IN THE SHADOW OF EOKA
LIFE was carefree and fun, when I was 13 coming up to 14, living on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales at Catterick Garrison with my parents and sister Vivienne, who was 12. Here I was able to wander in the countryside with my friends. Then, one day my father Staff Sergeant George Price announced he was being posted to Cyprus and we would be following later. He was a Royal Military Policeman.
Dad left for Wayne's Keep, Nicosia, in November 1956. Immediately, my mother, in true army wife-mode, started packing all our belongings in large tea chests ready for yet another move.
I had heard that there were 'troubles' in Cyprus, but really had no idea what they were about or what effect they would have on my life.
At the end of January 1957, we sailed from England for Cyprus on the troop ship Asturias, arriving 10 days later in Limassol.
Enter the convent
IT was dark by the time we reached Nicosia so there wasn't much to see.
A main road ran in front, behind which was the Nicosia racecourse and then the Kyrenia Mountain range in the background. At the other end of the street was the Coca-Cola bottling depot and the Airport Road.
The baker had a toddler called Maroulla and there was a boy called Andreas who lived across the road. I used to talk to him and I remember his mother gave me some sweet pickled fruit, a Cypriot treat. I think it's called glichko. Our neighbors were all Greek Cypriots and very friendly towards us, but we still had to be careful. I soon discovered my freedom was limited and I could no more wander off at will, because of the EOKA threat.
It was a difficult time for me because I had been used to going out with my friends in the evenings and couldn't do that any more. My paranoia manifested itself when Andreas's cousin asked me to go for a walk up a hill from where we could look out over the racecourse. I immediately refused - not because I was worried about his moral intentions - but because I thought he might be planning to shoot me, as I was British!
Our house always smelt of the linseed oil that was used on the parquet flooring, but it was a pleasant aroma, which is more than can be said about the time when the septic tank overflowed. There was no mains drainage in Nicosia at that time and plumbers used quite small-bore piping. It took a very smelly overflow - and instructions from the baker - before we realized toilet paper could not be flushed away, but had to be burned.
My friend Margaret 'Stripes' Russell was already living in Nicosia, close to the Central Prison. Hers was a large old traditional Cypriot house, square, with an entrance hall. Lemon trees grew in the garden.
A week after we arrived in Nicosia, I started at my new school, the convent of St Joseph de L'Apparition. Before I was accepted I had to pass an interview conducted by Mere Chrysanthe, the Mother Superior. She spoke French only, so I replied to every one of her questions with 'oui ma mere' and just hoped I'd got it right.
The convent school was located inside the walled city, just off Arsinoe Street and close to the Paphos Gate, with a Maronite church opposite.
The convent was run by a French order of nuns and the two I really remember are Sister Ita who was Irish (my form teacher) and Soeur Jean Baptiste who taught Art The latter made us march around the yard and off into our classrooms to the strains of La Lorraine, which she played on a record player in front of her, while banging two wooden blocks together in time to the music.
A school bus arrived at our house every morning to collect Viv and me. It was a shock on the first day to find two soldiers, armed with Sten guns, ushering us inside, but we soon got used to all the men carrying guns. Going to school was the only time we ever entered the walled city during our first stay in Nicosia, as it was Out of Bounds. Because of the number of murders in the main thoroughfare, Ledra Street became known as 'Murder Mile'.
Although our school was in a notorious area for EOKA activity, I felt safe there, probably because it was a multi-national school and owned by the French who were not to be targeted, according to Grivas's terrorist rules of engagement.
Posted to Episkopi
WHEN Dad was promoted to WO2 in April 1957, he was posted to Episkopi and became one of General Sir Geoffrey Bourne's bodyguards. The general was C-in-C MELF.
Our street was the second back from the main road, which ran between Limassol and Paphos. The house had a downstairs lounge, a dining room leading into the kitchen and a patio. Stairs led from the back of the dining room to the two upstairs bedrooms and a bathroom.
After Nicosia, life began to seem like a long holiday as all roads leading into the Episkopi base had manned checkpoints. Our movements were no longer restricted, provided we remained in the base area, and we could explore as much as we liked. Here we were free to go to the beach unescorted and generally did what children everywhere do.
Only our journeys to and from Berengaria school in the Ypsonas district of Limassol remained the same as those in Nicosia - we still had armed escorts of soldiers or airmen.
Berengaria School was in a compound, and consisted of several tin buildings. I made friends there, most of whom also lived at Episkopi. Among them were Margaret Sadd, Jennifer Skinner, Doreen and Carol Kettle and Maureen Fitzpatrick, Margaret's mother became one of my Mum's friends and it was because of her that she became active in so many organizations while we were in Cyprus. (Brownies, choral society and the Army Guild of St. Helena.)
My first record
A FAVORITE LP of the period was My Fair Lady and I remember how Margaret Sadd and I walked around singing all the show's songs, trying to draw attention to ourselves from the young soldiers all around us.
At this stage I hadn't been asked to go out with anyone.
There was also an indoor cinema in the RAF area of the garrison, where I sometimes saw films in the winter.
A few more times, I was taken to the cinema by this RAF bloke who came from Edinburgh. If Dad had known, he would have stopped me. After all, I was still only 14!
Life is a summer holiday
AT Episkopi I joined the choir at All Saints' Church and sang my first solo at Christmas. It was the first verse of See Amid the Winters Snow. The church was packed and I was terrified. I heard later that an awful girl whose name I won't reveal - was very jealous that I had been chosen ahead of her. This was one up to me, because she was used to getting her own way by shouting about her father's senior rank. Fortunately he was posted soon afterwards, so I didn't have to put up with her for too long.
I also became a Girl Guide, learned Scottish country dancing and joined the choral society and Dad received his Meritorious Service Medal at the Queen's Birthday Parade in 1957. The ceremony was held on the airstrip.
There were three main beaches for us to use at Episkopi. Number five beach was reached from a headland at the eastern end of the base but the path down was very narrow and I couldn't handle it.
In front of our houses - and below the cliffs - was number four beach, later to be known as 'Tunnel beach', once they had bored through the hill from Happy Valley to provide vehicle access. Initially number four was our main beach as there was a reasonably safe pathway down.
Seriously ill Mum
IN spite of being in hospital, her condition worsened. Eventually her doctors decided she would have to be medically evacuated to England to stand any chance of survival. The C-in-C's wife, Lady Bourne, took Viv and me to see Mum the day before her ambulance flight and I was shocked by how ill she looked. I suddenly realized that she could die at the age of 37.
She was flown to RAF Wroughton and admitted to the hospital on the base. There she stayed until she recovered. Meanwhile, Dad took care of Viv and me in Cyprus.
In the autumn that year, I went camping with the guides. Our captain was a PT Instructor in the WRAF and so we guessed we had a lot of hikes ahead of us. And we were right.
We had six tents to pitch and latrines to dig, although there was an outhouse with a lavatory that we were allowed to use in an emergency. We went to a small mountain stream at the top of our site for washing, washing up and cooking water.
Our longest hike was when we went through the forest to the Mesa Potamos monastery, about seven miles away - that was an all-day one. On other walks we spent time chatting to the soldiers who were guarding the police station that was about half a mile down the road.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Archbishop Makarios and Colonel Grivas often met at the monastery in 1954 to plan the EOKA campaign. Later it served as a hideout for a terrorist gang led by Lefkios Rodosthenous, EOKA's Troodos sector head.)
I earned three guide badges at the camp - woodsman, pioneer and cook, the last one for preparing dinner over our camp fire, where we sat in the evenings telling stories and singing songs.
On Guy Fawke's night 1957, Viv and I went with Dad to Flagstaff House to Sir Geoffrey and Lady Bourne's bonfire party. Mum had come home and was with us for my 15th birthday, which I marked by wearing pink lipstick - my first time - and having my hair colored. I'm on the extreme left, next to Dad.
Christmas came and I went carol singing with the church choir. (Lots of glasses of sherry!).
Boarding school and 'bog ladies'
BY this time I was a boarder at the recently opened King Richard School at the Dhekelia base, not far from Famagusta. It was on the coast road between the town of Larnaca and a small, obscure fishing village called Ayia Napa.
The school wasn't purpose built. It's accommodation was identical to that occupied by service personnel. There were four dormitory blocks, an instruction block, a mess hall, a sanatorium and a couple of extra buildings on a higher level.
My only knowledge of boarding school life came courtesy of Enid Blyton and her Mallory Towers' books, so I was totally unprepared for the reality.
The only similarity to Mallory Towers was that King Richard's had a school matron, who I remember as a very fine lady. For my first term I was placed in a dormitory with three other girls, but after the summer holidays, when I started in the sixth form, I was allocated a single room.
Mr. Davis was the headmaster when the school first opened. Such a nice man, but I never got along with his successor, Mr. Aspinall.
The school's staff chose the head girl. Her father always had to be the one who outranked the parents of any other child. This was typical military logic. The honor in our case fell to Sue Hobler. Her father was a Vice Air Marshal and a hero of WW2. As it happens, she was a very popular choice with all the students.
Mr. Bell (known as 'Ding Dong Dougie) taught Geography and Mr. Holroyd (Teddy) took Maths. Miss Taylor was our Music teacher and Mr. Claridge was in charge of Art and ran the sailing club. One of teachers was a weirdo. He had the habit of 'accidentally' wandering into the girls' changing tent on the beach, just as we had undressed.
The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were in barracks opposite the school. The regiment had the use of a small strip of beach close by, but the Garrison's main beach was Fisherman's Cove, about a quarter of a mile away. It had a jetty for diving and we used it a lot.
Every day the school was invaded by a small army of tiny Greek Cypriot women, all dressed in black widows' weeds, to perform cleaning chores. They knew only one English word: 'Hello!' We called them the 'Bog Ladies' for reasons that don't need to be explained.
The sixth formers' single rooms had a bed, a chair, a wardrobe and a dressing table. My friend Denise owned a record player, so her room was a very popular gathering place - especially as she also had an electric kettle and a plentiful supply of coffee.
Lessons were pretty much the same as they would have been at any other school. The only difference was that we didn't go home when they were finished. We were allowed to go out so long as you weren't on your own. I suppose they thought we couldn't get into mischief that way!
I felt I was in a very safe environment and didn't pay much attention to events taking place around us. I had more important things to worry about - my O and A levels. I took my O levels in June 1958, but managed only to pass three - English Language, English Literature and French - failing Maths, Geography and Art. I never did get the hang of Geometry.
Friends with a future president
FOR the summer holidays, I returned to Nicosia and our new home, where I felt very comfortable. At last I had a bedroom of my own.
Mum had become close friends with our neighbors, both British and Cypriot. They included Robert and Elizabeth Cheyne and their daughters Sandra and Sallyanne. Mr. Cheyne was an air traffic controller at Nicosia airport. Mrs. Ianthe Savvidou, a divorcee, lived in the other half of our semi-detached with her daughter Mary and a gray cat called Bouli. The Clerides' family lived in the house opposite ours.
Doctor and Mrs. Kirwan also lived on that side. I used to baby-sit for them quite often. In the height of summer the kids bedded down on the long upstairs terrace at the side of their house. Once they were asleep I didn't watch TV as programs were in Greek and Turkish. I preferred instead to read books from Dr Kirwan's library. These included the Kama Sutra. As a 15-year-old I found that volume fascinating, even if I didn't understand what was taking place half of the time!
Our friendships with the neighbors have survived the passing of time.
My memories of Glafcos Clerides are that he was a busy lawyer, but a good family man. If my sister and I were in his house with his daughter Kate, he would always come and chat to us and make sure that we had drinks. My sister and I often passed time at their house. Mrs. Clerides used to look lovely - so elegant and kind. I have her to thank for introducing me to Chinese food, but that was not until 1960 in London.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Glafcos Clerides became President of the Republic of Cyprus. Now 89 years old (2008) and wheel chair-bound, he was born in Nicosia on 19 April 1919, the eldest son of the lawyer and statesman Yiannis Clerides. Irene Lila Clerides, his wife, died in a Larnaca hospital after a long illness 6 June 2007. She was 86. The Clerides had been married for 60 years. They were the parents of a daughter, Katherine, who also served as an MP. Former Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktas, Clerides' life-long opponent in the Cyprus courts and in politics, said: 'They were the most loving couple.'
...and now (2008)
(While serving as a rear gunner in the RAF's Bomber Command, the young Clerides was shot down over Germany in 1942 and became a POW, escaping three times unsuccessfully. For his bravery he was mentioned in dispatches.
(On his demob in 1945 he studied law at King's College, London. Soon afterwards he met Lila, his Bombay-born wife-to-be. She was working for the BBC's Overseas Service. The daughter of a prominent Indian physician, she had studied at the Royal Academy of Music and Drama.
(The couple married and moved to Cyprus just after the EOKA conflict started. He became a QC, following the example of his father. Unknown to the Colonial authorities, he joined EOKA (Code-name: Iperides) and became the most in-demand defense attorney for captured terrorist suspects. He also represented Charles Foley of The Times of Cyprus. Many people believe he was involved in planning the failed assassination of Justice Shaw, who later dismissed murder charges against Nicos Sampson.
(Rauf Denktas, later to declare the breakaway state of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, was often the prosecutor in the cases Mr. Clerides defended. Both had been childhood friends and their friendship withstood the political divisions that beset their island.
(After independence, Clerides became active in politics. His soft-spoken wife Lila was constantly by his side. In 1976 he founded the right wing Democratic Rally (Demokratikos Synagermos). He was a candidate for the presidency of Cyprus six times and elected to two five-year terms, in 1993 and in 1998. During his last year in office he remarried Lila, this time in a Greek Orthodox Church after she was baptized Irene, meaning Peace).
MOVEMENT was still very limited that summer of 1958. The restrictions were still in place and social life was difficult, but not all bad. We spent most of the holidays at the NAAFI club swimming pool and at the Government House compound, where Margaret Sadd's father was stationed. Their quarters were a converted stable block - very nicely refurbished.
There was another pool in the grounds and we used it once when the Governor was away.
We also played tennis on the governor's courts. We were dropped off in the morning and picked up later in the day.
It was at this time Mrs. Sadd felt that National Servicemen in the Pioneer Corps were short of female company and decided that Margaret, a couple of other girls and I would have a date arranged with eight of them who were involved with her church activities. It had to be eight of them to four girls because the two-armed men-rule still applied for security reasons.
We were duly delivered to these eight soldiers and didn't know what to expect. We needn't have worried, as they behaved impeccably. After this I reckoned I was now getting to the stage where it would be acceptable to go out on dates, but kept them to a minimum that summer.
One date I recall involved a trip to Snake Island in Kyrenia, carried in the back of a military truck lorry with several young paratroopers. On that outing I drank beer for the first time and decided I didn't like it. After that, if anyone asked me what I wanted, I would always asked for Pimms, a Brandy Sour or a Tom Collins, as these were drinks I had heard Mum or Joan Sadd request - and theirs tasted so much nicer than beer.
Then it back to school again. In October, I heard a Mrs. Cutliffe and how she had been killed by EOKA in Famagusta. For a while I was frightened that something similar could happen to Mum, but the 'troubles' began to ease around Christmas, when informal negotiations began between Turkey and Greece about the future of Cyprus.
Sweet 16 and a taste of rum
WHEN the Christmas holidays began, it was back to Nicosia once more.
To celebrate the season, Mum gave a party for our friends and also invited a few of Dad's lads to join us. Dad drank rum and I nagged him so much to taste it that eventually he gave in. It was horrible and I've never touched it since!
On New Year's Eve - because I was 16 - I was invited and allowed to accept an invitation to the attend the ball held in the Royal Horse Guards' Sergeants' Mess. It was a brilliant evening. I wore a new salmon pink taffeta dress with silver sandals. Margaret Sadd and I had far too many Pimms and were definitely the worse for wear.
By now I was 'officially' allowed to start dating, but the effect of the two-armed men-rule meant that any guy dating me had to bring a friend along. Mostly my boy friends were 18 to 19-year-old National Servicemen. Then it was up to me to invite one of my friends along to make up a foursome.
My parents didn't know in the beginning about some of my dates and so they never met them. (Need I say more?) Later on, I always asked the young men to collect me from home.
Usually we went to the cinema in a secure area of Wolseley Barracks or to dances at the NAAFI club in Nicosia. I wasn't old enough to go in the bar, but someone would always oblige and fetch me a drink.
Much more music
THE Christmas holidays flew by, 1959 arrived and we were soon back at school in Dhekelia - and a diet of school meals. These were taken in a dining room, which was an army mess hall, up the hill. This building was also used for sitting exams as it was quieter there but its view across the sea was a distraction.
I don't remember a great deal about the meals except that I did so love the 'stodge puddings' (spotted dick, date sponge, treacle sponge and chocolate sponge) that the army cooks produced with great regularity.
Fifth formers had to deliver meals from the kitchen to the tables where seniors sat. I learned to carry four dinner plates at a time in my first term after which I was elevated to the sixth form.
My best friends at King Richard's were Denise Atkins, who I kept trying to lead astray, Maureen Fitzpatrick, who didn't need any leading - she was as bad as me - and Jacky - tall and blonde - a nice girl but I really envied her looks.
With Sue Brodribb, I spent a lot of time at the Garrison's stables, not that I was into riding. I just went because I liked the stable cats and wanted to 'chat up' the grooms.
In our other spare moments we did a lot of 'vegging out' in each other's rooms. This involved listening to the likes of Buddy Holly and drinking tea and coffee.
While I was at King Richard's, there were many organized out-of-school activities, including sailing. I gave up the latter after our instructor, Mr. Claridge, informed me that, perhaps, I wasn't cut out for this sport, as I felt sick even before we started to move. From then on, I joined the music club, which was run by Miss Taylor, who I really liked. I also decided that I would take the O-Level music examination two-year course music, because I'd always enjoyed singing. With only Margaret Sadd and me in the class, lessons were very enjoyable and tuition personal.
We studied musical theory, learned to write melodies and orchestrate works. In addition we were taught the history of music and how to appreciate and dissect set musical pieces. Ours were Handel's Acis and Galatea and Beethoven's 1st Symphony.
We sat our music examination in June 1959 and I passed. My ambition now was to sing the role of Brunhilde in Die Valkyrie, but Miss Taylor informed me that my voice wasn't powerful enough and that I'd be better preparing myself for something like The Magic Flute, but soon gave up any notions of becoming an opera singer.
Some junior boys had formed a skiffle group and they weren't too bad from what I heard. (Of course Lonnie Donegan was very popular around this time and so were Chas McDevitt and Nancy Whiskey.) My musical interest began to turn more to pop.
While we were at King Richard's, the fleet anchored off Dhekelia. Well, truth to tell, it consisted of one cruiser and four destroyers. The three I remember were HMS Sheffield, HMS Dart and HMS Diana.
Anyway, members of the school were invited on board and we went out in small launches to have a look around.
On Sunday evenings I attended services at the Garrison church with Denise, as there were small social gatherings afterwards. At one of these I met John Archibald, a nice Scottish 19-year-old lad, who was with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and lived right opposite our school. For the next few months, I'd sneak out of school and walk out with him. Half the time, I don't think staff knew where the sixth formers were.
An end to restrictions
IN February 1959, the EOKA war came to an end and suddenly Cyprus was a different place. You may be surprised, but the Greek Cypriots extended genuine friendliness to us. Although we had been always aware of the danger in Nicosia, I received nothing but kindness from the Greek Cypriot people.
During King Richard's half-term break, the Queen's Birthday Parade was held in the grounds of the dry moat outside Nicosia's walled city. And I was there to watch it.
Goodbye school, hullo summer
FINALLY school was over and Viv and I returned in July to Nicosia, where Dad had been posted to Lakatamia camp's dog-training unit. Occasionally he would bring home one of his favorites, a dog called Melton who suffered from an excess of flatulence!
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Headquartered at Lakatamia, 6 Guard Dog Unit RMP came into official being on 1 October 1958 as successor to 6 Army Guard Dog Unit, RAVC, and was commanded by Major H M Simpkin, seconded from the Sherwood Foresters to RMP.)
I realized that I was finished with school and had no intention of going back as it was only a matter of time until Dad's next posting came through, but, in the meantime, I had the whole summer ahead to enjoy.
Nicosia was finally safe.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The 1959 Spring issue of the Royal Military Police Journal reported: 'There has been the triumphal return of various exiled persons and the equally triumphant emergence and subsequent parade of a number of 'heroes' whom we had previously regarded as thugs, but some of whom we now have to respect as cabinet ministers in waiting. It is all sometimes a little confusing to the simple soldier's mind... Gone are almost all restrictions, most of the barbed wire, the carrying of arms off-duty and all the paraphernalia of the 'international security situation'.')
There were no restrictions whatsoever and our summer of freedom began. It was lovely to be able to walk into Nicosia and wander within the walled city. My friend Jacky and I met up with some other school friends and went to the flat owned by the mother of one of them. It was in Ledra Street and she had lived there all through 'the troubles'.
Another friend introduced me to the swimming pool at RAF Nicosia. Afterwards we went back to the block of flats where her family lived. In the lounge, she collected a bottle of her parents' sweet Martini and we went up to the roof, where we sat and drank it all. Her parents must have found out, because she wasn't allowed out much after that.
This was where I met Paul, who became my first real boyfriend, and Denise Atwill who also became a friend.
Denise and I often walked into town together. One day we decided to have a drink in one of the bars in Regaena Street, anyone was served, no matter what their age.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Regaena Street is a notorious 'red light' area in Greek Nicosia, which was often raided by Redcaps and Snowdrops alike at the height of the EOKA conflict.)
After downing three brandy sours each, we staggered out to sit on the nearest bench in the moat, while we sobered up, scared of returning home for lunch in an half-cut state.
I always spent time with Denise when Paul was on duty, but on his days off we met at the pool in the morning and then explored Nicosia.
Then Paul hired a 500cc motorbike for a couple of days. I had never been on one before and I was terrified. In those days, crash helmets and protective clothing were only for wimps, so I went sat on the back, clinging on for dear life, wearing shorts, a sleeveless blouse and flip flops.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Alagardi or Turtle Beach, east of Kyrenia, remains a safe haven for turtles and local people have a society that works to protect the creatures' eggs to ensure they hatch and the babies find their way safely to the sea.)
'Parting is such sweet sorrow'
BEFORE we left Episkopi in 1957, Dad had bought a new car. Now that there were no restraints on traveling, we went on trips all round the island. I was particularly impressed by the bronze-red of the sea at Xeros, where copper was being mined.
In the Troodos Mountains, we stopped at the holiday chalet of friends of my Dad. From there we hiked to the top of Mount Olympus, 6,404 feet high. It was so much cooler up there-really pleasant. At the height of summer Nicosia becomes an oven with temperatures as high as 45 degrees Celsius.
I wanted the summer to last forever. When September 1959 arrived, Dad's next posting came through. He had only one more year left to complete his 27-years' service and so it was decided that when we returned to England, the family's permanent home at last would be in Winchester, where my maternal grandparents lived.
Our sailing date was notified. At 16 it is harder to leave friends behind. To put it mildly, I was gutted. I bid farewell to everyone and made promises that we would meet up again in England.
Everything was packed and we left Metochi Street for the last time to head for Limassol. I had my own passport now for the return journey. The photograph of me inside was always Mum's favorite. I had a different opinion!
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The family returned home to the UK at the end of September 1959. Sandie, thoroughly fed up with A-Level studies and books by Victor Hugo, started her first job, working in the National Health Service. While she didn't re-visit Cyprus until 1990, her mother and father went several times, starting with their first trip in 1970. 'I was amazed at the changes and at how pleased our Cypriot friends were to see me,' Sandie enthuses. 'I've been back seven times since.' Today Sandie is a mother and grandmother, living in happy retirement in Southampton after a career in the Court Service.)
© 2008 Sandie Evans & David Carter