AT THE END OF A LONG ROAD
He was but a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin
But his presence should remind us we might need his like again
For when countries are in conflict then we find the soldier's part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start!
- A. Lawrence Vaincourt.
TEN years after the idea was first mooted by Britain's Small Wars and the pages of Cyprus Today, 371 British servicemen murdered between 1955 and 1959 by Greek Cypriot terrorists have been given a fitting memorial at a cost of £200,000, raised from voluntary donations. It was unveiled on Remembrance Sunday, 8 November 2009, in the Old British Cemetery in Kyrenia, North Cyprus, in front of a crowd of more than 800 people.
It stands close to the tomb of Sergeant William McGaw, VC, of The Black Watch, the first soldier to die in Cyprus, when the British leased the island from the Ottoman Empire in 1878.
The Memorial closes the circle of 82 years of British rule of Cyprus.
Reaching this stage has been a long struggle. In 2000, Dave Cranston, ex-Royal Ulster Rifles, raised the concept of the memorial project on Britain's Channel 4 Teletext pages, as well as with the British Legion, regimental associations and civilian police officers, who had served in Cyprus and was met by a wave of indifference. He approached prominent figures in the British establishment and Members of Parliament of all political persuasions, expecting favorable responses, especially in the wake of 9/11 and UK service personnel being posted to Afghanistan and elsewhere in the 'war against terrorism'.
But his optimism was misplaced.
Some MPs were initially interested, but a few weeks later either declined to discuss the matter any further or indicated that they had been advised not to get involved. He was advised in curt terms to 'drop it'.
Then Cranston contacted David Carter, the editor of the Cyprus section of the Britain's Small Wars website, after reading a letter from Rowley Johnson, a veteran of the Cyprus conflict. Johnson said: 'We must remember our soldiers, because our former enemies never forget theirs. Recently I attended a dinner function at a Greek club in Sydney, with the New Zealand Consul and president of the New Zealand Services Club.
'Before we began dinner, the Greeks raised their glasses to toast their "heroes" - Archbishop Makarios and Colonel Grivas, the men behind the EOKA conflict. We walked out. This caused quite a stir.
'The Greeks wrote a letter of protest to the Australian Prime Minister, who, in turn, telephoned me. I explained why we had walked out. I had, after all, escorted several EOKA bastards out of Cyprus. I was told not to hold a grudge and that the war was in the past and we should be diplomatic.
'Sorry, but I can't. The EOKA members were not soldiers. They were terrorists. I know how their actions affected many soldiers who served in Cyprus. In my job as a local welfare officer for Cyprus veterans, I've attended 97 funerals this past year (2001) No one cares for these old soldiers, except their families and other soldiers.'
The Honor Roll
IF there were to be a memorial, there first had to be a complete list of those who died during the Emergency. The UK's Ministry of Defense said none existed. It took Carter two years to discover their names by visiting Wayne's Keep Military Cemetery in the UN Buffer Zone, and scouring regimental magazines and local newspapers.
The Honor Roll took two years to compile and was published first in Cyprus Today for which Carter wrote a weekly column.
Today that Honor Roll, the first of its kind, appears on several military websites and is used by historians and academics at home and abroad in their papers about one of the first major campaigns against terrorism.
Soon afterwards Carter discussed the memorial idea with the then president of the TRNC, Rauf Denktas, and the Commanding General of the Turkish Forces in Cyprus. Both men approved, but stressed that their cooperation would depend on whether the British expatriate community gave the project their wholehearted support.
A Canadian resident volunteered to design the monument and President Denktas opened a special bank account for donations towards the costs. Colonel John Watts, MC, who had treated EOKA victims at the British Military Hospital in Nicosia, contributed the first £100.
A new start
THE British Residents Society (BRS) decided officially it was unable to back the memorial and so the project was shelved until 2007, when Donald Crawford, QC, decided to take up the challenge and approached BSW: 'I wrote to you a few months ago about reviving your original idea of a Cyprus Memorial and I am confident it can now be done. Nothing has been said of this in Northern Cyprus, and in the light of your experience, nothing will be said until the project is firmly under way...
'...I have admiration for your extensive research and not least for the various commentaries which you have written website. Some of that surely should be used for an accompanying book to the Memorial!'
Crawford set up The British Cyprus Memorial Trust to coordinate the project, with General Sir John Waters, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon and Lieutenant General Sir Henry Beverley, who saw active service in Cyprus with the Royal Marines, at the helm.
In the months ahead, they promoted the project widely and tirelessly, raising funds, while Crawford concentrated on a large number of technical issues and used Britain's Small Wars resources to acquire background information on those to be named on the Memorial and to make contact with their relatives and former soldiers. Together they were able to create a 'living' memorial on the net.
Eventually £200,000 was raised from voluntary contributions, large and small, to cover the costs of the Memorial. Keith Rackham of H L Perfitt Ltd of Diss in Norfolk accepted the commission to design, build and ship it to North Cyprus, where it was unpacked in the old British Cemetery in late October.
One of the craftsmen who worked on the memorial left the company in Diss after winning £7 million from the National Lottery, but, says Rackham, he insisted on returning to work on the memorial 'because it would be an honor to be involved.'
MEANWHILE, retired Major Brian Thomas, BEM, volunteered in the summer 2009 to form and chair a local organizing committee in North Cyprus to arrange for those who planned to travel from the UK and elsewhere to attend the memorial's unveiling.
'When this poignant occasion was at the planning stage we never expected so many UK-based relatives and veterans would make the journey to the TRNC,' he says. 'Given the amount of time, money and effort shown by them, it was felt that they should be given priority in the seating arrangements and the reception afterwards.'
The local committee included Les Evans, Keith Lloyd, Ken Black, Gerry Lee and Turkish Cypriots Steve Abit and Jimmy Keco, all of whom planned a full program of events for the visitors.
Even at this late stage, however, there were still some anonymous British expatriates who disapproved the memorial and now found themselves on the same side, albeit for different reasons, as Thassos Sophocleus, head of the EOKA Veteran's Association, who protested: 'They (the British) have no right to build such a monument on Cyprus, especially in the "occupied areas".' He also disputed the description of EOKA as a 'terrorist' organization.
(Sophocleus, a former Eoka executioner and gang leader in the Kyrenia district, had particular responsibility for terrorism in Kalogrea/Bahceli and Ayios Amvrosios/Esentepe, with Photis Papaphotis and 24 others. Among their 'heroic' acts was the horrific murder of Special Constable G T Karberry and his pregnant wife in a mountain road ambush, near Akanthou, on 8 July 1956.)
A day to remember
A crowd that would swell to 800 had begun arriving soon after 09.00.
AT PRECISELY 12.30 Cyprus Time on Remembrance Sunday the Memorial Service began, conducted by The Rt. Reverend Michael Lewis, Bishop in Cyprus and the Gulf, Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.
The Earl's cousin was 2nd Lieutenant The Hon. Stephen Fox-Strangways of the Royal Horse Guards who was shot and killed with his escort, Trooper John Procter, on 8 July 1958, by an EOKA gunman who followed them into a grocery store in Hermes Street, Varosha. Mr. Hollely is the nephew of Sapper John Hollely, killed by an EOKA mine on 11 July 1957.
By incorporating individual regimental and unit badges in the memorial, it provides a historic reminder of certain regiments that 50 years from the end of the conflict no longer exist, such as the Royal Leicesters, the Royal Ulster Rifles, the Royal Norfolk Regiment and the Highland Light Infantry. 'What makes it so distinctive is that the men's names are grouped under the badges they were wearing when they died,' said Keith Rackham.
The Rt. Reverend Michael Lewis, Bishop in Cyprus and the Gulf, Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, listens intently as former Corporal Bert Smith of The Wiltshire Regiment reads The Veterans' Verse ...
The service concluded with Corporal Smith reading the Kohima Epitaph.
Thirty-two formal wreath layers from various branches of the armed forces and related organizations followed.
Official wreathes were placed by
Major General Corram Purdon, BSE, MC, one of the VIP visitors, hoped Dave Cranston, whose original idea started the Memorial project, would be present to lay a wreath on behalf of their regiment - The Royal Ulster Rifles - but former Rifleman Cranston was not well enough to travel and so the wreath was placed by his former CO, watched by nine members of the late Rifleman Donald Kinsella's family.
Throughout the ceremony, Colonel John Hughes-Wilson and former Welsh Guardsman Keith Lloyd provided a commentary, relayed by loudspeakers to the crowd outside the cemetery. Large TV screens showed close-up pictures.
There were also several Turkish ex-military veterans present, some wearing their medals. Two were in tears during the service.
'Poignant and significant'
MRS. Susan Steel said: 'Since the age of 17, I have attended many Services of Remembrance, but I can honestly say today's service was one of the most poignant and significant I have ever attended. We were a diverse group, ex military, family of ex military, some who had no connection to the military whatsoever but thought that this was the right place to be. They were right and they were not disappointed... One couple had come from Australia to see the unveiling.'
'It was absolutely fantastic,' added Colonel Maurice Nicholls of the Royal Military Police. 'It was truly outstanding and memorable and the BSW Roll of Honor added substantially to the poignancy and meaning of the occasion.'
BBC correspondent Chris Summers reported: 'One of the names on the memorial is Corporal Mervyn Whurr, 22, killed by a bomb on Kyrenia's Six Mile Beach in September 1956. His sister, Barbara Hocking, from Millbrook in Cornwall, said: "My mum had a telegram saying he'd been injured, then she got another one saying he had an arm and a leg amputated. A few days later another telegram came saying he'd died."
'Unlike those of troops killed in Afghanistan, his body, like those of most of the Cyprus casualties, was not flown home and lies in a cemetery at Wayne's Keep on the Island. Mrs. Hocking was joined by Margaret Moncur, whose brother 19-year-old Matt Neely, from Glasgow, was killed in 1956 by a bomb while doing his National Service. Mrs. Moncur said: "He loved his football, he was full of fun, playing jokes and was very popular with his mates. For some reason Cyprus has become a forgotten war.'
'We do not forget our dead'
AFTERWARDS over 400 people went to the Pia Bella Hotel and enjoyed a three-course lunch. Many old acquaintances were renewed and many new friendships formed.
At the lunch, Lord Ilchester addressed the guests. 'Today it is Afghanistan, but all those yesterdays gone it was Cyprus. For those who serve there is no difference. The deaths of young men, whatever the theater, whatever the year, carry the same pain and the same memories for those who are left behind.'
He continued: 'In Britain we say that we do not forget our dead, and, if some say so without really knowing what that means, the message coming from this room today is that those words "Lest We Forget" are not empty rhetoric, but a pledge we keep and a duty we here fulfill by our presence.
'This has been your day and as representatives of the many thousands who cannot be here, you have succeeded in ensuring that those who died have not been forgotten and, after half a century, will never be again.'
Tributes at Wayne's Keep
THE DAY before, many of the friends and relatives of the fallen soldiers, visited Wayne's Keep Military Cemetery in the UN Buffer Zone, near Nicosia.
Sheila McQuillan had traveled from UK to lay flowers on the grave of her then fiancé, Private John Terence Argyle of The Royal Leicestershire Regiment, who was mortally wounded on 30 May 1956, near Famagusta, when a grenade exploded in his vehicle. He died two days later. He was 19 years old. She has visited Wayne's Keep Cemetery on four occasions since his death.
She says: 'She said: "I've never stopped thinking about him and, with his parents no longer with us, I feel it is my duty to represent him. When the "Tigers" were posted, no one realized it would be such a bad conflict. They were sent out on National Service, most were thinking it would be all sunshine and roses.
'It is sad to think it has had to take this length of time for a memorial, but it is nice that at least now there will be something which people can see at any time.'
Mr. Hewgill served with the Wiltshire Regiment at the height of the EOKA conflict. He said: 'It is an emotional time coming back. This is my first time since I served in Cyprus. I had a friend, Colin Read, who died here. We were on active service at the time so we couldn't go to his funeral. This is the first chance I have had to visit his grave.'
Mrs.Teresa Burns, 77, was visiting Cyprus for the first time to see her brother's grave. Leonard Kitchin was 18 when he died on 27 May 1956, drowned in his attempt to save a Turkish Cypriot swimmer off the Kyrenia coast. 'Unlike today, those who died in Cyprus were not bought home,' she said. 'Due to the difficulty in reaching Wayne's Keep cemetery, many families have never been to see their loved one's grave.'
Daughter Lynne, 47, who joined her on the trip, said: 'It was important that we got her here before it was too late. It would have been my biggest regret if she had died never having seen Leonard's grave. He was a real hero and we have never had the chance to pay our respects. Now we have and I'm really pleased - it's helped me and my mum to feel more at peace.
Mrs. Burns added: "It's been a very emotional time, but we have been able to share our stories and grief with other families who also lost loved ones. I am so pleased that the British Cyprus Memorial Trust, with very little support, has been able to finally provide us with a memorial that we can visit with ease.'
Roy Bailey places crosses on the graves of Private French (left) of the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry and Private Goddard (right), of the Royal Berkshire Regiment.
|Geoff Brown places a cross on the grave of Private Ivan Gurr. Gurr died in a vehicle crash in the Troodos Mountains on 10 June 1956 during Operation Lucky Alphonse. Brown was in charge of the firing party at his funeral.|
At mid-day, a short memorial service was held in front of The Cross of Sacrifice, a symbol found in all Commonwealth war cemeteries around the world. Corporal James Christopher, Royal Marines, played The Last Post.
Wearing full dress uniform, a former UK Unit police officer laid a wreath at the conclusion of the service to honor the lives of the policemen who died during the EOKA conflict.
THE BRITISH Cyprus Memorial was not unveiled without becoming embroiled in the politics of the Island. The Greek Cypriot government in the South, former EOKA members and the local media condemned it and those behind the project.
Because Peter Millett, the British High Commissioner had laid a wreath and attended the ceremony, Greek Cypriot President Christofias expressed official disapproval. He said: 'I am not happy. The British have every right to honor their people who lost their lives to EOKA fighters during the struggle for freedom, but they could just as well create monuments in Britain instead of Cyprus.'
Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou deplored Millet's presence at the ceremony and said the act of building a monument in an 'occupied' town of Cyprus was disrespectful of 'the Cyprus liberation struggle'. The EOKA fighters' association said: 'The whole affair showed the mentality of British colonialists and proved once more the cooperation between the British and Turks from 1955 until today.'
The British High Commissioner dismissed the protests, stating that he had only laid a wreath out of respect for the dead.
The South's Cyprus Mail opined: 'The truth is that some of those individuals who undertook the initiative to erect the monument were more than happy to show their contempt for the Cyprus government and the Greek Cypriots.'
The newspaper reported gleefully: 'Not all in the British community in Cyprus support the project. It is rumored that the British Resident's Society (BRS), the main body representing British citizens living in the north, privately oppose the monument. BRS head Morton Cole refused to confirm this, but did say that he would not be attending the unveiling ceremony, but would be attending the smaller annual Remembrance Day celebration at St Andrew's Church in Kyrenia.'
The newspaper continued: 'Although none was willing to give their names for fear of ostracism, several other Britons living in the Kyrenia area said they saw the erection of the monument in Kyrenia as a deliberate snub to Greek Cypriots.
'"I see this as politically motivated, and I therefore oppose it," said one Kyrenia resident, who added: "It is also arrogant and badly timed, especially with peace talks going on at the moment between the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots."'
The Cyprus Weekly columnist Philippos Stylianou was more strident: 'It is abundantly clear that all those involved in the monument decided to erect it in the occupied northern part because they feel allied to the Turkish side and have a common stake with them. Their enterprise could then be safely described as a deliberate snub to the Greek Cypriot side for treating them as usurpers of refugee properties and prosecuting them in local and European courts,' he scribed.
'Sanctioned officially, the monument in the long run ceases to be just a military memorial and takes on special historical and political significance that underscores the present-day situation in the island. It becomes a monument to the continuing joint colonial legacy of Britain and Turkey in Cyprus at the expense of the Greek Cypriots...'
One of the Cyprus Mail's columnists, his blood pressure rising sharply, charged: 'This is quite clearly a calculated attempt to offend Greek Cypriots by a group of petty-minded and vindictive colonialists who enlisted the help of the Daily Telegraph for fund-raising.
'It suffices to say that one of the men behind the plans for the monument is the insufferably pompous, Donald Crawford, who has made it the mission of his life to cause offence to Greek Cypriots... The supercilious creep, speaking to this paper last Sunday, came up with the following suggestion: "It would be much more chivalrous if EOKA came and laid a wreath at the monument..." He has as much right to give lessons in chivalry as a car thief and a rapist. Of course pompous, arrogant Brits suffering from delusions of moral and intellectual superiority do not see it that way.'
Mr. Alexandros Zenon, the Cyprus High Commissioner to London, said the failure to consult the Cyprus government about the memorial was perceived as an 'insult'. He said: 'In principle we are not against a country honoring its soldiers who fell in service. The problem is that the memorial was built and unveiled in the "occupied" part of Cyprus. It could have been erected in the British sovereign base area. We also feel it's politically premature. I understand they (the British) want to honor them, but for Greek Cypriots the anti-colonial struggle is still a very sensitive issue.'
Cyprus was granted independence in 1960.
Mr. Andrew Dismore, Labor MP for Hendon in north London, where more than 3,000 Greek Cypriot live, commented: 'This is neither the time (2009) or place (Kyrenia) for a memorial at such a sensitive time in the talks between the two sides in the Cyprus dispute. ' Dismore is well known for supporting the Greek Cypriot cause and demanding the removal of Turkish Forces in the Turkish Cypriot north.
The British Cyprus Memorial in the old Kyrenia Cemetery is the first and only one dedicated exclusively to the military personnel who died during the 1955-59 Cyprus Emergency.
Appearing on the North Cyprus TV program, Boiling Point, Donald Crawford responded to the Greek Cypriot criticism of the British High Commissioner for attending the Memorial ceremony. 'He is the Representative of Great Britain on this Island and it is not his wreath, it is a wreath from the Queen and if you happen to have noted, it said "From a grateful nation, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II."
'Now when the Queen sends a wreath, the British High Commissioner lays it. What is he supposed to do, go out for lunch? Instead of protesting, how chivalrous it would be of EOKA to have said that they would like to lay a wreath, not on the day, but at some point. Soldiers don't hold enmity for their enemies.
'What is very striking about the thousands of emails we've received, none has mentioned EOKA. Our veterans don't go on about EOKA. They go on about "Charlie" and "Harry" and those they have lost, particularly when they get old and are looking back because "Charlie" and "Harry" never had a life... It is a sense of closure for many and they can feel proud that their comrades haven't just been forgotten and buried in no-man's land, but, in fact, that the country, Britain - not Northern Cyprus, Britain - has set out to remember them.'
Crawford continued: 'I think the Memorial is also a message to the mothers and brothers of the people killed in Afghanistan that when the hearse goes through Wootton Bassett, it is not the end of the story, and, that in 50 years' time, other people like us will be there to remember. That is the British tradition. We don't forget.
'Remembrance is a central part of the military contract between our Nation and its Armed Forces: that wherever they are sent, we won't forget them. However unpopular the war, that's not the business of soldiers. They serve their country where they're sent and, if they die there, they die for their Nation, even if the Nation doesn't like the war.'
SAYS David Carter: 'Our original idea would not have been realized without the tremendous work of the Trust and the dedication of Donald Crawford, in particular. On behalf of the Britain's Small Wars' team, we salute and thank them, as will all those who served in Cyprus during the EOKA conflict.'
The last words go to Lt Gen Sir Henry Beverley, Royal Marines:
'I see the British Cyprus Memorial as very much a tribute to both tough and skilful soldiers; good humored, fair and humane despite often sore provocation and very trying conditions - on and off-duty...
'What are my feelings now, half a century on? The Cyprus situation was inevitably complex and, as is shown by the impasse that still exists, diplomacy was always going to be a struggle. We members of the Armed Forces, allied to our comrades in the UK Police Unit and the Cyprus Police, did our very best to maintain control in an even-handed manner. The great sadness is that so many service and civilian lives were lost in the process.'
THE AUTHOR is grateful to Nigel Watson, Ian Peart and Osmen Yilancilar of Cyprus Today, Danny Gibson, Roy Bailey, Andrea Isham and Cyprus Star, as well as several others in Cyprus who provided the photographs for this article, but prefer to remain anonymous.
The author also acknowledges the invaluable assistance of Ian Shepherd of Cyprus Today and many residents of North Cyprus in compiling this account.
© David Matthews 2009