THROUGH our 6 month tour to Cyprus we moved up to the UN
Green Line and put on our blue berets – we were UN
soldiers now! By way of background, the United Nations
Buffer Zone in Cyprus ran across the middle of the
island from west to east and separated the previously
warring Greek Cypriots to the south from the Turkish
Cypriots in the north in the self-declared Turkish
Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). It varied in depth
from a few metres in the middle of Nicosia to nearly 5
miles in some of the rural areas, and was commonly
called the Green Line. If you want more detail as to how
it came into being then this resume in
Wikipedia is as good a source as any.
C Squadron’s tactical area of responsibility (TAOR) ran
from just outside of Nicosia for about 13 kilometres to
the west and was mainly rural in nature with a few
villages scattered here and there, and our orbat (below)
consisted of about 100 blokes all told at various times.
My squadron headquarters (SHQ) was in an abandoned and
semi-derelict primary school which still bore the
pockmarks of small arms fire from the 1974 fighting. I
had my own small room there which gave me a modicum of
privacy and we all got on well in SHQ. The dereliction
surrounding us could be a bit oppressive at times but
the weather was generally good and clear blue skies have
an important psychological impact. We were fine.
My three Troops were scattered across our TAOR and were
to all intents and purposes semi-autonomous. It was in
many ways classic young officer stuff redolent of the
days of Empire; young subalterns on their own with their
boys in the ulu 1 and responsible for everything that
happened there. To the north was the Turkish army and to
the south the Greek Cypriot National Guard had their
positions, from whence both sides glared at each other
with us in the middle.
Our job was to patrol the buffer zone and keep the two
antagonists from confronting each other, defusing
situations as they occurred. We were lightly armed with
our SLR rifles and some backup in the shape of a handful
of Ferret scout cars armed with .50 Browning machine
guns, but that was it. If anything really serious had
happened we would have had to just stand aside. Luckily
it never came to that.
We had a high regard for the Turkish Army. Its soldiers
were tough, smart, well disciplined and professional.
The Greek Cypriot National Guard, on the other hand,
were a bit of a shower. They lounged around their
positions like disgruntled teenagers (which many
probably were), bareheaded, smoking, and drinking
coffee. Few of us were in any doubt that, if the Turks
had decided to complete their conquest of the rest of
the island, it would probably have taken them about 24
Most complaints from either side via the UN were petty
in the extreme – a sandbag mover here, an encroachment
into the buffer zone there – and were generally pathetic
and pointless. Interestingly, the Gunners (hawk, spit)
we had taken over from had abandoned patrolling the
buffer zone at night. I corrected this straight away and
reinstated patrols round the clock, if for nothing else
than a statement of intent and showing that we would not
be pushovers by either side.
We did, however, have a handful of incidents which were
more substantial. Amongst these was the occasion when we
were deployed to prevent a “student” demonstration
crossing from the Greek side to the Turkish side, a
deliberate confrontation sought to highlight their
“right” to reclaim homes lost during the ethnic
cleansing of 1974.
Having grown up in the 1960s my image of a student
demonstration was coloured by the riots in Paris in 1968
(when we were told “le printemps sera chaud 2”, amongst
other things) and the waves of violence that had swept
American campuses during protest there against the
Vietnam War. I was somewhat surprised, therefore, to see
groups of schoolchildren with their teachers turn out
with placards to wave at the Turkish Army and police.
This was my first brush with school pupils being called
students, an American affectation which pervades the UK
Be that as it may, the Turks were clearly taking it
seriously and had deployed heavily suited and booted
riot police to meet any incursions. There were one or
two minor surges towards the Turkish lines but they
always stopped short, and having seen what was awaiting
them I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t have tackled the riot
The other incident I recall was a blatant incursion into
the Green Line by the Turkish side, where they
unilaterally decided to shift their boundary towards the
Greeks and did so, erecting signs announcing the fact.
The local Greek Cypriot National Guard commander, a
brigadier if I recall, asked me to go down and observe
this “outrage”. I did so and found him up to high doh,
threatening to carry out an attack to restore the
integrity of the buffer zone.
This was pure bluff and bluster, because if he had
carried out his threat it would have been both a serious
international incident and a disaster for him and his
men; they would have been swatted away like flies. But I
had to do something. During a quick conflab with the CO
he suggested I should deploy a troop to the area, stand
out in front of them facing the Turkish lines, and see
what happened. So we did, and lo and behold after about
ten minutes the Turkish CO arrived and we had a quick
parley through an interpreter he had brought along. At
the end of our talk he basically said I should leave it
to him, which I agreed. The next morning the
encroachment, and the signs, was gone, removed during
the night. We heard no more about it.
What did cause us the most hassle and heartache, though,
was created internally, by my own soldiers. A couple of
young troopers who obviously had an eye for the main
chance had noted that security in Greek Cypriot shops
was lax and that there were rich pickings to be had.
They came up with a criminal modus operandi whereby the
smaller of the two miscreants would conceal himself
inside a shop just before closing time and get locked
in. When the coast was clear he would then unlock from
the inside and let his partner in, upon which they would
then steal attractive items and be well clear when the
shop re-opened in the morning.
What made their scheme doubly ingenious was that they
did their stealing in southern (Greek) Cyprus but hid
their stash in the UN buffer zone; the Greek Cypriot
police had jurisdiction where the crimes were committed,
but the UN Police had jurisdiction in the buffer zone,
and there didn’t appear to be any extradition agreement.
So as long as they remained in the buffer zone they were
untouchable by the Greek police.
In fact we wouldn’t have found about their nefarious
activities at all had it not been for the curiosity of
Sgt John Barnwell, who was intrigued by the fact that
the Turks had started sending night-time patrols into
the buffer zone, patrols which we confronted and sent
back home. So he had a quick rummage around where the
Turks had shown interest, discovered the stolen goods in
a derelict building, and the game was up. The two
thieves owned up when confronted with the evidence.
The problem was that they would be picked up by the
Cypriot police if they left the buffer zone, and
previous experience with such matters did not fill us
with huge confidence in the Greek Cypriot justice
system. The prospect of them rotting away in some nasty
cockroach infested jail for years did not appeal to
either them or us. So in the end we spirited them off
the island. Charlie Pratt took them in his car to
Limassol airport, bought their tickets on his credit
card, and sent them back to Germany via the UK.
Naughty, I know, but we decided we had to look after our
own. They were eventually court martialled and dismissed
from the army so justice was done in the end.
Interestingly, the flight they were due to get on at the
end of the tour was stopped and searched by the Greek
Cypriot police, who were understandably displeased that
the two birds had flown.
There is much, much more that could be written about
this particular UN tour but it’ll have to wait for
another opportunity. Suffice to say that I, and many
others, was glad to see the back of the island after our
“sunshine posting”. We didn’t know at the time that the
Regiment would return for another tour only two years
later, but this time I was not with them. All will be
revealed in due course!
To come in Part 19; back on tanks and once more to
© Stuart Crawford 2020
1 Origin: Malay, to describe a place that is remote or
deserted. Ulu is commonly used to describe a place that
is remote, deserted, abandoned with little human
traffic. (www.singlish.net )
2 “Spring will be hot”