A CRASH COURSE IN PEACEKEEPING, PART 3

CYPRUS 1974, OUTPOST LOUROUJINA

Frank Reid’s recollections of life as a peacekeeping in Cyprus shortly after the civil war erupted on the Mediterranean island in 1974. Pictured, the humble digs in Louroujina where the Canadians slept and played table tennis. Private Rick Edmonds stands in front of the door. This is a far cry from Nicosia’s Ledra Palace, where Frank Reid was first stationed. (Rcr Photographer)

Frank Reid’s recollections of life as a peacekeeping in Cyprus shortly after the civil war erupted on the Mediterranean island in 1974. Pictured, the humble digs in Louroujina where the Canadians slept and played table tennis. Private Rick Edmonds stands in front of the door. This is a far cry from Nicosia’s Ledra Palace, where Frank Reid was first stationed. (Rcr Photographer)

By Frank Reid

From the April issue (Volume 23, Issue 3)

It was just a matter of time before I would be ripped from the lap of luxury at the Ledra Palace and thrown into a more usual environment for a peacekeeper. Our group, The Royal Canadian Regiment’s B Company, was also responsible for the safety of the United Nations’ outpost based near the small Turkish Cypriot village of Louroujina. 

My turn came to be shipped out with a small contingent to keep the peace there. During the civil war, Louroujina was the deepest incursion into Greek territory the Turks had managed to secure. The reason for this incursion was that Louroujina was the second biggest Turkish settlement in Cyprus numbering 1,963 souls. However, it was completely surrounded by Greek Cypriot villages. There was a concern that a massacre would occur. A group of Canadian soldiers were always present in order to avoid this from happening. Only a few well-trained soldiers against who knew how many Greeks were deemed a sufficient deterrent. At least, we all hoped it would be! Besides, there really were not enough of us to go around and cover every hot spot on the island.

Tempers were running quite high on both sides with the invasion being only six months old. Even though Greek and Turkish Cypriots had been living side by side in relative peace for over 600 years, they were now ready to perpetrate atrocities on each other at the drop of a hat. Overshadowing the village of Louroujina was a small mountain or, I should rather say, an 800-foot-high hill. The church that used to sit at the top of this hill had been converted into a home for regular troops from Turkey. A big red Turkish flag flew over it and you could see a number of nasty looking machine guns right next to the building. There was no doubt about it; they meant business. These Turkish regulars were also far better trained and disciplined than the ragtag bunch of Cypriot troops from either side. 

The 800-foot-high hill with the Turkish army at top and the Canadian observation post visible halfway down on the left side, overlooking the patrol area. (Frank Reid)

The 800-foot-high hill with the Turkish army at top and the Canadian observation post visible halfway down on the left side, overlooking the patrol area. (Frank Reid)

The UN maintained an observation post, or OP as we called it, halfway down the hill. It consisted of a small, three-sided box, open at the back, made of quarter-inch-thick plywood and crowned by a galvanized steel roof. It was a cozy little box: 5 feet wide, 5 feet deep and 7 feet tall. The front panel was facing downhill and had a Plexiglas window with a bullet hole right in the middle. I am glad I was not the poor bugger on duty the day that happened! An oversized blue and white UN flag flew over our little home. This flag was supposed to advertise our presence to make sure we were not shot at. Obviously, it did not work all the time! 

The OP was furnished with two seats, made of wooden crates, and a radio. This was where we sat to observe the area with our binoculars when it got too hot to stand outside. The OP was manned by only one soldier during the day and two at night. Behind the OP was a crudely built wood frame bunker that measured 5 feet deep and 4 feet wide with a 3-foot-tall entrance. The side of the mountain served as the back wall. It was completely covered with sandbags, supposedly to keep us safe should we come under fire for some unforeseen reason. In reality, we took turns using it as sleeping quarters during our overnight duty, even though this was not permitted. We were always chronically sleep-deprived and took any opportunity to get a little shuteye, even if it was only for a few minutes. 

The first night I was at the OP I heard a loud crashing noise. My buddy and I went outside to see what was happening. The Turkish soldiers posted at the top of the hill felt the urge to welcome us. We could see them waving and yelling. They had thrown rocks on top of our observation post to get our attention. We waved back before returning to the OP. They were well informed and knew we were new there. In their own way, I think they were telling us the watchers were being watched. 

The countryside around Louroujina was extremely flat, with the exception of this hill. Our base camp was set up at the foot of the hill, between the Turkish village and the Greek checkpoint. There was also a Turkish checkpoint in the area, manned by Turk Cypriots. From our OP perch, halfway up the hill, we could see everything that was happening. The scenery was rather boring: a sea of yellow rocks dotted here and there by sparse vegetation. There was only one way in and out of the village we were protecting: a small dirt road which was used by all, running to a Turkish military camp in Pyroi. We patrolled the road between the Turkish village and the Greek checkpoint day and night.

At night, we had the luxury of two people patrolling the road. During the day, only one soldier was on duty. According to our own policies, no soldier should be out on patrol by himself with a loaded weapon in the situation we were in, but being short-staffed, we made do with what we had. 

The church at the top of the mountain that had been turned into a machine-gun nest by the Turkish army. The gun emplacements on the left and right in front of the church are visible, as is the Turkish flag flying above. We watched them while they watched us. (Frank Reid)

The church at the top of the mountain that had been turned into a machine-gun nest by the Turkish army. The gun emplacements on the left and right in front of the church are visible, as is the Turkish flag flying above. We watched them while they watched us. (Frank Reid)

On my second week in Louroujina, I was on daytime patrol, dragging my tired khaki-clad ass down the road, making sure no trouble happened. It was really hot that day, around 35° Celsius and no shade. The heat was getting to me. Suddenly, I noticed a pack of dogs on my left, just off the road. There were six of them of various sizes, all rather mangy looking with their ribs showing through their fur. They looked hungry and thirsty and had their tongues hanging out. 

I had the feeling they were stalking me. They were following my every move; they walked when I walked and they paused when I stopped walking. I do not like dogs at the best of times and I certainly hated these ones when I thought they were considering me as a viable option for their dinner! The presence of a small gully between them and I brought little consolation since it was only 10 inches deep, and so not much of a deterrent if they decided to attack me. I quickly inserted a round into the chamber of my rifle, just in case I needed to fire in a hurry. This was strictly against regulations. As if I cared! In a situation like this every second counted, so I took the safety off as well. 

I finally made it to the Greek checkpoint and I relaxed a bit. There were three Greek Cypriot soldiers waiting for me. They were unshaven, untrained, undisciplined and heavily armed with AK-47s. Since they were all militia-type troops, you could never tell where they got the ammunition for these weapons or even if they had any. I felt like I had left one dangerous situation for another and I was not sure which one was the worst. None of them could speak English and I did not speak Greek. 

I was calling my base camp to give them my sitrep, or situation report, when one of the Greeks touched my radio. I do not know what was on their minds that day. Maybe they were bored or restless or just trying to pull my string and see how far they could push me. Who knows! I was already in a bad mood and they were not helping things along. What this guy had done, in my mind, was just bad manners. It was not like they had never seen a radio before. I quickly slapped his hand away from my radio. Then, one of his buddies perpetrated a cardinal sin; he touched my rifle! That was the last straw. 

I took two steps backwards and shook my head. I motioned to the one who had touched my rifle to come closer. Apprehensively, he moved forward. I started to pull back the action of my rifle, just enough for him to see the brass colour of the cartridge. Now he knew it was loaded and ready. I pointed to the bullet with my finger and then I tapped him on the forehead and said, “This one’s for you”. 

I could see the fear in his eyes and, at that point, I realized I was tired and bored with all this useless game playing and just didn’t care anymore, so I let the chips fall where they may. All three moved away from me. I glared at them and turned around to walk back to camp. I must admit I had the thought that, at any moment, I might get a round in the back. 

I never had trouble with that checkpoint ever again. This situation exemplifies the reason why soldiers should never be on patrol alone. Unfortunately, this was not a textbook situation. This was real life. 

A Crash Course in Peacekeeping, Part 2

ROYAL CANADIAN REGIMENT DEPLOYS TO CYPRUS

By Frank Reid

From Volume 23 Issue 1 (February 2016)

The fine handsome lads of "B" Company, 6 Platoon, 1. The Royal Canadian Regiment pose in front of the Ledra Palace Hotel in Nicosia, Cyprus in December 1974. The situation on the Mediterranean island reached its zenith in July 1974, when the Greek Cypriots launched a coup d'etat that was matched with the landing of a sizeable Turkish force days later. To this day, the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) is deployed on the small island to supervise a ceasefire and maintain a buffer zone between the Greek and Turkish communities. (1 RCR Photographer)

The fine handsome lads of "B" Company, 6 Platoon, 1. The Royal Canadian Regiment pose in front of the Ledra Palace Hotel in Nicosia, Cyprus in December 1974. The situation on the Mediterranean island reached its zenith in July 1974, when the Greek Cypriots launched a coup d'etat that was matched with the landing of a sizeable Turkish force days later. To this day, the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) is deployed on the small island to supervise a ceasefire and maintain a buffer zone between the Greek and Turkish communities. (1 RCR Photographer)

Exploring personal military experiences while deployed in Cyprus during the height of the 1974 conflict

On the last day of my nine-day rotation, while I was pulling guard duty at Observation Post (OP) Hermes in Cyprus, my lieutenant paid me a visit. He was just a little older than me and this was his first tour as well. We were learning the peacekeeping roll we were to play in world politics together. Mostly, the peacekeeping mandates were a little more peaceful than the ones we had been dropped into, so the learning curve was steep for us all. Luckily we had some senior non-commissioned officers (NCOs) who had been around a long time to help guide us.

Observation Post Hermes, Nicosia, Cyprus, 1974. Notice the positioning of barb wire and sand bags to keep the bad people at bay. The sentry would sit on the chair with the radio receiver hanging out the window and within easy reach. The blue helmet is visible next to the chair, just in case. (Frank Reid)

Observation Post Hermes, Nicosia, Cyprus, 1974. Notice the positioning of barb wire and sand bags to keep the bad people at bay. The sentry would sit on the chair with the radio receiver hanging out the window and within easy reach. The blue helmet is visible next to the chair, just in case. (Frank Reid)

The lieutenant explained that there had been movement in one of the many burned out buildings on the Green Line and no one was sure who it could be: Turks, Greeks or just someone pillaging the empty buildings? I told the lieutenant in a sarcastic manner that anyone coming up the stairs to my observation post who was not suppose to be there would go down the stairs a lot faster then he came up and probably not in a healthy state.

The lieutenant looked at me in an odd manner and, after a moment’s reflection, came back at me snarling, “I don’t care what you do, Reid, as long as you can account for your 40 live rounds at the end of the shift.” It was a veiled threat and, on reflection years later, I guess it had not been one of the wisest things for me to say. You shouldn’t bait a young lieutenant. No doubt he was as exhausted as I was and he had a lot more responsibility on his young untried shoulders than I had. He then turned and hurried down the stairs to carry on with his inspection of other OPs under his command.

Sometimes we had to send soldiers into buildings to see who was there and tell them to leave when one or the other side requested it. This was a dangerous undertaking for peacekeepers since we were watched closely by both sides and, in many cases, communication between the parties was non-existent. Anyone in those buildings took the risk of being shot by someone thinking they were about to be attacked by soldiers from the opposite side. It was a free fire zone as far as Greeks and Turks were concerned, which meant you were there at your own risk and you would get no sympathy if someone shot your head off.

When the duty drover dropped us off for our shifts, we always walked directly up the stairs and to our observation post, which was at the highest point on the building. Since both sides were always watching, sticking to this routine religiously ensured we were not targeted, or so we hoped!

At 6:00 pm my shift was over and I was looking forward to my day off. I returned to my room at the Ledra Palace Hotel in Nicosia, where I was living the good life for free as part of Canada’s peacekeeping deployment to Cyprus in 1974. A room at this luxurious hotel in normal times would have been impossible for me to afford, but here I was. There were only two soldiers to a room, not the usual open dormitory-style sleeping arrangement with dozens of soldiers in an open area on folding cots. I grabbed something to eat and then headed to the junior ranks mess for a little R & R.

On the way down, I picked up a copy of The Nic News (short for Nicosa News) to read later in my room. It was a paper published by battalion volunteers. It included stories, pictures and important dates to keep people serving as part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) informed. It was also full of funny stories and more than a few bald-faced lies. An item of high literary content it was not.

When I got to the mess the jukebox was playing Like a Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell and the place was humming. No problem, I thought, I can sleep in late tomorrow. I grabbed my favourite drink: Cognac and Coke. At 75 cents a shot, I unfortunately indulged too much. This was not uncommon for the soldiers to do on their one day off. It is difficult to unwind after nine days of 12-hour shifts on guard duty.

Another picture of OP Hermes, location on a Nicosian rooftop. It had just rained and the roof was covered in an inch or two of water. After the rain the sun would beat down and you would feel like you were in a sauna. (Frank Reid)

Another picture of OP Hermes, location on a Nicosian rooftop. It had just rained and the roof was covered in an inch or two of water. After the rain the sun would beat down and you would feel like you were in a sauna. (Frank Reid)

The front page of the third edition of "The Nic News" journal. This newspaper was where the 1 RCR Battalion Group got the news about what the rest of their comrades on the island were up to. The Canadian soldiers were so spread out that they might not see people from the other companies during their entire six-month rotation. (1 RCR Photographer)

The front page of the third edition of "The Nic News" journal. This newspaper was where the 1 RCR Battalion Group got the news about what the rest of their comrades on the island were up to. The Canadian soldiers were so spread out that they might not see people from the other companies during their entire six-month rotation. (1 RCR Photographer)

The junior ranks mess was set up in what had been a beautiful mirror-lined ballroom. In better times, this room had hosted grand parties for the hotel’s rich clientele, and uniformed waiters moved among the guests, caring for their every need. But no more; the only uniforms you could see now were those of young tired soldiers. This was a huge room with marble floors and mirrors, measuring 15 feet tall by 8 feet wide, surrounding the dance floor. Crystal chandeliers gave it a light, airy feeling. At one time it had been special, but now the mirrors looked down on a bunch of kids in blue berets, wearing sweat-stained combats and dirty mud-crusted boots, cursing, playing cards and drinking to excess.

I left the mess about 2:00 am and stumbled up to my room where, fully dressed, I passed out on my bed into a glorious long sleep; or so I thought.

Around 4:30 am the duty sergeant banged on my door. We were all ordered downstairs. Flak jackets and helmets were the order of the day. Days off meant nothing in the army when an emergency situation reared its ugly head. When we got to the lobby of the hotel a sergeant was sitting at a desk with a large pile of rifle magazines in front of him. Each one of us was issued with 40 live rounds. Even my overtired sleep-deprived brain told me that this was not a good thing. Typically, the only time we were issued live rounds was when we were on guard duty.

I could hear people whispering and speaking in low tones. Apparently, one of our foot patrols, which had been out doing their normal route, had been caught at a checkpoint in a cross fire between the Turk and Greek Cypriots. It was not an uncommon occurrence for us to get shot at, sometimes on purpose and sometimes at random. Cypriot militia on both sides were mostly untrained and trigger-happy. They reminded me of kids with their brand new toy guns on Christmas morning.

At that very moment, the duty officer was down at the checkpoint with a couple of NCOs and a few privates for added security. He was speaking with the belligerents, trying to work out a deal to get the patrol out safely. Our sergeant told us in no uncertain terms that if the negotiations failed we would be going out to do the job properly. Failure was not an option.

I remember being so tired — I had had less than three hours of sleep in the past 24 hours. As I listened to the sergeant, I leaned against a wall so I would not fall over, hoping that this was a dream and we would not have to go out.

Even though it was early morning, it was hot and we were all sweating profusely. Between the alcohol still in my system and lack of sleep, I was totally drained. We waited for four hours in the Ledra Palace Hotel’s lobby, in full web gear and flak jacket, until the word came down that our guys were safe. Being a lowly private, I was not privy to exactly how it all came about. All I knew was that our ordeal was over.

Even though I was exhausted, I was now so high-strung that I could not sleep. A few hours later I was back out on another 12-hour shift, dreaming of my next day off and hoping desperately that I would be able to finally get some rest.

 

Article courtesy of Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies

A Crash Course in Peacekeeping, Part !

ROYAL CANADIAN REGIMENT DEPLOYS TO CYPRUS

By Frank Reid 

From Volume 22 Issue 12 (January 2016)

A member of the Royal Canadian Dragoons Reconnaissance Squadron, deployed as part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), during a patrol. Canadian Armed Forces members have been deployed as a peacekeeping force since 1963. (DND, Library and Archives Canada)

A member of the Royal Canadian Dragoons Reconnaissance Squadron, deployed as part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), during a patrol. Canadian Armed Forces members have been deployed as a peacekeeping force since 1963. (DND, Library and Archives Canada)

 

In 1974, when violence erupted on the small Mediterranean island of Cyprus, Frank Reid did all he could to get deployed

I arrived in London, Ontario, home of the 1st Battalion of The Royal Canadian Regiment (1 RCR), in April 1973. Having just finished basic training in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, I was ready for the next adventure. My basic training had started with 132 people from all elements of the military and, by the end of a three-month training period, only 83 remained. Of that number, 29 were infantry, including myself. This entire bunch of “unruly teenagers” was posted to 1 RCR.

On July 15, 1974, the Greek Cypriot National Guard staged a coup and overthrew president Archbishop Makarios III. Five days later, on July 20, the Turkish army invaded Cyprus in response to the overthrow, officially claiming they wished to protect the Turkish minority on the island. Three days after the Turkish invasion, a ceasefire was reached between the belligerents, but it dissolved following repeated attacks. A permanent ceasefire and a division of the island was finally reached on August 16, 1974. The United Nations have supported the ceasefire contingent of peacekeepers ever since. (DND)

On July 15, 1974, the Greek Cypriot National Guard staged a coup and overthrew president Archbishop Makarios III. Five days later, on July 20, the Turkish army invaded Cyprus in response to the overthrow, officially claiming they wished to protect the Turkish minority on the island. Three days after the Turkish invasion, a ceasefire was reached between the belligerents, but it dissolved following repeated attacks. A permanent ceasefire and a division of the island was finally reached on August 16, 1974. The United Nations have supported the ceasefire contingent of peacekeepers ever since. (DND)

Upon our arrival in London, we embarked on the second part of our infantry training. At the time, Canada had not been involved in a war for many years. We had a few senior NCOs (non-commissioned officers) who had served in the Second World War, but most of them were getting long in the tooth. Our course training was to be assigned to an exchange officer from the British Army, a young captain that had just completed a tour in Northern Ireland. In my estimation, he was a very effective trainer.

I particularly recall one class on the 9mm pistol, which he waved and aimed at us. We all thought we knew what he was going to do and, finally, he did it — he pulled the trigger. I vividly recall everyone flinching in expectation of a blank going off, but nothing happened. Without missing a beat, the captain went back to instructing us on the use of the pistol. We looked at him like a bunch of sheep, confident that we were going to experience the same thing as before. He pulled the trigger and — BANG! The room was small and the noise of the blank firing echoed with an ear-splitting sound. Twenty-eight wide-eyed soldiers were scrambling to find cover where none existed. It must have made his day. He had palmed the blank cartridge and loaded the pistol in front of us with no one noticing. It left an impression on us all and instilled in us a healthy dose of distrust.

To this day, his training reminds me to never take anything at face value and to trust nothing, even when I believe I saw it with my own two eyes.

Training continued. We then received word that 1 RCR was to rotate on a peacekeeping tour to Cyprus in December 1974. Between 1972 and 1974 hundreds of young troops were rotated to London. The battalion was going to be deployed to Cyprus as a peacetime contingent, therefore only some of us were to go. A number of associates and I were not picked because we were relatively new. I was told there would be plenty of other opportunities to go to Cyprus in the next few years, which was not a comforting thought.

Author Frank Reid`s course graduation photo, with his British exchange officer (front row, centre). This was taken before the 1st Battaliion of the Royal Canadian Regiment was deployed to Cyprus in December 1974. (Frank Reid)

Author Frank Reid`s course graduation photo, with his British exchange officer (front row, centre). This was taken before the 1st Battaliion of the Royal Canadian Regiment was deployed to Cyprus in December 1974. (Frank Reid)

I was eager to go to Cyprus and wanted to go immediately, so I looked for a reason to get myself on this tour. A call went out from the sergeants’ mess looking for a bartender with experience for Cyprus and, even though I was young, I had managed a bar at some point in my civilian life. The main task called for a bartender to serve beer and throw out unruly people who had consumed too much. Seeing a glimmer of light on the horizon, I volunteered for the position, which is something you should never do in the army. I was immediately sent off to train as a bartender for the Cyprus tour. Had I known that a war was about to break out on Cyprus, I would have tried to buy more time, because I was in search of peacekeeping rather than bar tending. There were many more checkpoints and OPs (observation points) to man following the invasion, so in the end almost everyone from Base London went to Cyprus, even soldiers with only one year of experience. For myself, I was stuck as a bartender, longing to be out in the field. The soldiers who had been to Cyprus two or three times before told me to shut up and enjoy the bird job — I thought they were crazy!

The Republic of Cyprus had been relatively quiet for a few years, but by the summer of 1974 things were heating up, as trouble had been in the making for a long time. The first Canadian-led peacekeeping mission to Cyprus was in 1963. Initially, the United Nations and the Canadian peacekeeping mission (the Canadian Airborne Regiment was deployed in April 1974) had only a 90-day mandate.

On July 15, 1974 the Greeks launched a coup d’état against the government of Cyprus and its leader, Archbishop Makarios, who was also the president. Greece installed a puppet government led by Nikos Sampson, a nationalist who wanted Cyprus to become part of Greece. The minority Turkish population, fearing slaughter at the hands of the Greek majority, asked Turkey for assistance. In the wake of these events, Turkey invaded Cyprus five days later, on July 20, and took over approximately a third of the island. The Turkish forces were stopped at the Green Line by the Canadian Airborne Regiment, which had been reinforced with British tanks.

The wrecked and burned remains of a jet sit on the tarmac at the airport in Nicosia. This was the scene when Frank Reid and his fellow Canadian peacekeepers landed on th3e island of Cyprus in December 1974. In July of that year, a battle erupted between the Greek and Turkish communities on the island resulting in the creation and rapid deployment of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus. (Steve Zelezen)

The wrecked and burned remains of a jet sit on the tarmac at the airport in Nicosia. This was the scene when Frank Reid and his fellow Canadian peacekeepers landed on th3e island of Cyprus in December 1974. In July of that year, a battle erupted between the Greek and Turkish communities on the island resulting in the creation and rapid deployment of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus. (Steve Zelezen)

In December 1974, four and a half months after the invasion, I landed in Cyprus. I had left London dressed for -20° C and landed in Cyprus at 27° C above. The first thing I saw after walking off the plane was a wrecked and burnt out passenger jet littering the runway. This was an awesome sight for a bunch of 22-year-old soldiers who were extremely inexperienced and untraveled.

Amid decades-worth of debris and peeling paintwork, the waiting areas, check-in counters and passport control desks at the Nicosia airport remain as they were when abandoned over 40 years ago. (Neil Hall, Pri)

Amid decades-worth of debris and peeling paintwork, the waiting areas, check-in counters and passport control desks at the Nicosia airport remain as they were when abandoned over 40 years ago. (Neil Hall, Pri)

The airport, a new multimillion-dollar complex, sat silent and dark with no electricity. There was virtually no movement anywhere, and the atmosphere was quiet and eerie. I recall there being many ticket counters and shops waiting for tourists who would never arrive. The airport was empty that day, save for the local rat population. We grabbed our rifles and silently exited the airport, and found a convoy of white UN buses ready to take us to our respective bases. This was the first day of our six-month tour.

The Canadians had taken over the Ledra Palace Hotel in Nicosia — the capital and largest city on Cyprus — soon after the fighting began since it was the highest building around and coveted by both sides. This was done with the blessing of the owners, who thought the war would be over in a few months. To them, Canadians offered much-needed protection under the UN flag. The hotel was subsequently used by the military as a base for many years and, in 2004, was designated a Green Line crossing point between the Turkish and Greek populations on the island.

I was posted to the Ledra Palace Hotel upon my arrival in Cyprus. The invasion was only a few months old and the Ledra was still mighty, grand and beautiful. Prior to the invasion, it had been one of the most exclusive and expensive hotels on the island. The hotel was a unique gem: marble floors, outdoor swimming pools heated by the Cypriot sun, well-stocked bars, and ballrooms large enough to fit 500 people surrounded by mirrors 15 feet high and 10 feet wide. In this setting, wealthy guests were known to dance at night while a 20-piece orchestra played and dozens of waiters served Champagne. I was making $280.00 a month at that time, and would have never dreamt of sleeping in one of the hotel’s bedrooms. Thinking back makes me realize that I would have been hard pressed to even purchase a single glass of Champagne. But there I was, in luxury nonetheless.

Frank Reid`s roommate at the Ledra Palace Hotel writes a letter home. Note his hat on table. Every night they would starch them and stretch them over a large fruit can to give them shape. Then they would sweat in the hot sun and the starch would run out of the hat and down their foreheads adn run in their eyes and burn them. (Frank Reid)

Frank Reid`s roommate at the Ledra Palace Hotel writes a letter home. Note his hat on table. Every night they would starch them and stretch them over a large fruit can to give them shape. Then they would sweat in the hot sun and the starch would run out of the hat and down their foreheads adn run in their eyes and burn them. (Frank Reid)

Frank Reid on guard duty at the Ledra. 

Frank Reid on guard duty at the Ledra. 

There were only two of us to a room. Each room had a complete bathroom with shower and bidet, not that any of us knew what a bidet was at that time. Being very resourceful, as most Canadian soldiers are, we soon found a use for the bidet. It was perfect to clean the muck out of the treads of our boots. We also had maid service costing a Cypriot pound per week, or about $3 Canadian, which included only cleaning our rooms.

Unfortunately, the hotel had one problem. It was located on the Green Line with Turkish Cypriots on one side and Greek Cypriots on the opposite trying to shoot each other, and us in between. At night, I often heard bullets hitting the hotel on the upper floors. Acting as adolescents, my buddies and I would sit with our feet dangling over the edge of the balcony, drinking and watching the tracers go over the top of the hotel. We called this entertainment. On April 1, a soldier out on his balcony was shot and killed, but this incident did not cure us of our foolishness. Some soldiers were more concerned than we were about keeping their skin without aeration holes and slept with their backs against the inside wall on the upper floor, with their mattress in front of them. The thinking was that if a bullet entered the room, it would hopefully get lodged in the mattress and not the soldier.

The Ledra Palace was centrally located on the island, which made it the perfect location for a battalion rest and relaxation site. Soldiers from other parts of the island came to visit us on their rare days off, and my job as bartender was to take care of the bar and its military patrons. The bar was open from 10:00 a.m. and remained open late into the night, which meant that I did not have to get up early.

Mortar round hit on the Ledra Palace Hotel. (James Humpheys)

Mortar round hit on the Ledra Palace Hotel. (James Humpheys)

Bored stiff, I often harassed the mess sergeant and asked him to get me out from behind the bar. He had been with the Air Force and his usual duty was to serve drinks on planes to generals and politicians as they winged their way around the world. I will never know exactly how he ended up on an army base in London. My thoughts, which I wisely kept to myself, were that he must have irritated a superior and was sent to the infantry base as punishment. He must have thought it strange that I wanted to go out on patrol and do 12-hour guard duty as an infantryman.

Two weeks after I landed in Cyprus, my bartender career came to a screeching halt. A soldier from one of the rifle platoons who broke his arm was immediately transferred to the Ledra Palace to take over my duties and I got my wish to be reassigned to a rifle platoon — life was as it should be! 

 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  To this day, the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) maintains a presence on the Mediterranean island to supervise ceasefire lines and maintain a buffer zone between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. Between 1964 and 1993, Canada sent a large contingent of soldiers to the island to help maintain the peace, although only a few Canadian peacekeepers are currently deployed to this mission. Of the more than 25,000 Canadian Armed Forces members who have served as part of UNFICYP since its inception, 28 have paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.