THE SUN SETS ON ANOTHER EMPIRE OUTPOST
A FANFARE of military trumpets and a 21-gun salute fired by 42 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, heralded the start of a new day in Cyprus, one of the hottest of the year. As the sound of the last shot echoed across Nicosia, the independent Republic of Cyprus was born and the Union Flag was slowly lowered above Government House. The date: 16 August 1960.
'Since shortly before sunset,' reported the Times of Cyprus, an army of Greek Cypriot youths, armed with ladders, scaled lampposts and buildings, hanging streamers of Greek flags across the capital's streets. Rows of colored lights spanned Metaxas Square and other avenues. A visitor described Nicosia as 'a fairyland'.'
Meanwhile, in the Turkish section of the capital, thousands of Turkish Cypriots came to town by bus, car and bicycle to be present when power changed hands.
At Government House, Sir Hugh Foot, the British Governor, held a small dinner party. Reginald Choules, a driver at MEAF HQ, brought one of the guests to the house. 'I had the same dinner as the official guests,' he says.
Near midnight, 20,000 Cypriots, wild with excitement, jammed the streets outside the Council building and tried to break through a police cordon to get closer to see Sir Hugh Foot, the British Governor, Archbishop Makarios, the country's new president, and Dr Fazil Kutchuk, the Turkish Cypriot vice-president.
The two community leaders entered the Council of Ministers before midnight as British subjects and were to leave as citizens of a new state.
While dignitaries assembled in the Council of Ministers, the Cyprus Police Band played outside. One of the first tunes to reach the ears of officials was With a Little Bit of Luck from 'My Fair Lady'.
TWO British Members of Parliament watched the formalities. One of them, Francis Noel Baker, was the Archbishop's guest, while Dr Kutchuk had invited the other, Patrick Wall, a former Royal Marine officer.
Said Noel Baker: 'So it was that I found myself sitting in the gallery on this stiflingly hot night... as ADC's staggered in with pile after pile of documents and maps, each to be signed in turn by His Excellency the Governor, His Beatitude the Archbishop, His Excellency Dr. Kutchuk and the Greek and Turkish Consuls-General. It went on for hours, and I wondered if it would ever end.'
In fact, pens scratched away on 87 separate documents for over an hour beneath an outsize painting of Aphrodite rising from the foam. These treaties gave Cyprus independence, but not enosis. The British received two Sovereign Bases in perpetuity and both Greece and Turkey were allowed to station military contingents on the island and have the right to intervene in the event there was a risk to the Republic being undermined.
Later, President Makarios warned the British that the usefulness of the military bases would depend on 'the friendliness and cooperation of the Cypriot people'. He said he would object to a nuclear stockpile on Cyprus, and added: 'Nor would we agree to the use of the bases as a springboard for attack on any country.' The British were to take little notice of his objections and nuclear weapons were placed at RAF Akrotiri.
Not far from Noel Baker sat an old man in traditional Greek Cypriot costume, a wide smile on his weather-beaten face He was Archbishop Makarios's father.
Eventually Sir Hugh Foot, dressed in white tie and tails, announced the end of British rule - the shortest domination of Cyprus by any foreign power in its history.
THE BRITISH had taken the Island exactly 82 years and one month earlier at 17.00 on 12 July 1878 in front of a crowd of Cypriots gathered near the Paphos Gate in Nicosia to witness this strange event: 53 Royal Marine Artillery from HMS Minotaur presenting arms as a Captain Rawson lowered the Turkish Ottoman flag and raised in its place the Union flag, watched by Admiral Lord John Hay on behalf of Queen Victoria. The British had landed near Larnaca and marched to the capital without a single shot fired.
From the moment Britain gained control, Greek Cypriots had demanded enosis - union with Greece. Equally the Turks had opposed it.
During Britain's rule, there had been riots, mutinies, rebellions, near civil war between the two communities and eventually the EOKA conflict led by Colonel Grivas, the Cypriot-born officer of the Greek Army. The conflict lasted from 1 April 1955 and finally ended with a peace settlement signed in London on 19 February 1959 and the terrorist leader's departure from Cyprus a month later.
MAKARIOS had arrived in London with an 'open mind', he said, with no fewer than 35 'advisers', most of whom he had not seen since being exiled three years earlier. He immediately began to haggle over details and protested that the Greek Cypriot President of the new Republic of Cyprus would have the trappings of power but not the authority, since the Turkish Cypriot Vice President would have effective veto powers.
Greek Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis put it to Makarios bluntly: take this agreement or bear the blame for wrecking the conference. 'If Makarios wants to carry on the struggle he will have to look elsewhere for support,' Karamanlis said and flew back to Athens.
With 12 hours to decide, Makarios spent the night 'in prayer and reflection', the prelate claimed later. Others say he was visited by MI6, who told him that if he refused to sign the deal, his homosexual proclivities would be revealed to the international press, reports that would not go down well in Cyprus.
At 08.00 next morning, 19 February 1959, he summoned his advisers and announced he had decided to accept the agreement. This time he did not consult Grivas. At 15.00 the Prime Ministers of Britain, Turkey and Greece also signed the agreement. Harold Macmillan then went before the House of Commons to pronounce it a 'victory for reason and cooperation ... a victory for all.'
The British press gave the agreement a mixed reaction. 'Scuttle,' roared Lord Beaverbrook's Daily Express. 'The Ministers are ready to cast away another jewel of the empire.' 'Too good to be true,' suggested the London Daily Mail. 'Accept,' demanded the News Chronicle. 'Thank God,' exclaimed the Daily Sketch. 'Act of courage,' said the The Times, while the tabloid Daily Mirror urged Macmillan to GRAB THIS CHANCE! Which he did in a run-up to a General Election later in the year, hoping to prevent the deaths of more British soldiers, renewing the UK's traditional friendship with Greece and the re-establishment of NATO unity.
In Cyprus, 'in one town Greek church bells pealed for 20 minutes after the agreement was announced, then stopped. No one was quite sure how to react,' reported Time magazine.
'WHEN Governor Foot opened the gates for all 900 Greek Cypriot political prisoners held without trial in the British detention camps, thousands thronged Nicosia's streets to welcome them. But Cyprus still awaited the return of Makarios and of the Turkish Cypriot leaders to be convinced that independence was real and something to celebrate. On an island ringed with barbed wire and stalked by terror for four years, it was not easy to forget overnight.'
During the years of the 'troubles' more than 400 British troops, policemen and civilians lost their lives, while deaths amongst Turks and Greeks were greater than three times that number. Until the bloody EOKA conflict came to an end, NATO's Eastern Wing was near to collapse.
Time magazine observed: 'Of all those place names around the world which came to mean not a landscape but a problem, few seemed more bound up in hatreds and hopeless intricacies than Cyprus.'
Realizing they could have gone to war over the Island - and under discreet but persistent prodding from the US - both Greece and Turkey had agreed to pull in their horns. Prime Minister Adan Menderes had abandoned his unrealistic demand that Britain partition Cyprus between its 400,000 Greek and 100,000 Turkish inhabitants, while Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis had sacrificed of his dream of enosis-union of Cyprus with Greece.
WITH A peace agreement in place, Makarios returned to Cyprus from exile on 1 March 1959 and entered Nicosia triumphantly.
But on the outskirts of the capital, EOKA remained active. On the night Makarios returned from exile, a young National Serviceman John Wilson was escorting Colonel Pragnell, his CO, and Lt-Colonel Gommershall to Famagusta from Nicosia, where they had attended a meeting at the Ledra Palace Hotel. He was driving a Champ, with three others on board, ahead of the officers' staff car.
Before his death, John Wilson told the author: 'We had just passed the old Tymbou airfield, when a village bus blocked our path. As we came closer, there was a burst of small arms fire from the bus. I pulled across the road in front of the staff car and the four of us let fly with our Sterlings and advanced towards the bus.
'Four Greek Cypriots tumbled out of their vehicle, threw their weapons to the ground and raised their arms in surrender. We found an injured man inside the bullet-riddled bus. We radioed for assistance and a bunch of Cypriot policemen arrived from the nearby nick and took the shooters away. The injured man, we were told, was one of Grivas's relatives.'
SIR HUGH Foot, Makarios and Turkish leader Kutchuk now had the task to create a process for the transfer of power. Two committees and a commission were set up for this purpose. The commission's role was to draft constitution satisfactory to all the parties involved.
Called the Joint Council, this transitional committee planned the ways and means to adapt and reorganize governmental machinery. Its membership was composed of the Governor, Archbishop Makarios and seven Greek interim ministers, and Dr Kutchuk with three Turkish ministers.
The second joint committee met in London composed of representatives of Britain, Greece, Turkey and the two Cypriot communities. Its purpose was to prepare the final treaties giving effect to the conclusions of the London Conference.
The aim was to have Cyprus become independent on 19 February 1960, but the parties ran into obstacle after obstacle and so the date was changed to 19 March. Again this target could not be met.
It was then that the British Government decided to send a Julian Amery, Under Secretary for the Colonies in an attempt to settle all remaining questions. After several deadlocks, walkouts and strong words, lasting nearly five months, agreement on all outstanding issues was finally reached on 1 July. A week later the documents were initialed and 16 August 1960 was scheduled as Independence Day.
The Greek Cypriots had elected Archbishop Makarios as their first president of the future Republic. Dr Kutchuk, leader of the Turkish Cypriots, was the first to offer his congratulations, The soon-to-be vice-president said: (Makarios) 'who has acted as leader of the Greek community for so many years has achieved the success which, beyond doubt, he deserves'.
In his first public statement as president-elect Makarios called on Greeks and Turks to co-operate 'in a spirit of sincerity, absolute respect for each other's rights and real understanding of communal interests and deserts'.
The omens were favorable for the future of the co-partnership Republic.
AT 10.00 on 16 August 1960, the first Parliament in the 3,000-year history of the Island met for the formal investiture of President Makarios and his Vice-President Kutchuk. New ministers were sworn in and the Cyprus flag rose above the building, replacing the flags of Britain, Turkey and Greece.
The new Cyprus flag had a white background with a gold silhouette of the island and a pair of crossed green olive branches underneath to 'symbolize peace and unity between Greek and Turkish Cypriots'.
Thousands cheered, cars honked their horns and church bells rang out.
Andoni immediately ordered the opening of a tiny steel door buried in the somber walls of Nicosia Central Prison for 106 convicts to walk free men under an amnesty to mark the start of the new Cyprus. One of the former prisoners was a barrel-chested murderer saved from the gallows at the eleventh hour.
AT GOVERNMENT House, Sir Hugh and Lady Foot 'held a farewell dress reception for diplomats and a garden leave-taking for 200 personal friends' reported Time magazine. Among those who said goodbye were Archbishop Makarios and Dr Kutchuk.
In his memoirs, Sir Hugh writes: 'Sylvia and I and our three sons drove to Famagusta and said goodbye to General Ken Darling and the Royal Horse Guards and the Black Watch.'
Resplendent in plumed hat and gold braid, the former Governor Foot boarded HMS Chichester with his wife.
Bryan Chinn worked at 20 Movements Unit RAF, based at Famagusta Docks. He says: 'I was on the parade at the docks when Sir Hugh Foot left. I remember HMS Chichester coming into port and several days of bullshit time spent on her, as the area was washed clean.'
As the Royal Navy frigate sailed out of harbor, she was accompanied by a specially composed bagpipe lament entitled Sir Hugh's Farewell to Cyprus, played by The Black Watch, the same regiment that had landed in Cyprus in 1878. From the ancient walls of old Famagusta, the Foots heard a salute of guns.
WHILE Chichester disappeared over the horizon, 1,600 Greek and Turkish soldiers began debarking to stand guard over the infant republic. One Turkish centenarian fell on a startled Turkish infantryman's neck, blubbered that he had not set eyes on a Turkish uniform since the last Ottoman garrison sailed away 82 years earlier.
ON THE days leading to 16 August 1960, Lady Foot had time to reflect: 'I was involved in many parties given for me by various Greek ladies, and, during those gatherings, I heard so many touching stories from so many Greek Cypriots about their secret feeling of relief at the presence of British soldiers during the emergency, about the fear that had haunted and beset so many, about their longing to be friends again, so many stories which I know I must not tell and which have given me new hope and new courage and have given me back my real love for the people of Cyprus.'
But for Greek Cypriots, the day was made when a plane from Athens landed 21 EOKA terrorists whom the British had exiled 17 months earlier. President Makarios met them, accompanied by hundreds of screaming women and teenagers wanting to kiss their returning heroes and pelt them with garlands of laurel.
That night, Cyprus radio broadcast a recorded message from Sir Hugh Foot: 'What of the future? It is for you to answer that question. A few dismal commentators say that the people of Cyprus will destroy each other. They say that you will tear your-selves to bits - Greek against Turk and Left against Right. There are a few who say that the Island will go down in a sea of blood and hate.
'It could be - but I don't believe it. People who have been to the brink of hell don't want to go over the edge.'
SIR HUGH Foot would be proved wrong, when all the carefully-crafted treaties giving the Island independence exploded in flames and intercommunal fighting broke out on Christmas Eve 1963.
Makarios, pushed by the EOKA members in his government, did not oppose the attacks on Turkish Cypriots. Instead he had allowed a Pandora's Box to be opened. Homes were sacked, hostages taken and widespread killings took place, many by Greek Cypriot police officers. Before the start of the blood-letting Turkish officers had been rounded up and disarmed by their Greek comrades, who declared the Turkish Cypriots had rebelled and planned to overthrow the legitimate government.
Within 48 hours British troops would find themselves again trying to keep the peace.
A 'Green Line' was drawn and Nicosia, the capital was divided between the two battling communities.
The partition of Cyprus had begun.
© David Carter, with acknowledgements to The Times of Cyprus, Time magazine, the memoirs of Lord and Lady Foot, Stanley Mayes' biography, Makarios - The Early Years and A History of Cyprus by Dr Stavros Pantelli.