(7th-11th December 1957)
During the early part of December 1957, the Glosters became involved in what developed into one of the worst periods of rioting yet experienced in Nicosia. The town is situated well inland on a flat plain. It is an ancient walled city, with very narrow streets overhung by balustraded buildings, and has both a Turkish and a Greek quarter. The line between these quarters, the Mason-Dixon line, is manned by the military during times of possible inter-racial strife. The Walled City is a veritable rabbit warren, and a terrorist can easily pick off a victim, vanish down a side street, and either hide up or clear the town in a matter of minutes. This is indeed what happens, hence the infamous "Murder Mile" - Ledra Street, the chief shopping area. The riots were timed to take place on the eve of the UNO discussion on the Cyprus problem.
Saturday 7th December:
It was appreciated that there may be trouble in the next few days, and a strong platoon of 40 all ranks from "D" Company was stationed in Luna Park. The rest of "D" Company - some 20 in all - remained at Imjin Camp at 30 minutes notice to move, and "B" Company at 2 hours notice. Life, in fact, was comparatively normal. That morning, however, Greek school children stopped work according to a pre-arranged plan, and started to process towards the Phaneromeni Church. The order "Stand to" was given to the Luna Park guard, and 2nd Lt. Hutchings and one section armed with batons and shields in addition to rifles were stationed in a side street near the church ready to reinforce the police if needed. At about 0930 hrs the message "school boys marching towards the Phaneromeni Church" was received at Imjin Camp, and the sages nodded and thought "here it comes." At 1000 hrs Brigade HQ ordered the remainder of "D" Coy. to move to Luna Park and to stand by for action. The CO was already at the Central Police Station, ready to control the "battle" should it come.
At the Phaneromeni Church a considerable crowd of school children attended a service, and numbers of young "toughs" began to collect in the vicinity. The section from "D" Coy. still lurked in the side street and four sections of the Police Mobile Reserve and some RMP stood by. The service began inside the church. Outside, apart from an occasional volley of stones from the roof tops, all was quiet and good order was maintained. There was, however, an air of tension and this was brought to a head when suddenly the doors of the church opened and a crowd of boys emerged throwing bottles and stones which they had taken with them into the service. Lieut. Hutchings and his section helped to keep the crowd back while the Police Mobile Reserve charged the boys and forced them back inside the church. After a few minutes to allow head to cool the Police permitted the sullen children to leave in small groups after they had dropped their missiles. The younger children went home, but the youths from the Pancyprian Gymnasium - a notorious school - regrouped in the square outside the gymnasium, shouting and throwing stones. Lt. Hutchings ordered his section to move to the trouble spot and was greeted with a shower of brickbats. At this moment the Police Mobile Reserve arrived from a different direction, whipped out their batons and charged the crowd. Some tear gas shells were fired from riot guns and the youths scattered. After a few more attempts to reform they dispersed and went home.
By 1300 hrs the Walled City was once again quiet. "D" Coy. under Major J.E. Taylor, remained in Luna Park in readiness for further trouble, and carried out patrolling in the Greek quarter. At 1600 hrs "B" Coy. (Major W.A. Wood) was moved to the Central Police Station. They were not need and were withdrawn to Imjin Camp the next morning. A liason officer was maintained at the Cental Police Station.
8th and 9th December:
During the Sunday and Monday patrolling continued in the Walled City. There were no incidents, though it was clear that feelings were running high and there was considerable tension in the town. The country villages in the Battalion area were quiet, but Dhali was under observation and a section of HQ 2 Coy. (Major H.L.T. Radice) was sent to Perahkhorio Police Station, some 15 miles from Nicosia and close to Dhali. This section, under Corporal Trude, remained there for more than a week. Early in the morning of the 9th December Sergt. Hassell (the UK police sergeant in charge of Perahkhorio Police Station) brought in a youth to be charged with distributing EOKA slogans. As a result he decided to go to Dhali for a look around and set off in his landrover with Lance-Cpl Harold and Pte Holt. They arrived in Dhali at 1000 hrs and found everything peaceful. They toured the town and suddenly, near the church, found a large procession. Sergt. Hassell debussed from his Landrover and dispersed the crowd - arresting a young female for throwing stones and confiscating two large Greek Nationalist flags. There was a scuffle and the landrover was almost overturned and had a tyre slashed. There is no doubt that the cool determination of the three men prevented the incident from developing into a very ugly scene. Later in the day another patrol was sent to Dhali and some 18 youths were arrested for throwing stones.
The dawn of 10th Dec. was cold and bright. It was the morning of the weekly "change-over" of the Luna Park detachment, and recognised as an ideal time for starting any troubles. "A" Coy. (Major W.L.D. Morris) was due to relieve "D" Coy. This would be carried out section by section. While routine patrolling continued, Major Taylor sat outside the Pancyprian Gymnasium in his landrover and watched the students assembling at 0800 hrs. All seemed quiet and he drove back to Luna Park. At 0930 hrs Lt. Hutchings, out on a routine patrol, ran into a full-scale riot at the Pancyprian Gymnasium. Stones were flying and there was much shouting of anti-British slogans. The mobile police arrived, debussed from their vehicles and rapidly cleared the small gangs from the side streets. By this time the doors of the Pancyprian Gymnasium had been bolted and barred, and a crowd of about 100 youths had established themselves on the roof, where they had previously prepared an armoury of bottles, stones and other missiles. These they hurled against all and sundry and any attempt to approach the building was met by a barrage, which included tiles and copping stones. A number of police and military were injured during this phase, including certain members of the press who were anxiously seeking examples of "British brutality." The Security Forces withdrew to a safe distance and the police tried to persuade the headmaster to come and discuss the situation, but he refused. The crowd in and around the Gymnasium continued to throw stones and so tear gas was fired to try and dislodge the youths from the roof, but this proved ineffective due to the height of the building. The Police then rushed the building but were driven back with casualties. A second assault succeeded; the lock on the door was burst by a pistol shot and police entered the building, closely followed by Lt. Hutchings and a few men. A tussle then ensued as police cleared room after room in the school. A large number of injured boys were taken into custody while others fled by the back door. No teachers were found, as they had, true to form, abandoned their charges at an earlier stage. The gymnasium was occupied by a platoon from "D" Coy. and the crowds dispersed. The time was about 1100 hrs.
By 1200 hrs "A" Coy. had relieved "D" Coy. at Luna Park. "D" Coy. returned to Imjin Camp, remaining on 30 minutes notice to move. Things now started to liven up inside the Walled City. There were many instances of RMP and RAF police patrol vehicles being stoned, and patrols reported that the Turks were now starting to riot against the Greeks. At 1210 hrs in the Greek Sector, a Turkish policeman was shot and wounded by a young man who escaped on a bicycle. This really set the cat among the pigeons. A number of shops were looted and gangs of Turkish youths came onto the streets looking for any Greek property to destroy. At 1245 hrs the CO ordered HQ 2 Coy. to move to the Central Police Station with one platoon, and placed the Walled City out of bounds to all service personnel and their families. Many wild rumours began to sweep through the city and the Turks began to move towards the Greek quarter. The CO sent Major Radice out at 1300 hrs on a "fact-finding tour." The gallant major set off from the Central Police Station in his Landrover, accompanies by his wireless operator and his batman. He soon came across a gang of Turks smashing the windows of a Greek shop. These he dispersed with a few choice words and a wave of his stick, then he saw another gang beating up a too-adventurous Press correspondent. He again advanced upon the crowd and drove them off, advising the correspondent to ****!!! out of it! In due course he reported to the CO that there was, undoubtedly, a "situation."
1450 hrs the CO
issued orders that:
a) The Mason-Dixon line was to be closed.
b) The Walled City was to be curfewed.
c) All entrances to the Walled City were to be closed.
"A" Coy. and HQ 2 Coy. closed the Mason-Dixon line in a record 19 minutes, whilst "D" Coy. cordoned off the main entrances to the city. Two squadrons of the Royal Horse Guards (the "Blues") and one company of the 3rd Battalion The Grenadier Guards were placed under command. The Blues relieved "D" Coy. and the Grenadiers, for a spell, took over the Mason-Dixon line.
HQ 1 Coy. (Major E.L.T. Capel) was ordered to patrol the rural areas around Nicosia and report any signs of unrest; even the Pay Team was deployed. As "B" Coy. (Major W.A. Wood) was already deployed on static guards in and around Nicosia, it can be said that the Battalion was 100% on the job. The Camp was deserted. At 1700 hrs a reinforcement arrived - the wife of OC "D" Coy. gave birth to a daughter!
Nicosia gradually returned to normal. Patrols were kept up to the 16th, by which time all ranks were tired and weary of the sound of the words "internal security." The riots were described in fairly horrific terms by the UK newspapers. They were in fact, far less frightening than they have been reported and were certainly never "out of control." Many valuable lessons were learned, the most important being:
That speed in
dealing with disturbances is vital. Determined action by a few
men can often prevent a minor incident from developing into a
b) Quick and accurate reports are essential if the commander is to be able to take proper action at the right time.