In a second reminiscence of life as a National Serviceman in Cyprus in the 1950s, Roger Brown describes morning in a tented camp, reminding us us all of just how relatively easy we have it today.
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A Cyprus Winter
by Roger Brown
It is January 1959, and in the distance we can see snow on the Troodos mountains from our tents. After the summer temperatures of 90+ degrees the extreme cold of winter comes as a shock to the system. Our Army camp is virtually all under canvas, only the Mess hall, NAAFI and HQ is brick built so, we National Servicemen lived in tents all year round. In summer we could roll the tent walls back but in winter this was not advisable!
There were four of us to a tent. Each man had a bed, bedside table and steel locker. Inside the locker was, among other things, our khaki drill uniforms for summer and battle dress for winter. We were wearing battle dress now as there are two inches of ice in the fire buckets and the washing and shaving water was barely above freezing point.
Heating in the tent with its thin canvas walls, was restricted to a single paraffin fire, and once the fire was turned out the temperature in the tent dropped to below zero, when we were awakened by the duty corporal in the early morning. There could often be snow in the tent and on our beds and the atmosphere in the tent was not improved by the Army diet of corn beef with every meal and residual paraffin fumes, plus the urge by some tent members to start the day by lighting a cigarette and smoking it before being fully awake. So we woke up, cold and fed up. Our tent was draughty because no-one tied the door flap back properly.
The first cigarette was lit, followed by the first burst of coughing.
The wind whistles down the lines of tents as we struggled into our uniforms for the trip across the camp to the latrines and down to the shower block for our quick, cold ablutions. Then, suitably shaved and washed, it’s back to the tent for our knife, fork and spoon and into the warm cook-house for the usual army breakfast.
How we wish for the baking heat of summer when we could go to sleep after our shift at midnight when it was still warm,wake up in the morning and it would still be warm. An added bonus was that the shower block water was warm also!
Those signalmen who came off the early morning shift, experienced the pleasure of waking up later that day to the possibility of a watery sun giving the illusion of summer warmth.
The winter in Cyprus started in November and goes on until March. So when your home for seventeen months is a ragged old tent of indeterminate age which sleeps four men, and you are working on a three day shift cycle leaving the comparative warmth of your bed to go on shift at midnight, or staggering out early in the cold morning to go on parade, it’s not a whole lot of fun.
However, looking on the bright side, EOKA have left us alone for a while, maybe they have forgotten we are here….I wish, but since finishing my National Service in 1959 I have never ever slept in a tent since and to this day, have no desire to do so.
Copyright Roger R Brown