Troodos story

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Devil
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Re: Troodos story

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XV. I'm an idiot

Yes, I'm an idjit, because chapter XIV should not be there, at all! The facts described within it are true and correct. But… But, remember the first sentence of it: "Believe it or not, my memory has failed"! That is another story to be recounted. Mea culpa five times over.

So, for goodness sake, let me take my time machine back again to 1952. You will perhaps remember that one of the places we visited, as a group, was St Hilarion castle, high up in the northern hills between Nicosia and Kyrenia. I can't say how much that the castle impressed me, as well as the views that it commanded; it was a visit forever memorable. There were two other similar castles along the Pentadaktylos mountain range. In particular, we also visited Kantara castle a bit further to the east. It commanded, such beautiful vistas on a clear day, the most spectacular view of the northern coastline from close to St Andreas in the East to Vouni in the West and much of the Turkish coast to the north.
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Devil
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Re: Troodos story

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XVI. Odds and sods

This time, please allow me to recount, in no particular order a number of small things.

One of the first pleasures was to fill the gap between breakfast at 7 o'clock and lunch at 1 o'clock. As there was no NAAFI, we didn't have a canteen to buy a Cadbury's milk chocolate. This gap was filled by a street vendor who came to the gate of our camp every day about 11 o'clock. For drinks, he offered a variety of bottles and I think his most popular one was an orangeade, possibly bottled by Keo. More importantly, he also offered that Cadbury's milk chocolate and a number of other sweeties. And even more importantly, he made up and sold cold and hot sandwiches. The popular cold ones were filled with a variety of cold salads in season, topped with a slice of ham. Mmm, his pièce de résistance was undoubtedly his hot sandwich with various meat fillings to suit both British and Cypriot tastes. His keftedes were out of this world when you had a handful of hungry soldiers clamouring for them.

Just outside the south side of the camp, there was a track made principally by feet – I never saw a vehicle on it. Most of the feet that were attached to the end of human legs were covered by big clod-hopping thick leather boots. There were, however, other kinds of feet accompanying them. Firstly, there were the sheep and goats accompanied by an itinerant shepherd. The goats were a bit of a menace as they everything that was a vegetable in sight. The sheep were much more circumspect, just nibbling the surface wherever they could see a blade of grass. Notwithstanding, those sheep amazed me. You should have seen their tails, nothing like the sheep you see today on the island. Their tails were, there's only one word for it, enormous. They were not only longer than the sheep you see today, they were fatter, possibly weighing as much as four or 5 kg. A legitimate question would be why! The answer was simple. When the sheep were slaughtered, the tail went straight to a pan with boiling water. After a couple of hours, a good layer of fat floated on the surface and this was kept in closed jars for several months. This was a cheap substitute for olive oil which was comparatively unaffordable.

Please remember that I was only 19, yet I had a university degree after having passed through five years of study in only three years. Because of the war, there was a shortage of good teachers but the school that I went to would have only the best. That meant that I had to skip two years school and three years after, to explain my early graduation. That meant I had to work like a bugger (not allowed to use the correct word!). I was still only 18 (just) when I got news of my degree. The result was that I don't think I was a normal 19 year old boy, as I hadn't gone through University with the usual diversions for students. One of the results of this was that I knew nothing about girls or about sexuality and its deviations. It was therefore in Cyprus that I started to wake up into a normal life. It took me many months before I realised that two corporals, probably in their 30s, were more than just friends. The final realisation was that somehow or another one of them had his clothing removed while the two of them were together. He had to appear in his altogether to recover his dignity. Looking back, I guess that the army life must have been hard for such men because homosexuality, if found officially, would result in both a dishonourable discharge and probably a prison sentence. Things have changed!
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Devil
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Re: Troodos story

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XVII. In camp

This section will be largely a few small anecdotes.

In the cooler seasons, we had hot water available on Friday afternoons for the obligatory shower. The guy who dealt with this was a Turkish Cypriot. One Friday, I was having a shower by myself when he came in and saw me in the buff. He noticed that I had been circumcised and was surprised to see a non-Muslim in that condition. I think he must have thought that I was a hidden Muslim because he later brought me a page with Arabic printing.

The officers in our unit had a problem with me. I was the only Royal Signals official radio mechanic on the island and I had the responsibility of 24/7 communications with Egypt. Their solution was to employ a Cypriot to second me and, indeed, a bloke in his mid 20s appeared to take over when I was not on site. He claimed to be a radio engineer but I found that his knowledge left a lot to be desired. Be that as it may, he was quite useful for me and more than helpful once he had things explained to him. One day, I was summoned by the staff Sgt who looked after the stores. I went along and was asked what I wanted to do with a 100 feet coil of coaxial cable. Uhhhh? It became evident that there was a mistake and he showed me the requisition, ostensibly signed by me. Of course I knew nothing! A little bit of research through past requisitions found that he had been forging my signature for several months, stealing probably a couple of hundred quid's worth of electronic parts. I returned to my workshop, where he stood innocently waiting for me; little did he know that I knew what he had been doing. I accused him of his thievery and he drew a knife and tried to attack me. I grabbed his wrist and made him drop it. Still holding his wrist I dragged him to the offices and, without knocking, barged in with him to the Lieutenant. After a brief explanation, aided by the staff Sgt, I was dismissed. The following day, I was called in to give further explanations and to hand over his knife which had remained on the workshop floor. I don't know what happened after that other than the fact that I was exonerated from any blame.

One fine day, I received a phone call from the NCO in charge of the receivers in Nicosia. They had received a message from Egypt to tell us that our transmitter was "down". I went along and, sure enough, it was no longer working. I set up the standby transmitter, so that communications became normal again, after a break of less than one hour. I then set to find out what had gone wrong with the main transmitter. On opening the doors, there was some smoke and a horrible smell. Looking inside, I found the corpse of a half burnt chameleon that must have entered through the ventilation holes at the bottom of the cabinets. It must have crawled onto the tank capacitor, short-circuiting it. This de-tuned the transmitter and caused the anodes to overheat sufficiently to soften the glass of the valves and the vacuum sucked it in. I replaced the valves but after an hour or so of operation, the transmitter went down again. This time, it was because the tank capacitor had overheated and, although it looked normal, the plates had been softened and they too had to be replaced. Over my time there, I would guess that these American transmitters went down for one reason or another at least a dozen times. I was thinking that perhaps the Americans needed some decent radio engineers!

Our three Nissen huts used as barracks were each supplied with a cheap and nasty radio, I know not by whom. They were not very reliable in hot weather and you can guess whose job it was to repair them. This was not very difficult as the two faults were fairly repetitive and quickly dealt with.
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Re: Troodos story

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Thank you Devil, I really look forward to your stories.
It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.
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Re: Troodos story

Post by jagwheels »

Your comment in chapter XV1 "I knew nothing about girls or about sexuality and its deviations" reminded me of this short clip

Watch from 12:35 to 13:25

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Devil
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Re: Troodos story

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yes, I have always admired Ustinov and wished I was as clever as he was. I think he was one of the greatest brains of the 20th century.
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Devil
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Re: Troodos story

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XVIII. Cloak and dagger

One day, I was summoned to the CO, wondering what mischief I had been doing. He explained that I had been named because I was a "ham", with the callsign GM3GUC in Scotland and ZC4BN in Cyprus. That afternoon, a limousine came to pick me up and drive me to a block of flats in Nicosia. Therein, I was made to confront a brigadier. He started by reminding me of the Official Secrets Act. He then explained that the British establishment were worried about Communist infiltration into the island. In particular, he suspected a Cypriot individual who was supposed to communicate with clandestine boats bringing in arms. Said man owned a radio shop close to Ledra Street; my job was, in civilian clothes, to try and befriend him by repeated purchases of components found in ordinary radio sets. Then I was ordered to up the ante by asking for two Osram beam tetrodes KT 66. These were generally designed for PA Systems, but could be used for a HF transmitter. He told me that he wasn't sure whether he could get them, so I suggested 807 valves in their place. These were slightly more powerful and were intended only for HF transmission. That was really "end of story", as he didn't speak to me thereafter.

The money for the components that I did buy was refunded, along with an extra pound, to pay for coffees.
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Devil
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Re: Troodos story

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XIX. A long trip

One day, we planned a trip to see a little bit of the country, which none of us had been able to up to then. It turned out that there were three of us, only one of whom had a driving licence for Cyprus. We hired a Morris Mini for the job. We set off at about 7:30 and our first stop was at Kakopetria near where we looked at a very ancient church. From there, we proceeded to Amiandos to see the asbestos mines, where everything was covered with a thick layer of limestone dust. In retrospect, I think the dust caused more harm than the asbestos itself. We then drove up to Troodos and the highest point on the island, Mount Olympus. Although the road went right to the top, there was a man offering to take visitors up on a donkey. Even though it was the beginning of May, we saw a patch of snow in a north-facing hollow.

We descended through a long valley near Episcopi for a quick stop in Paphos where we quickly viewed the "Tombs of the Kings" and the mosaic which had been half excavated at the time. An obligatory stop was made at the birthplace of Aphrodite, where she rose from the waves. By this time, we decided that we were peckish and looked for a place serving food as we proceeded eastward. We stumbled on a kafenion, where the owner was brushing round the tables outside. I guess that it must have been about 14:30 because we asked him whether we could get a snack. Full of regrets, he apologised that the woman who did the talking had already left but, if we took a seat, he would prepare something for us. When the food arrived, it was hardly a snack – it was a full-blown meal with a salad followed by the most delicious beef steak, chips and some kind of veggie (my memory is not perfect!). Our host also brought us a bottle of wine which he explained came from his own vineyard. So we had the trappings of an excellent meal and it certainly was memorable. At the time, I was not particularly a wine drinker but that helped me to start becoming one. Between the three of us, we got through two bottles; I'm not in the least sure that our driver was not well over the limit by modern standards but nobody cared about that kind of thing in 1953.

Staggering out of the bistro, I don't remember much about the rest of the trip, other than going to bed when we got back to camp. It was certainly not the first time that a squaddie was a little bit worse for wear after a full day's break!
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Re: Troodos story

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XX. Music hath charms…

One of the problems I had was that my taste in music was far different from that of most of my fellow signalmen. There is one piece, which I remember, was very very much appreciated in the barrack room, "23 Degrees North - 82 Degrees West ", played by Stan Kenton. For me, this was cacophony personified – it was so bad that I remember the title and the (dare I say it?) musician! At the time, my taste in music was mainly what could be called light classical.

It was therefore surprised when the British forces broadcasting service contacted me to ask whether I would like to present a half-hour programme of music to my taste. I said yes and I spent some time trying to coordinate my tastes with their collection of records, which were 78's, of course. I don't remember all the records that I chose but I do recollect that I started and finished my programme with a single artist, Red Ingle, singing "Cigareets, Whuskey And Wild, Wild Women" and "Serutan Yob". The latter was a pastiche of "Nature's Boy" I don't remember all my other excerpts but they did include Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" and, befitting my military status, "Land of Hope and Glory", music by Elgar.

Thus was the start – and the end – of my career in the mass media!
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Re: Troodos story

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XXI. The beginning of the end…

One fine day in early June, 1953, my name appeared on the daily orders to present myself with full kit the following morning at 08:00, I guessed that this was preparation for my demobilisation. Sure enough, transport was provided to take me to a holding camp in Dhekelia. I stayed there for two days, twiddling my thumbs with orders not to leave. A handful of others from various units from around the island were in a like position. Other than a rollcall parade in the mornings, our time was free and we were able to practice nearly any sport, play a variety of games, listen to BFBS (in evenings) or otherwise keep us occupied. A popular song at that time was "Life Gets Teejus, Don't It" and that was exactly how we felt, stuck in this transit camp. A couple of days or so later, a group of about 30 was transported to Nicosia airport. We found that the word "airport" was not what we imagine. As far as we could see, it's consisted of a wooden shack, in which there were a few tables and chairs and there were no facilities, other than a roof over our heads to keep the weather off our berets. I think there may have been a rudimentary snack bar but I cannot swear to it. Happily, we were soon marched out onto an aircraft, I think a DC3. This was an old and noisy contraption but it took off and flew correctly, as far as an intermediate stop which I think may have been Frankfurt. We stayed on the plane while it was being refuelled and then, in due course, it took off again and we landed in Blighty, at Stansted, in the dark. I think the time from Nicosia to Stansted must have been about nine hours, including the re-fuelling stopover.

There we were in a country that we had not seen for anything from 8 to 15 months, most of us far from home, so what next? We were put on a bus, which dragged 30 weary soldiers to an unnamed railway station. We were put on a train, you know the type, the kind that stops at every lamppost along its route and this was actually a haven because we were able to lounge and get some shut-eye. After two changes, we finally arrived at Newton Abbot station, where we were marshalled onto trucks which took us into a transit station, feeling totally buggered. We were taken to an encampment with wooden huts and informed that we had to be available for rollcall the following morning. Most of us simply flopped onto the mattresses until reveille the following morning.

The morning parade was conducted by an old-fashioned Regimental Sergeant Major with a stentorian voice. He looked us down from head to toe to check that our uniforms were complete and in order. Woe betide tide he who had a beret that was not perfectly square on his head! We were informed that we could be transported into Newton Abbot at 14:00 but those travelling north to home had to be at the railway station at 16:00. We knew that the train to take us north was due to leave at about 17:00 and a group of us, probably half a dozen, arrived at the station at 16:20, to be greeted by the RSM who berated us for being late. He put us on a charge, which meant that our trip north was cancelled. The following morning, this group was hauled before a captain, who awarded us six days of jankers (confined to barracks), which didn't exactly please us. Our task was to cut some long grass on the periphery of the camp. We transported it to stack it along the back of the warrant officer's mess in a drizzle typical of the region, hoping that spontaneous combustion would cause the Sergeant Major's equipment to be burnt to a cinder – no such luck, of course! A week late, we were transported to Newton Abbot railway station again, on time to avoid the wrath of our nemesis.

That evening, at King's Cross station, I was able to board the Night Scotsman, which arrived in Edinburgh at 06:00, the following day. I was able to catch the first tram, number 9, heading to Colinton and I got off it at Firrhill, close to my parents' house. HOME AT LAST! But my story does not end there…
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Re: Troodos story

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Thank you Devil, looking forward to the next installment.
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Devil
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Re: Troodos story

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XXII. The end (nearly of me!)

There I was, happily at home on what was called demob leave until 17 July 1953. Theoretically, on that day, I should have left the army and join the territorials. It didn't happen – why? On the third morning home, I woke up in bed with the most excruciating pain. I could hear the family moving around but I couldn't attract anyone's attention as I felt paralysed and didn't even have the strength to call out. Eventually, someone came into my room and raised the alarm with my family. The latter called the family doctor who came and took a look at me and listened to my chest. Apparently, so I learned later, he claimed that I had not had a heart attack but that there was something serious going on in my chest. He wanted me to go into hospital without delay and offered to take me in his car. I was shoehorned onto the back seat and taken to the Royal Infirmary. At this point, I was apparently admitted, going into and out of consciousness with the pain in my chest. Anyway, when I was able to take any notice of my surroundings, with pericarditis, I found that I was in a ward of about 30 beds, ruled over by a matron who would have made an excellent wife for my erstwhile regimental sergeant major. I was placed on a light diet with instructions to be medicated with sodium salicylate. After a couple of days with this medicine, it made me vomit, so they put me on aspirin tablets. Believe it or not I had to take six of them three times a day, well over the recommended limit. After a few days, I think aspirin must have been coming out of my ears because I became increasingly deaf. This continued for a full month and I do not know how I avoided overdose problems, other than my hearing. In the bed on the left-hand side of me, there was an elderly gentleman who went into a fit about twice a day. On the other side, the patient was kept in a perpetual coma, so life was hardly the acme of gaiety.

However, I had a worry. I was theoretically still in the Army. I had had orders to keep the War Office informed of my movements, so I did just that. I wrote them a letter stating what had happened. Two days later, a second lieutenant from the Royal Army Medical Corps appeared. I think he must have been a pen pusher, rather than a doctor. He had a long chat with the doctor then came to my bedside and said hello, goodbye. So, Signalman Devil was registered doing duty in a civilian hospital, in a state of total boredom. The only break in this boredom was on 9 July 1953, when I came of age, my 21st birthday. My diet was broken to give me a tiny bit of birthday cake that a nurse had brought in – the rest of the ward had the remainder. I'm sure that nobody would want to hear the ward's rendering of "Happy Birthday". After four weeks in this purgatory it was decided that I would be moved from the Royal Infirmary to a specialised hospital for the recovery of long-term patients, the Astley Ainslie hospital, still in Edinburgh.

On arrival, I was given a bed in the corner of a small ward. To my right and to my delight, I had full-size French windows with a good view of a partially floral garden. Opposite me was a bed occupied by a bloke whom I guessed was in his mid 30s and very likeable. To my left, the bed was empty. I was therefore able to relax much better than in the infirmary. At first, I was still bedbound but, after a week or so, a physiotherapist helped me onto my feet after a few days. I was then able to explore the place, inside and out, provided that I kept out of direct sunlight. I soon discovered a well-endowed library, a gym (not for my condition) and, for me, workshops for woodwork and metalwork. The food there wasn't bad, either! The whole place had an ethos of helping the patients get better, as they were all long termers. After some time, the bed next to me was filled by a bloke of roughly the same age as me. Naturally, we struck up a friendship and I taught him how to play chess. After one or two weeks, he beat me hollow at the game; he was a "natural" at chess and I was a dumbbell! In fact, the teacher learnt from the student! One of the delights that I found was in occupational therapy, fairly new in the 1950s. My first effort was to make a couple of crude wooden toys but I then moved on to metalwork. I made a couple of bookends in beaten copper; they looked quite professional other than the colour of the solder joints. When I left the hospital, I wanted to take them with me but was met with a big No-no.

When I was discharged from the hospital, I was given a reasonably good bill of health and started to take up where I left off. I had written to five or six prospective employers, looking for a job. I wrote to them again and received two replies from companies in Ealing and Cambridge. The one in Ealing offered me a salary of £380 and rather unpleasant working conditions, developing television camera tubes. The Cambridge one offered me work in the telecommunications industry for £416, with easier lodging.

I moved to Cambridge while still theoretically in the army. Whitehall extended my pay as signalman Radio Mechanic class II for a couple of weeks or so but I did continue to receive a small disability pension. This lasted for another couple of years or so. My uniforms and other equipment were still in the attic of my parent's house in Edinburgh. One day, in the following year, I received a letter from the War Office saying that I should report with my kit to hand it in definitively in Edinburgh – this was my last action in the British Army!
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Re: Troodos story

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I hope you continue to tell us of your experiences Devil
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Re: Troodos story

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In light of the sad news of Devil's passing, I am bumping this so that people can remember his final article.
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