In Search of Yesterday – Recollections of the Black Watch in Cyprus 1958 to 1960


The first Battalion Black Watch left Edinburgh by prepare one night, maybe in October of 1958. We wore drill order which consisted of kilt and TOS and so forth. We all the time travelled in kilts in these days. It is such a very long time in the past that I overlook which port we embarked from. I think about it was Portsmouth. Definitely within the south of England. We spent about twelve days on a really outdated sluggish transferring troopship to get to Cyprus. There have been quick stops at Gibraltar and Malta the place I went ashore. Gown was trews and blue bonnets. Many of the day was spent in bars consuming. No vacationer sort sightseeing. Just a few days later the entire battalion was paraded for inspection to see that we had picked up no social illnesses. The journey by means of the Med was not disagreeable. Not a lot to do. Quite a lot of mendacity round being lazy. Quite overcrowded residing quarters. The trick was to rise up and wash and shave earlier than everybody else.

Once we arrived off Limassol we disembarked onto lighters which took us ashore. Wearing drill order, kilt and TOS, we have been greeted by a pipe band of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. We then bought on buses of all issues and have been taken to our camp at Polis which was within the North West nook of the island.

Life in camp. That winter we lived in eight man tents. Someplace within the camp was a primitive bathe which I might need visited a few times. We washed and shaved out of mess tins. I keep in mind I purchased a small burner to warmth my water. After I’d completed, the identical water went across the tent. I then ate out of the identical tin. I additionally purchased a conveyable radio. I believe everybody else was Nationwide Service and due to this fact broke. I do know my pay after I began was about three kilos per week. After I completed it was simply over 5 kilos. We have been paid in money each Friday, though once we have been on operations or out of camp it was held over, however cigarettes and razor blades have been handed out free. Typically we bought a rum ration once we have been within the hills. The opposite Nationwide Servicemen bought about thirty bob per week with a ten shilling marriage allowance for these with wives and there have been many. They married at eighteen or nineteen in these days.I used to be within the alerts platoon. Within the subsequent strains have been the regimental band and the pipes and drums. We nonetheless had two bands in these days. As we labored across the clock we regularly needed to make amends for sleep in the course of the day to the candy lullabies of the bandsmen working towards on their devices.

The regiment having an extended affiliation with India, once we arrived in Cyprus we have been joined by the regimental caterers from the colonial days, Gulam Nhabi. This very enterprising gentleman arrange store. His workers would do the rounds of the tents within the morning at reveille with buns and tea. I detested tea nevertheless it meant we did not should go off to breakfast. Later working within the hills one would typically discover oneself dying of thirst, forbidden to make use of one’s water bottle, and out of nowhere would seem a cha walla with a tea urn on his again; Gunga Din be praised.

I can keep in mind switching on the sunshine at evening and seeing the ground thick with cockroaches which should have been residing beneath the wood ground boards. In that winter the camp was thick with mud. I suffered from horrible constipation. The sector latrines took some getting used to. One officer dropped his revolver down one and needed to fish it out himself.

On evening obligation we’d take a blanket alongside and doubtless nod off more often than not. The officers or sergeants on obligation by no means appeared to hassle us. Radio transmission was poor to nonexistent. Having simply arrived in camp I discovered myself on obligation the next morning, my first day in Cyprus. A message got here in from brigade to ship in our sitrep. I might by no means heard the time period earlier than. There was a sure confusion over radio procedures. Our fundamental intercompany radio was the Mark 19 set if I recollect. It had seen higher days with the eighth military in North Africa. If all else failed a hefty boot in its facet usually set it to rights. The rifle battalions switched from the .303 to the Belgian FN on arriving. The HQ Firm nonetheless stored their outdated and trusty Lee Enfield’s. A stunning rifle that I all the time keep in mind with nostalgia.

Patrols would have a bren-gunner within the open turret of the three quarter ton truck. He would put on a flak jacket. No person else ever wore one. None have been issued in any case. We had helmets however they have been by no means worn. That winter costume was very relaxed and there was nearly no bull. No parades both. No parade floor. If there was an alert at evening one would exit with the emergency patrol. One firm was all the time on standby. Others have been posted to outlying stations. That New Years Eve or Hogmany most individuals bought quite drunk. The stand by firm was stored sober. The drivers and signalers weren’t billeted with them nonetheless and it’s uncertain if the drivers might have navigated the gates. One in every of our signalers was introduced within the subsequent morning on a stretcher from an outlying put up, rigor mortis not fairly having set in. The regimental band performed airs appropriate for the event.

There was to be an operation within the Troodos Mountains; Mare’s Nest it was referred to as. The primary assault was to be despatched in by helicopter. Someday we have been instantly ordered to placed on full equipment with rifles and to report back to the air strip for coaching. A light-weight spotter airplane would fly over this now and again and drop our mail out. A helicopter arrived. We bought in, have been taken for a spin, a rope was thrown out, we have been ordered to climb down. Just one damaged leg. We have been then totally skilled.

On the precise day of the operation the helicopters have been despatched in. They have been to be adopted the subsequent morning by lorry born infantry. It was too windy to land the troops, aside from one luckless fellow who had been the primary to descend, with out his rifle. He spent an evening on the mountain earlier than being relieved the subsequent morning. Promoted to lance-corporal.

We went up by highway. I used to be within the alerts van. It bought caught someplace. That evening a corporal and I needed to spend the evening guarding it. Very lonely. I used to be solely nineteen on the time. I spent a number of days at our base camp. Very small. I might bought maintain of some espresso so was capable of brew my very own. Detesting tea this was a godsend. It was very troublesome for me to perform in a nation of tea drinkers. The meals appeared to encompass mutton scotch fashion. There have been C rations or was it Okay. I can by no means keep in mind which have been British and which have been American. Russian salad, corned beef, bars of chocolate. All excellent. I can keep in mind deciding to get a shower. There was a mountain stream 100 yards from the camp so I went off to it and swam round on this freezing water for some time. I should have been robust in these days. I by no means wore socks both. The sergeant had instructed me at some point a 12 months earlier than to both darn my socks or not put on any. Being cussedly cussed I might stopped carrying them. Our highland hose did not have any toes on them both so it appeared logical. Arriving again in camp I spotted I might left my rifle by the stream. A type of moments of panic. Fortunately I used to be capable of pay money for it earlier than there was an issue. One fellow in our platoon had dropped a single spherical of .303 on the bottom on descending from a truck after an operation and never seen it. He was placed on a cost and misplaced thirty days pay. One other fellow in a rifle firm had misplaced a bayonet scabbard, not the bayonet, and there was a courtroom of inquiry. When a bren gun had been misplaced by some anonymous regiment two battalions have been turned out to seek for it.

The Suffolk Regiment had a small base camp subsequent to ours. This was in a small vale excessive up within the Troodos Mountains. A corporal put his hand into his tent to select up his Sterling sub-machine gun. The set off caught in a man rope and he shot himself by means of the chest. Our medical officer tried to avoid wasting him however he died. An organization had been provided with donkeys for provide functions. At different instances plane would fly over dropping us provides.

I went to hitch Don Firm. From there I went to an outpost which consisted of a corporal, two privates and me as radio operator. We have been on their own on our personal commentary put up removed from everybody. The best place to soldier in. We had a small Australian radio which fitted onto the belt. It used Morse, so I spent lots of my time there speaking in Morse with our HQ. One evening there was a horrible storm. The wind howled by means of the mountains, the thunder crashed like cannon, the lightning flashed. We solely had two small two man tents. I can keep in mind being on guard obligation after midnight. Underneath a tree, bayonet mounted, a spherical within the chamber, security catch off, I might have shot something that appeared. Who had ever heard of precautions to take throughout a storm?

Someday later two privates in a rifle firm had irritated the colonel. The incident had taken place in our fundamental battalion base however he had them introduced as much as him someplace within the mud of the Troodos. They needed to seem i n full overview order, kilt, white spats and sporran and all. They each bought fourteen days.

Within the spring we moved as much as relieve the Royal Welsh Fusiliers at Xeros. I used to be within the advance social gathering. It was all the time agreeable to be indifferent from the regiment. There have been some Royal Alerts on this base who wore civilian garments. When the battalion arrived, our RSM, Patterson by title and an enormous of a person, almost went by means of the roof. I might all the time felt that when he roared even the gods of their heavens trembled. There have been to be no civilian garments in his camp. We have been nonetheless in tents, however there was a parade floor so we wore khaki drill and began to look good once more. I’ve images of us in overview order, kilts and blue bonnets, white spats and sporrans and so forth.

The close by village was Turkish, was it referred to as Lefka? Often we have been allowed on the market. Trews and blue bonnets. The native cash was piastres. The beer was unhealthy, the wine worse, however each very low cost. We had not had an actual break for six months so it was determined to allow us to go to Nicosia, an organization at a time. I used to be not with the primary firm. The commander of the Army Police in Nicosia mentioned afterwards that he had by no means seen a lot harm performed by a single firm in all his years of service. Nicely, the Black Watch had a popularity to take care of.

I used to be indifferent to a put up in some Greek city. This was within the interval main as much as independence. The Greeks paraded previous our put up with flags flying calling for independence. I can not keep in mind a lot about that interval because the politics of the state of affairs didn’t actually concern me. When my mom died 5 years in the past and we have been clearing out her issues I discovered my two outdated copies of Bitter Lemons, by Lawrence Durrell, and Grivas and the story of EOKA by W. Byford Jones, and though I most likely learn these after the occasions involved I might probably not have been with out curiosity. At Polis we had had an interpreter. He was a pupil of Greek at Glasgow College and largely sympathized with them. The Black Watch have been very Gung Ho and could not actually give a rattling for Greek Cypriot sensitivities. If I keep in mind the Gordons had had 5 males burnt to dying in a single operation. The Argylls had quite terminally tousled some captured Cypriot suspects after two British ladies had been gunned down. We have been fairly pleasant with the Turks whom we thought-about stout fellows though one in all them unintentionally discharged his shot gun into the abdomen of one in all our fellows at some point. One other non-public misplaced his eye on parade while unfixing bayonets with the brand new FNs. As traditional accidents have been much more widespread than battlefield casualties.

Maybe our behavior of transferring right into a church to look it and the bren gunner inserting his machine gun on the pulpit to cowl the worshippers was overly aggressive. When out we’d assist ourselves to no matter fruit we discovered. One evening we had an accident and slept the place it had occurred. Within the morning we discovered ourselves in a water melon subject in order that took care of breakfast. I can keep in mind taking my rifle and going by means of orchards serving to myself to oranges. An order went out to the motor platoon to attempt to cease driving over so many animals. I believe there was a contest amongst the drivers to see who had the very best kill price in a month. It should appear unusual as we speak that in my three years within the military I can not recollect ever seeing a tank. The battalion was outfitted with two armoured autos, a Ferret and a Dingo.

And as for Archbishop Makarios and Grivas or was it Dighenis. They have been for generals and politicians to fret about, not the rank and file.

Because the state of affairs grew to become extra peaceable the battalion created its personal seaside the place one might keep in a single day, get reasonably drunk and spend the day swimming and solar bathing. No swim fits or something. No ladies both. In my three years other than seeing no tanks I can not recollect ever seeing a feminine soldier. Had been they referred to as WRACs or one thing? In camp we started the day at 5 o’clock and completed at lunch time. One was capable of take go away. I spent a month in Turkey and the Aegean. The Turks have been very pleasant, the Greeks lukewarm. In Cyprus there was no fraternization with the native inhabitants in any respect. I used to be there eighteen months and in all that point by no means spoke to 1 feminine. After I was on go away I did fall head over heels in love with e stunning Armenian in Istanbul however she was chaperoned and I might by no means be alone along with her. In Khios within the Aegean I discovered a Greek lady from Egypt. Chaperoned additionally. By no means alone both.

In the direction of the top of 1959 the battalion moved right down to the brand new British enclave of Dhekelia within the South East of the island. This had a model new barracks in it with all of the regimental bull that went with it. The outdated colonel and RSM had moved on to different postings, the troubles have been over and it was roughly a return to routine garrison life. There was a driving college close by which meant I might take up one in all my passions once more. I keep in mind one incident. A gaggle of us have been out driving and we might began a quite wild gallop. My horse pulled forward which was nice by me. Then I noticed a really broad ditch forward and determined it was too large to leap so tried to tug the horse up; besides that I not had it below management and could not so I assumed what the heck we’ll have to leap it. On the final second the horse noticed it and dug his hoofs in and got here to a sudden halt. I went flying over his head, cleared the ditch, did a parachute roll on the opposite facet and got here up on my toes with no damaged neck. I then tried to remount however the horse was very nervous and my knees none too regular. The Second in Command of the battalion, an outdated 2nd Battalion India military man rode up and mentioned the rattling idiot (me) cannot mount.

Authority and I by no means actually bought on. I used to be far too unbiased. So a personal I remained. One in every of my finest mates was a corporal. Ian Holden by title. He’d been despatched down from Saint Andrews College as a result of he’d been too good to hassle to review. He grew to become a corporal which I ought to have performed additionally, however that will have meant conforming which I used to be too unbiased to do. We frequently went out collectively which was frowned on. Nevertheless he was all the time in hassle as a result of we used Christian names with one another. It was completely detrimental to the upkeep of fine conduct and navy order that such issues ought to occur. There’s a most pleasant passage about that in Robert Graves’ “Goodbye to all that”. His e book in fact refers to The Royal Welsh Fusiliers within the First World Battle.

Lord Mountbatten got here by and a Guard of Honour in full costume turned out for him. As I’m typing this I discover my pc queries the spelling of honour. I as soon as wrote to the Occasions about their spelling of that phrase. That they had used the American type of Honor Guard. They mentioned it was all the identical these days. I disagree. I used to be a part of the outdated military. I used to be a 3 12 months volunteer. Greater than half the individuals within the battalion have been Nationwide Service males. We nonetheless had church parades. We have been woken up on the fifteenth of every month by the Pipes and Drums enjoying The Crimean Lengthy Reveille. Drum Main Expensive was one of many best males I knew together with RSM Patterson and our firm CSM whom I solely keep in mind by the title of Gobby however who had received an MM in Normandy. There was additionally my platoon commander, Captain McMicking, who went on to command the battalion. He was all the time very first rate to me and I used to be likely a trial for him.

In 1960 I went again to the depot in Perth Scotland to be demobbed. Once more a sluggish journey by sea. Maybe the identical ship. I stored a bottle of whisky in my bunk to assist cross the time. When it was completed I put a word in it and threw it overboard. Some months later a lady wrote to me within the Bahamas which was then my dwelling however I by no means answered. Life had moved on. Now trying again after half a century one will get nostalgic for the previous, however the previous is not there. Previous mates have died off. The Black Watch which was raised in 1739 and will hint its roots again to 1725 has disappeared. The highland regiments, all of the Scottish regiments for that matter have been amalgamated out of existence. So have the outdated Irish, Welsh and English regiments for that matter. They solely exist in historical past books and the reminiscences of outdated troopers.


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