Agirda camp (Ağırdağ) which was the H/Q of the Wiltshire Regiment. There I was detailed to join the 3” Mortar Platoon, and the rest of my National Service was spent with them.
On one occasion there was an event of a live shoot for the Brigade and all the Infantry Regiments on the island, who had to take part. Wilts Mortar Platoon won against all the other Infantry Regiments. We were National Servicemen and as such we were completely indifferent, we only did what we had to, and surprise surprise, we actually Won.
During my time in Agirda (Ağırdağ) we did a lot of patrols and guard duty, as there was an ongoing emergency in force. One of our many tasks was to escort the dynamite truck to somewhere in Nicosia to collect the dynamite for the quarry in Dhikomo (Dikmen). The explosives were packed on the floor of the 3 ton truck and we had to sit on them all the way back to Agirda (Ağırdağ), where they were stored in a very large hole with a flat sandbagged roof (situated near the main entrance to the camp). We were told not to touch any of the liquid that sometimes came out of the boxes of dynamite, as it may explode (our safety was not considered, and if 2 tons of explosives went off, that would have been the end of all of us. It’s frightening to think about it now).
Another of our tasks was to guard the dynamite, when it was taken and used in the stone quarry in Dhikomo (Dikmen), which was situated a couple of miles from the camp and we had to stay at the quarry until all the dynamite had been used up for all the blasting work. We also had to search all the quarry rubble, looking for any unexploded dynamite sticks, accompanied by some Turkish policeman.
Whilst I was at Agirda camp (Ağırdağ), at one time we were sent up the mountain to fight a forest fire, we had to dig a fire break in front of the fire so the fire had nothing to burn, and should then burn out. The fire was above the castle of St. Hilarion.
There were Asian tea wallers who sold us cheese and tomato (cleese and surmatta) rolls who also lived in the Agirda camp. I remember that our RSM, named Venn, gave these guys a very hard time, making them clean their working tables over and over again whenever he saw them. They, like us, always kept out of his way when he was about. They also had the job of cleaning the urinals and the wash rooms as part of their duties (hence the RSM’s interest in them), which did not mix too well with them preparing food as well, but we did not care.
On another occasion whilst we were driving down through the Kyrenia pass, a shot rang out across the road in front of us, we all jumped out of the truck, and were told to fire across the pass to the goat track on the other side. (I did not fire as I saw nothing, and I did not want to dirty my rifle!).
The mountain roads were very dangerous to say the least and many military vehicles suffered major and minor accidents but as young men we probably did not appreciate the dangerous conditions of these roads which were nothing more than dirt tracks in most instances.
Whilst at Agirda (Ağırdağ) my Platoon was posted for a short time to a camp (I think was the Royal Horse Guards) situated somewhere on the road to Nicosia. Whilst we were there, we were called out early one morning, and sent to a village called Geunyeli (Gönyeli), evidently a group of Greeks had decided to attack the neighbouring Turkish village, but the Turks had got wind of it, and were waiting for the Greeks, with all sorts of improvised weapons, like sticks with long nails sticking out, and clubs with nails, glass, and razor blades stuck in the end of them and carnage was done to the Greeks. The corn fields were set on fire, and were still smouldering when we got there, which was about 5 am.
Our job was to search the fields for bodies, and injured people, plus any weapons. We found plenty of bloodstained weapons, I found a pocket knife thick with dried in blood, others in our section found many bloodstained weapons, but no bodies or casualties.
My mother later in her letters, said that there was a write up in the British Newspapers called the Blazing Wheat Fields of Geunyeli (Gönyeli), and asked me if I knew of it, I wrote back that I not only knew of it, I was there (post in those days took nearly 2 weeks to reach us).
On a later holiday visit to North Cyprus, I looked at the archives of old newspapers in a records office just outside of Kyrenia near the Pia Bella Hotel but I could not find anything about this incident (it occurred about the end of 1957), perhaps cyprusscene.com might be able to find something!!
Whilst we were at this camp one of our tasks, was to protect the Turkish school buses that went through the Greek villages, by lining the route of the buses, because the Greeks would throw stones and things at the bus as it went through. We were told to open fire on anyone throwing anything at the buses, the elders in the Greek villages were told what would happen if things were thrown.
After over a year in Agirda (Ağırdağ), we were moved to a camp further up towards the Panhandle called Ayios Amvosios (Esentepe). When I say moved, half of our Company had to walk there, including myself, carrying our small pack and rifle plus enough rations to last a few days. It took me 3 days and 2 nights to walk there, but some were still coming in after 4 days, it was a long march along the mountain paths. But really it was nice to get away from the discipline of the central camp.
It was a much smaller camp than Aghirda, only enough room for a single Infantry Company like the company I was in (S.Com – Support Company)
Ayios Amvosios camp had longer tents, with concrete bases, that would give about 12 of us a bed space, and a bit of room for a locker. There were also a few long huts for the showers, plus an armoury, stores and cook house in the camp.
Our duties there were of course guarding the camp and patrols to do, which always seemed to be at night, or when it got dark, except when we were out patrolling the hills for a few days, sleeping rough on the ground.
On one occasion the water truck which was on its way up to Yaila, hit a road mine just outside the village of Kharcha (Karaağaç) and an old farmer was shot through the neck, I think by the Turkish policemen who were following us in a Land Rover. The poor old Greek farmer who was shot was only ploughing a bit of land below the road above. Our orders were if we got attacked we were to open fire on any person nearby who should have told us of the mine in the road (some hope).
I remember he had harnessed a Donkey and an Oxen together to pull the plough. I was detailed, along with my fellow soldier called Johnny Hogarth, to take a stretcher down to him and bring the body back up to the road. (This was the first time in my life that I had seen a dead person). We turned him face down on the stretcher and hooked his legs over the front of the stretcher, and, as I was taller than John, I was at the back, and had his head face down touching me. As we struggled up the steep bank, I remember that some of his body fluid, or bile, came out of his mouth, and the hole in his neck, and was all down the front of me. This did not concern me one bit, as when we got back to camp, it had dried, and we proceeded to the cook house for our late lunch.
During my time at, Ayios Amvosios, each Platoon had to do a month or so up in Yaila camp, which was situated at the top of a mountain, and was a listening post for the Royal Navy Intelligence, monitoring radio signals from passing ships.
Whilst we were up there we used to get a visit from a Church of Scotland Man, who brought us newspapers and magazines, he drove an estate car, full of goodies he thought we might like. One day we heard an explosion which came from the road north of Kalogrea (Bahçeli) so we went down the rubble road from Yaila, towards Kalogrea, near what we called “5 Ways”, to investigate what had happened, and found that the Church of Scotland man had hit a mine, and his body and parts were scattered over the mountainside, along with his car, papers and magazines. We of course had to clear this up.
There were also some ambushes which we had to set up at various times, on the mountain tracks that terrorists were supposed to use, all very exciting, and troublesome for us.
At the end of my time there, our numbers were dwindling because people were getting demobbed, and not being replaced, as National Service had ended quite a few months earlier, but we still had to do the same number of patrols and guards. Sometimes only 3 of us would go out on patrol. We did not have any NCOs or Officers with us, as many had already gone. So we were not very keen at this time, and would just hide for a few hours, as we were only a few weeks or months away from demob. The Regiment was to be integrated with another Regiment, and our numbers had to be reduced to half the number.
I left Cyprus at the end of January 1959 and came home by a 10 day boat trip, arriving at Southampton, then on to the camp at Devizes, where I had 3 days leave, before going back to the camp, and eventually demobbed.
My 2 year stint was over.
I have visited Cyprus in later years and been able to see the sights as a tourist. My only visits to Kyrenia during my national service time were whilst I was on duty, and carrying a rifle. The area around the castle has vastly changed during the intervening years as can be seen from the photo below.