« An Impromptu Cultural Address | Main | Meanness And Viciousness »

A Shout From The Attic: Friends And Foes

...Cyprus has been called The Jewel of the Mediterranean, and is richly deserving of that honour. After the endless sand and rock of Egypt, its greenness seemed unreal. To drive in an open-topped vehicle along the roads that dissected the citrus groves was to smell the scent of Elysium: incredible, heady, intoxicating, and refreshing, the overwhelming fragrance was at once disturbing and enticing...

Ronnie Bray recalls his military service in Cyprus.

For earlier episodes of Ronnie's engaging autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

It was August 1954, and the British Army was leaving the Canal Zone. As one of the trains pulled out, loaded with military equipment, an Arab asked a soldier riding on top of one of the wagons where they British Army was going. “We’re going home,” replied the Tommy. “About [expletive deleted] time!” rejoined the grinning Ægyptian, pleased with the news.

After four and a half months in Egypt, Cyprus seemed like paradise. For one thing, we were not in conflict with the Cypriots. This changed after a few months because of the intransigence of the British Government in helping the island’s economic development, and the willingness of ‘??????’ to take on the British establishment in pursuit of redress of their wrongs. I knew little about the issues. I knew that the Greek Cypriots with whom I came into contact were good and honourable, and believed that they had had a bad deal. Throughout the conflict, they continued to treat me very well.

On one occasion, I wandered into a village somewhere to the east of Dhekelia. The local tailor who had made suits for soldiers had been firebombed. These were times of deep hostilities against the British government, and some found it hard to differentiate between the government and its armed forces. Although were in no way an Army of occupation in Cyprus as we had been in Egypt, we were the visible reminder of their invisible enemy.

Entering the local cafe to drink cagao, an unbelievable chocolate sludge, with some of my Greek friends I caused a little stir. There was some heated discussion among the Greeks at my table. Their voices were low and my Greek was not sufficient to follow their debate. Eventually they appeared to reach some agreement. Then it became obvious that I had been the subject of their deliberation. Their spokesman leant across the table and, exercising great control, said through gritted teeth in low, measured tones, “Don’t ever come into our village wearing that uniform again!” I immediately saw his point.

There were roughly four Greek Cypriots to each Turkish Cypriot living on the island. The remainder of the population was composed of an Armenian minority, and some ex-patriot Britishers who created their own Little England enclave in the north of the island. There were also some flotsam and jetsam from various nationalities that added some spice to the variety of Cypriot life.

With the arrival of the British Army in August 1954, it was as if the serpent had entered paradise. Some of the soldiers were fair-minded and treated the islanders well, respecting their traditions and customs, and respecting the trust with which they greeted us. Others of a more cynical and less honest disposition took terrible advantage.

Cyprus has been called The Jewel of the Mediterranean, and is richly deserving of that honour. After the endless sand and rock of Egypt, its greenness seemed unreal. To drive in an open-topped vehicle along the roads that dissected the citrus groves was to smell the scent of Elysium: incredible, heady, intoxicating, and refreshing, the overwhelming fragrance was at once disturbing and enticing. When I contemplate it in pleasant moments, I am transported back to the sunlit groves by the benison of memory. For all I have forgotten, I praise God for all that I remember.


Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.