In this extract from his diaries of his National Service days, Roger Brown relives his time in the Army in Cyprus in the summer of 1958.
Do you have stories about your service days ? If so, we would love to hear from you and you could see them published in The Military Times.
By Roger Brown
According to my 1958 diary, the rains started mid-January and went on seemly for ever and, when it rained, it rained hard. Now rain is almost acceptable when living in a purpose built barracks well protected for a downpour, but when your Army ‘home’ is a four man tent of unknown age and has experienced the ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ of the Cyprus climate; living in one during the rainy season is not much fun.
From the diary:
Rain pours down the tent roof, it soaks the tent walls, the outside area and floods the camp. Even with the paraffin stoves on all night in the tents (very illegal) everything, including our Battle Dress and bedding feels damp.
Beyond the Camp the wadii, which had dried out during the previous year long hot summer, becomes a future breeding ground for all those flying ‘nasties’ we would experience later in the spring and summer and as the January rains came and went so the weather began to improve, the temperature rose and the sun came out.
By mid-February, the sun was fully out and the daily temperature equalled a summers day in England . My diary also records that I sun-bathed outside the (now dry) tent and also went swimming in the sea at Famagusta and, yes, it was cold.
As the temperature rose on a day by day basis so wearing our battle dress became more and more uncomfortable, however a ‘Standing Order’ decreed that our Battle Dress was to be put away in our lockers and ‘shirt sleeve order’ was to be the order of the day.
Going from the winter B.D. uniform (and that’s me in B.D. on Guard Duty with a loaded Sten Gun) to shirt sleeve order, made life far more comfortable in the increasing heat and here I am in the other photo’ in the dress order of the day, gazing pensively across the wadi with the ever-present loaded rifle.
From March to April, it got hotter and hotter; by the end of April the temperature had reached 85 degrees and, as the wadi dried out, so the midges and mosquito’s hatched out. There were clouds of them and they were in your clothes, in the food, the drinks and just about everywhere, and also you made sure that when you went to bed, there none in the bedding…..
Mid April the Army decreed that we went from shirt sleeved order to Khaki Drill. The chap on the right of the photo is wearing well starched and pressed K.D. and, for some reason, the rest (including myself; 2nd on the left) prefer the more relaxed approach to our daytime Army wear.
To achieve the required levels of KD smartness shown in the photo, it was important to brush a solution of starch on the material before ironing; the hot iron then dried the starch in the material and the overall effect after was after a while, similar to wearing highly polished cardboard.
As the weather go hotter and hotter so we got sweatier and sweatier and our KD’s had to be washed and starched again until, by the end of the summer, they could virtually stand on their own in the corner of the tent.
It was now time to draw mosquito netting from the QM Stores. The nets were erected tent like over our beds in the vain hope that miscellaneous flying “nasties” would be kept out and not interrupt our sleep; how wrong can you be as I shall detail later. Our Army blankets were handed back in leaving us with just a mattress; pillow and two sheets, which were exchanged for clean ones on a random Army basis. The tent walls could now be rolled back and an advantage of this open air living was that the early morning fug of the days first cigarette, paraffin fumes and Army food were swept away by the through draft.
My Diary shows for the 1st May-‘May Day in Famagusta’ we were confined to Camp for an indefinite period as there was possibly EOKA terrorist action. This was revoked quite shortly and we could go swimming again although the beach was heavily patrolled by the Army.
By mid May the temperature was around 100 degrees. With the advent of the Cyprus summer so came some very strange flying ‘things’; the one that has remained in my memory is the ‘flying mouse’. I was using the Camp’s latrine at the time when to my surprise (and shock) one of these strange ‘things’ scuttled across the concrete floor toward me. It had a furry body, a mouse type leg at each corner of its body wings and a mouse shaped head and, if I remember correctly, made a clattering noise when it flew. I vacated the latrine pdq.
As the area around the tent dried out in the intense heat so we experienced another plague of creepy crawly things, this time it was ants. They were everywhere. I came back to the tent after shift one evening and found a trail of ants from the outside area which went up the tent base, up my bed legs, across my bed and down the other side. All because I had spilt some tea down the side of the bed and onto the tent floor.
We were issued mosquito nets to go over our bed. It was supposed to keep any flying wild life out and allow you to sleep peacefully at night (or in the day time) without being bothered by things that buzzed, stung or settled on you, how wrong could you be. Retiring to bed late one evening in summer I lay looking upwards and saw something fairly solid on the netting so, being half asleep, I banged it expecting it to roll down the side of the netting and buzz off. It didn’t. It fell on me with a thud. The net went one way and I went the other. My language was not good (learnt during basic training) and the other tent dwellers thought it was very funny. Just wait until it happens to them.
It was still getting warmer, with the temperature in excess of 100 degrees, also the daytime curfew has been lifted and we could go swimming again.
Mid-June was my 19th birthday and my mother had sent me a birthday cake, however, with good intentions she had wrapped it in brown paper so, when the cake arrived it was as dry as a bone but, with the help of ‘Aphrodite’ wine, it went down a treat.
Late June a few of went on leave to Kyrenia for a week. We had an armoured car escort all the way there and back and I distinctly remember passing through a small village in convoy and being spat at by the villagers. However, a week away from the heat of the Camp and the ever present threat of something nasty going to happen was a welcome change.
Early July the temperature was down to 95 degrees (just warm!) and, depending whether Famagusta was ‘In Bounds’ or ‘Out of Bounds’, meant we either stayed in the Camp and sweated, or went down to the beach via a Bedford 3 ton lorry (all of us armed with rifles).
The August temperature climbed in excess of 110 degrees. It was so hot we were sleeping outside the tents and could see the night sky through the mosquito netting.
A little bit of excitement this month, one of the tents caught fire. As you can imagine, the tent was bone dry: it had not rained for months and the tent went up in a flash, the only things survived were the occupants, the bed bases and the steel lockers.
Now the intense heat of the summer was passing Camp life became more comfortable, and although we still needed the mosquito nets, we could start rolling the tent walls back (getting rid of the resident wild life in the process) and, in spite of the ongoing terrorist problems, it was still possible to go down to the beach and enjoy a swim under the watchful eyes of the beach patrol.
Late October, winter had arrived.
The 9th November was the last day of Khaki Drill. We were back to Battle Dress. The mosquito nets have gone back into Stores, the tent walls are firmly lashed back in place and we have blankets on our beds. Surely the blankets have been washed since handing in early summer or, have they? They smell musty, faintly of cigarette smoke and dare I say it unwashed Army feet.
All rights to text and images belong to Roger Brown.