A Night Excursion
Royal Ulster Rifles
NOT ALL operations against EOKA terrorists in Cyprus made headlines. There were countless actions that became part of a battalion's routine during its tour of duty as they worked to defeat the enemy.
Dave Cranston sends us this account of one night excursion. The article, first published in Quis Separabit, the Royal Ulster Rifles' regimental magazine, was written by 1 RUR's' Intelligence Officer Lt D GALLWEY, who later was to receive a Mention in Despatches for his work leading to the successful Battle of Liopetri, which is covered elsewhere...
"O" GROUP at Brigade Headquarters at 10.00hrs. "Bring some 36 grenades"
Sounds as though something's up, we haven't been able to use grenades up till now with a policy of "Don't lets be beastly to the Greek,"
Lots of top brass around and there's the Special Branch chap, it must be something good this time.
"Source" says that about 20 terrorists have been seen to meet regularly every night, in a wood south of Vatili. They arrive on bicycles, which they park near a certain tree. They then go into an underground 'hide'.
"Source" can lead us to them, he says. There isn't much time to prepare. The terrorists probably return home at 2200 hrs, we're told. That evening we set off.
"Vatili, Cpl. Walsh, and don't spare the horse."
He doesn't and we get there in 20 minutes. Paddy Freeborn does it in 15.
Paddy reminds me not to do the briefing in front of Sgt. Yianni, a Greek policeman. He is believed to be in the pay of EOKA, but we can't get rid of him because we don't have any actual proof.
"O.K, we'll send him out with one of the 'Stop' groups. There's always the chance someone will 'Fill him in' mistaking him for a terrorist."
Sgt. McCrae and Cpl. Allen set off with the 'Stops', which are to make a wide sweep and lie up well to the south of the area in case any terrorists break away.
A quick briefing of the remainder under Mike, priming of grenades and we're off.
Down the road, without lights, for two miles and then we jump off while still on the move. The truck continues along the track and we take up positions in a ditch, lying silently, listening. All quiet.
We decide to form up with Mike's platoon strung out in two wings either side of the track. Paddy and I are in the center.
"Source" is a small Turkish youth, protected by our Special Branch man and his bodyguard. The latter is an immense Turk, broad as he is tall and with forearms like hams. He is wearing a snow-white shirt,
I tell him rather tersely to take it off. He does. He is now only wearing a pair of khaki shorts. I wouldn't like to meet him on a dark night. (I learn later he's the Island's wrestling champion).
We move off, creeping forward a foot at a time expecting to meet a terrorist any minute.
"Down, what's that?"
A loud swishing noise from our half left. Sounds like a herd of elephants. It's our left hand section that have lost their way.
We sort ourselves with much "shushing" and a few hard words about the size of the section's feet and on we go.
Still no sign of any wood or parked bicycles.
Does "Source" know where we are?
"It's only another 50 yards," he replies, no doubt in his voice. We do another 200 yards.
Well, what about it? "Source" says the wood is a bit more to our left.
We leave the platoon where it is and Paddy and I, plus "Source" and the wrestler, cast about. We cast about for the next 60 minutes.
"Source" suggests we go back to the road and start again. Paddy and I lie down on the bare hard ground and study the stars, while he disappears in the darkness.
Presently "Source" returns full of confidence. It's only just a bit further on, he smiles with all the assuredness of a second-hand car salesman.
We collect the platoon and advance once more.
Suddenly "Source" vanishes at our feet. He has fallen into a hole. We shine our torches downwards and see a strange shaft dug diagonally, with a small opening to a cave six feet below us.
We squeeze down to pull out "Source" and discover two curious objects that turn out to be foot-long lengths of inner tubing from a bicycle tire. Each tube contains a lethal pipe bomb.
Obviously we're on the right track to find the enemy and his stores. Now we move very carefully. Our wrestler leads the way as if he were a lumbering gorilla about to pounce on his prey.
Five yards later we find another hole with more hidden bombs. But not a terrorist in sight. Another five yards and another hole. And another and another. How many more?
We cordon the area and wait for terrorists to jump into our firing line.
We watch until dawn.
First light shows us there are no less than forty holes in an area about a hundred yards square, but no more bombs and no hidden EOKA members.
No one can explain the holes' original purpose, but we decide they were some sort of troglodyte dwelling.
"Source" is nowhere to be seen. He's returned home. The Special Branch officer is very apologetic for failing to lead us to an EOKA gang.
But we have the bombs. Four of them in working order. They might have cost four or more lives. We have achieved something.
We return to camp, tired, dishevelled and hungry, another night excursion over.