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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Monday 20 March 2023

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus

 This is Lawrence Durrell's story of his time in Cyprus before and during the early days of the EOKA campaign during 1953-56. A bit of background reading for my next book project.

Durrell's most famous work is The Alexandria Quartet of novels, but for military buffs, he is probably better known for his escape from Corfu, via Crete, after the fall of Greece. He was in Rhodes at Liberation and later served in the British Embassy in Yugoslavia. He was not a big fan of Yugoslavia, which is reflected in his spy thriller, White Eagles Over Serbia. Despite his service with the Foreign Office and being regarded as one of the finest British writers of his generation, he fell foul of British immigration law and was refused citizenship because he was born in India. Very topical!

He arrived in Cyrus, staying in Kyrenia (Girne today in Northern Cyprus) and then the village of Bellapaix. The ruined Abbey that dominates the village was the scene of fierce fighting in 1974. He describes the Abbey, a stunning site in the mountains that dominate that coastline. As well as life in a sleepy, predominantly Greek village. Most of his friends and contacts are Greek, which is unsurprising given how many years he had lived on Greek islands. You could describe this as a travel book as he describes other sites on the coast, including the magnificent St. Hilarion Castle. 

My picture of the castle on a recent visit

He later took a job with the British colonial headquarters as a press officer when Greek support on the island for Enosis with Greece was building, not least because of a virulent propaganda campaign by the Greek government. It hadn't at this stage turned into a terrorist/liberation campaign against the British, but he can see how attitudes are changing, at least in urban areas. Something his colonial colleagues seemed impervious to. The somewhat vague promised constitution was described by an anglophile Greek as 'something for the Zulus'. Attitudes were not far removed from the British 1887 guide that described Cypriots as 'an indolent, careless mimetic people, but without a spark of Turkish fire, without a touch of Grecian taste.'

As the EOKA terror campaign begins, Durrell describes the downward spiral to chaos, not only in attacks against the British but also against Greek 'traitors' and increasingly against the Turkish minority. The two communities may have been largely segregated but rubbed along without violence. Durrel witnessed the various fruitless attempts to reach a negotiated solution during this pre-independence period. 

He eventually decided it was time to leave. 'I was, I realised, very tired after this two years' spell as a servant of the Crown; and I had achieved nothing. It was good to be leaving.'

Probably not a book for military buffs, but if you want an elegant description of Cyprus during this period, this is pretty good.

1 comment:

  1. That was an interesting review. Sometimes, sadly, as with many conflicts the opponents are so entrenched in “what they want” that there’s little room for compromise.