UNFICYP Cyprus - 1968
- United Nations Military Police Company -
I flew into Nicosia on the afternoon of the 12th of November 1968 to be the Administrative Officer of the Military Police Company of UNFICYP - the United Nations Force in Cyprus, and it was just like being back in the East again - khaki drill uniforms, canvas stable belts in one's Corps colours and light brown desert boots. As it was winter there, khaki sweaters were optional. The MP Company was based, housed and messed at Wolseley Barracks, right on the green line between the Turkish and Greek sectors of the island, and a Danish officer and I shared the house which had been used for the recent negotiations with Archbishop Makarios and Raul Denktash on the future of the island.
On my very first evening in Cyprus, I was enjoying a duty-free brandy sour on the veranda of Wolseley House, when a military police corporal rushed up and shouted "Shakespeare House is on fire, and you are the Fire Officer". Unfortunately, he was right on both counts: it was, and I was. Shakespeare House, a few hundred yards outside the Wolseley Barracks compound, was used as the MP Sergeants' mess and living quarters, and when I arrived the Greek-Cypriot fire brigade was on the scene. The fire had broken out in the fireplace in the main lounge and had set the whole chimney ablaze. After the fire had been put out I had to prepare the fire report and found that when the house had been constructed a thick wooden beam had been built right into the chimney. When the sergeants began to use the fireplace frequently during the chilly evenings the beam had burned through and spread the fire into the walls. Later I found that this was typical of the slap-dash way in which so many things were done by the Cypriots, both Turk and Greek.
UNFICYP had been set up in March of 1964 four years after the Republic of Cyprus obtained its independence from Great Britain after years of Greek-Cypriot revolt against the colonial power. But the bloody turmoil between the Greek and Turkish factions had not ended with independence and the United Nations was invited to intervene. Great Britain had been granted a sovereign base on the island and the Brits, with contingents from Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Ireland and Canada created UNFICYP with its headquarters at the former Royal Air Force camp at the Nicosia airport.
The Force Provost Marshal was Colonel Bob Grogan, who lived at the UN Headquarters at Nicosia airport, and the Canadian contingent was a battalion of the Van Doos based at Camp Maple Leaf a few miles away. As I lived within a short walking distance of the Danish contingent (Dancon X) I was invited to use their officers' mess. The Danish officers lived in the Ledra Palace Hotel and had their mess in an expropriated villa nearby.
My job in Cyprus was administering the UN Military Police company consisting of detachments from all the participating nations - all of whom could speak English except the Finns and the Van Doos. My link with the Finns was one Finnish sergeant whom I would give orders to. The only words of English I ever heard from him were "I will tell my men", which seemed to work. In return my only words in Finnish were hulligan gulligan which is some sort of a schnapps toast.
The main military operation during my time was the rotation of Turkish troops from the mainland on to the island. This had to be monitored in great detail because the Greeks suspected, quite rightly, that the Turks would take this opportunity to increase the number of their troops on the island - which had been set down by the U.N. The Turks were headquartered in Saint Hylerion Castle, an impregnable fortress from Crusader times, high up at the top of an unclimbable rock face. Historically the castle was known to be laced with tunnels and hidden caverns and it was an ideal place to conceal hundreds of troops without being discovered. The incoming Turkish contingent landed by sea at Kyrenia and after strict counting was trucked to the castle. Then an identical number of Turks were counted out and trucked back to the ship. Although this all sounds simple, any suspected miscalculation could easily have set off violent repercussions from either side on this highly unstable island. The U.N. force had been there for four years when I was there and it remained, although in smaller numbers, for many years after I left.