Dhekelia July / August 1974
Op Platypus attached to the PSA
at The Water Distillation Plant and Power Station.
I was a normal late Friday afternoon in early July 1974 at Waterbeach everything was winding down for the week, I was thinking of driving home to Devon for the weekend............ Suddenly the airfield tanoy system rang out with a list of names to report immediately to the Squadron office. We were informed that Turkey had Invaded the North of Cyprus and that we were off to help reinforce the British Bases in the South of the island.
The next 24 hours was a whirlwind of activity we drew tropical kit Packed stores and cleaned weapons. On the Sunday we were on buses on our way to RAF Lynham, when we arrived the place seemed to be in organized chaos.
By dawn on the Monday morning the side of the Airfield at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus was thronged with hundreds of personnel and their kit from all types of Army units, no one seemed to know exactly what was going on.
We RE personnel were eventually issued with discs with different numbers on them. ( It was to transpire that the numbered disc referred to the location and task we were each allotted). I and another Cpl' Steve Ewing also from 52 Sqn at Waterbeach had been given the same task number.
After some time and as our numbers were called we boarded our transport. We two were destined for Dhekelia to the East of the island. When we arrived we were sorted out into our groups according to our Task numbers, we two were directed to a Property Services Agency vehicle that was waiting for us and off we went to our allotted destination the Water Distillation Plant and Power Station.
The normal staff at the plant consisted of eight RE's and fifty five local staff. With only five of the local staff available for work during the emergency there was a total of fifteen including us two from Waterbeach to run the plant so from the day we arrived to the day we departed we worked twelve hour shifts day and night. During our time at the plant we carried out a complete annual strip and rebuild of one of the large diesel generator units.
During our time at the Distillation plant it wasn't all work, despite the troubles in the Turkish half of Cyprus life seemed to carry on reasonably normally on the Base, during our off time we were given a PSA vehicle for our own use (A Morris Minor Traveller) but we were confined to using it only on the Base.
At this time other events were unfolding in the Middle East, Civil war had broken out in Lebanon. British and foreign nationals were being evacuated from Beirut by the Royal Navy and were being accommodated and processed in The British Base at Dhekelia throwing extra strain on the already over stretched resources.
When the tension eased towards the end of August we were withdrawn and returned to Waterbeach (much sun tanned but no worse for wear).
Within five weeks I was back in RAF Akrotiri in transit for Salalah in the Oman.
Go to Names from Cyprus
In February 1959 the EOKA revolt which had begun on 1 April 1955 by Greek Cypriot terrorists against British Colonial rule, came to an end. By that time, the three powers with a major interest in the island - Greece, Turkey and Britain - had found a basis for agreement on the future status of the colony, which as a result became an independent, sovereign republic on 16 August 1960. The island remained strategically important to Britain both as a base for possible operations overseas and also because of its value as a communications relay centre. It was therefore agreed that the British should retain their military bases in the south of the island at Akrotiri and Episkopi (near Limassol) and Dhekelia (near Larnaca), and that these should remain Sovereign British territory. Thus the two Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) were born. The agreement was unpopular, however, with a majority of the Greek Cypriots who felt that under its terms the Turkish minority had been granted disproportionate benefits, in particular in respect of their share of government posts and the presence on the island of a permanent Turkish army contingent. Enmity between the two communities grew until in December 1963, civil war broke out between them. The British government, as part-guarantors of the agreement, rushed a peacekeeping force to the island, but their task was particularly difficult as memories of the recent Eoka campaign remained fresh in too many minds and soon their replacement by a United Nations force was demanded by the President, Makarios. In March 1964 a United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) totalling some 7,000 men from Britain, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Ireland was set up to keep the peace at that time. Following the violence, which still continued spasmodically, Turkish Cypriots living in mainly Greek communities began to move to predominantly Turkish areas of the island, and by 1967 were concentrated almost entirely in enclaves in the North and West of the island. Turkey had for long advocated that the island should be partitioned and when in November, a particularly violent attack was made by the Greek Cypriot National guard on two Turkish Cypriot villages, they threatened to enforce this solution by moving troops on the mainland to the coastline opposite the island. The uneasy peace continued until 15 July 1974 when the government was overthrown by a Greek military coup which installed Nicos Sampson (a former EOKA hero) as President. Makarios himself narrowly escaped capture by fleeing to Paphos, whence he was flown by UN helicopter to Akrotiri and by RAF to Malta. This coup provoked the Turkish government into landing troops on the northern coast of the island, ostensibly to protect the minority community, from where they advanced towards Nicosia. A cease fire was arranged on 22 July but further fighting took place and negotiations foundered. By 16 August the Turks were in full control of the island north of the “Attila Line’’ which ran from Famagusta, through Nicosia, to Kokkina. In so doing they had relieved the besieged Turkish Cypriots in Famagusta but, conversely, about 10,000 Cypriots had fled from the occupied territory, many of them to the security of the British base of Dhekelia. Turkey had gained considerable territory for which she was widely condemned by the outside world, and in protest against which Greece withdrew from the military structure of NATO. Thereafter, for the remainder of the period covered by this history, the island was effectively partitioned with little contact between the two localities. Although UNFICYP patrols were theoretically free to roam the island, the Attila cease fire line formed an effective barrier for everyone else between the two provinces with one carefully controlled access point in Nicosia.] The Government still technically held authority over the whole island and was recognised internationally as the constitutional body representing the Republic. Effectively, however, it was a solely Greek Cypriot institution controlling the South because the Turkish Cypriots had set up unilaterally a Turkish Federated State of Cyprus to manage their local affairs in the North.