10: THE NETHERLANDS
11: BACK TO GERMANY
18: CYPRUS WIND DOWN
22: MEXICO Y ESPANA
UN PEACKEEPING DUTY CYPRUS
I was fortunate to have spent 8 months in Cyprus with the UN Peace Keeping Force . It was originally a 6 month tour of duty; but, a year before I was transferred the Dental Officer with the contingent had brought his wife over for the tour. This was not permitted so he was sent home after four months and the dental “rotation” was out of sync with the contingent. I arrived when the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry were two months from their tour end. They were succeeded by le Royale 22e Regiment, called the Van Doos, a corruption of Vingt Deux, French for 22. They are a French Canadian Regiment. It was noticed by the powers that be that a French speaking dentist was a requirement . So I ended the tour with the Van Doos. A full eight months compared to the usual six.
HISTORY OF CYPRUS:
FROM WIKIPEDIA: In 1878, as the result of the Cyprus Convention, the United Kingdom took over the government of Cyprus as a protectorate from the Ottoman Empire. In 1914, at the beginning of World War I, Cyprus was annexed by the United Kingdom. In 1925, following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Cyprus was made a Crown Colony. Between 1955-59 EOKA was created by Greek Cypriots and led by George Grivas . Their stated goal was to perform Enosis (union of the island with Greece). However the EOKA campaign did not result union with Greece but rather an independent republic, The Republic of Cyprus, in 1960
THE UNITED NATIONS FORCE IN CYPRUS (UNFICYP)
It was an edifying briefing and one that was new to me in concept; but, one which I feel was an eye-opener. I feel I matured politically or at least I saw international politics as they pertained to our role in an expanded light. He ended by telling us the real peace keeping force was not the UN Force but the Turkish Air Force 40minutes away. Again, all very focusing. That is not to say our role was futile, in fact B Gen Leslie emphasized that the better we performed our duties the less likely a worst case scenario would unfold.
My role was as the Canadian Contingent Dental Officer. We had a nice clinic set up, there was the operatory where dental treatment was rendered and a dental laboratory where a technician could make dentures, repair dentures and cast crowns ( Caps) . There was an assistant and a laboratory technician both of Sgt rank. The clinic and the lab were air conditioned. In fact in the UN Force , at least at our support company base, there were only 3 air conditioned offices. B Gen Leslie's and ours. It was 45 C about 110 f when I arrived so air conditioning was really a rare luxury. The lab tech and the dental assistant both lived in small side rooms off the clinic and lab…the rest of us sweltered . :) Our clinic set up was great and I had excellent staff and we set about to ensure that we were able to both provide good dental care and to make sure that the Royal Canadian Dental Corps preventive program was implemented. In the late 1960’s Lt. Col. Chatwin was the architect behind establishing a dental care program that focused on prevention. The goal was to make military personnel ready for duty free of dental concerns and maintaining them at this level. It was a pioneer program that Military Dental Branches around the world sought out for consultation and implementation . It was a proud feeling to be a part of it.
All in all I was in my glory with this international blend. There were a number of “official” affairs where various continents met for national holidays, sport events or for Medals Parades, where people on UN duty were awarded their UN service medals.
One story I was told might initially offend some so please read it through and remember customs may be different in other parts of the world. I was told how, at the beginning of the UN presence a major task was limiting such things as the number of sand bags at critical or sensitive areas, where the two communities intersected. At one point in Nicosia there was a constant back and forth between the UN force and locals. One Canadian officer was getting particularly annoyed as every day there were complaints from one side or the other about the unapproved number of sand bags being put up at the barrier. One day he and his men showed up and local women were putting up the bags while the men sat drinking coffee in a nearby outdoor café. The local men were having a bit of a laugh as the Canadian officer faced a minor dilemma. But, in a great example of lateral thinking the officer went to a woman and told her to dismantle the barrier she was putting up. The local men had a laugh as the woman just turned and made a mocking comment. The officer went up to the woman and slapped her face then he went over to the men and told them to remove the sand bags. They immediately snapped to it and got up to remove the bags. The point is that in our culture such an action would be condemned. But, in the local setting it was a sign that the UN Officer meant business. And the bottom line was that a perhaps a more serious problem was averted. This is a major positive in a possible war zone. Again one has to look at the bottom line. Such incidents could get out of hand in an area where tensions were long standing, as in centuries long. The Officer in fact did the right thing.
It was interesting visiting with other contingents, as they too were often involved in what could be seen as petty disputes..... but to the Cypriots, a minor problem in our eyes could be interpreted by them, as a deep insult or worse. The UN Police were particularly busy with day to day problems. A minor incident such as a traffic infraction often was given more emphasis than was really proportional to the event. At that time the Turkish area was a “wedge” , geographically, between parts of the Greek area. Today, Cyprus is divided into North Turkish, and the South Greek. During my posting, Greeks were not able to just wander into the Turkish area. They had to cross a border to drive through to the North shore. I recall stopping with an Australian friend for a coffee in a small Turkish town when a UN escorted convoy of Greek cars drove by. Some Turks gathered by the road and spent a few minutes deriding the passing Greeks. UN Personnel could cross with no problem, but it was unsettling to see such difficult procedures involving locals on a small island.
An emotional event transpired when one of the Australian police officers died in a traffic accident. The funeral mass was held at the small church at Camp Blue Beret. He was only about 27, as I recall. It hit home that this was in fact a mission that could go sadly wrong, for whatever reason. This young man died so far from home in the service of Peace. Catholic Padre Hassett held a moving military ceremony. As the coffin was borne out of the church we spontaneously formed two rows along the walkway and as the coffin passed we each saluted in turn. It was a heartfelt and emotional gesture. Father Tom later told me he was also moved by the spontaneity of this.
I had an opportunity to visit the Austrian field hospital. It was a compact; but, well appointed health centre and it was encouraging to see it was available should the need arise. I spent a bit of time with their dentist and was able to discuss some treatment modalities. He had been practicing over 10 years so it was a professional learning experience for me. Later around Christmas the Austrians held a Christmas party. It was a rather formal event but it was again an interesting view of another culture. I guess Canadians would be downing a few ale and singing raucous Christmas carols, this event had a fellow playing some Straus on a violin. I had a flash back to my time in Switzerland where I felt a tad less sophisticated than the Europeans ☺
A week before Christmas I went to the Post Office building in down town Nicosia , where overseas telephone communications originated. I put in a request for a line to Canada. In this day of cell phones, Skype and satellite communications this may seem unusual to those not aware of how it once was. But, I had to wait 20 minutes for a line. I believe the telephones calls went via microwave to Turkey and across Europe either by land line or microwave to England. There they went by undersea cable to North America. When the call went through and my parents answered I was thrilled to hear how very clear it was. In fact I could hear my mother coming down the hall asking who was calling. It was 7:30 AM in Montreal. We had a great conversation. I know they were worried; but, I assured them all was well. A few months later a man who was a Ford Dealer ( Dad worked for Ford Canada) came over on a trip. He also owned a TV station in Canada. My dad had asked him to look me up. That evening there was a social event on at our mess and I had a BOAC flight attendant as a date. She was attractive and had on a low cut dress . A friend said someone, who knows you father, wants to meet you. I went over and as his eyes bulged out when he saw my date he said. "Your dad was concerned about you, I guess there is nothing to worry about " ☺ Later in March my brother called a day after my Birthday, March 26, again, a clear call. He called the day after my birthday as he had been forced to abandon his car is a very big late winter snow storm in Montreal. I had to admit to him that I already had a midsummer tan due to the climate of Cyprus ☺ . I had made a “tanning” area behind the clinic. We knew less about skin cancer then sadly. It was a 4 walled low area with a lounge seat. The walls were covered with tin foil. On one occasion a friend went in and took off all his clothes and fell asleep. Let’s just say he was tanned where the sun don’t go ,and nearby environs ☺ .
Now and then I would go on a jeep tour of the observation posts to visit the lads who were at the “sharp end”. I had initially started to do this just to familiarize myself with what lay beyond my somewhat restricted confines at the support base. A few positive comments were made that made me feel that it was a good morale booster. Some of the troops liked the fact that we, at the dental clinic ,did go beyond our mandate to take in what was being done. Christmas Eve was a memorable time. The junior ranks, Privates and Corporals, had a Midnight Mass and a party afterwards. In order to free them from duty the Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (Senior NCO’s) and Officers took over their duties at such tasks as the switch board and at the observation posts. I was a bit surprised that there was such a pleasant feedback from the Regiment when all of us in the clinic volunteered . I was given a briefing and a review of the 9 mm pistol. The magazine had 5 rounds, the dark joke was that 2 were for the Greeks, 2 for the Turks and the last one was for oneself
I manned the switch board from 10 PM till Midnight. . I was then picked up and driven to an observation post. Years before an officer had drawn a line denoting the Greek and Turkish sections. He used a green pencil, hence the demarcation was called the Green Line. There was an extension of this line called the Red Line where I was assigned. It apparently was a quiet post, so not to worry. I had expected bells to chime out from the Greek Church at Midnight, then I realized that they celebrate the Orthodox Christmas Jan 7 . I was alone at the post and I did have a nice feeling of Christmas’s past with my lovely parents and brother. The padre came by after mass as did the commanding officer. Nice gesture and they even had a small tot of whiskey for us. At 2 AM a Van Doo Officer came by to relieve me. He told me he was to be on duty at 6 Am so I did the right thing and told him to let me finish the shift. So I was on till about 8 AM. A tad tired but I had a real feeling of having participated in “The front lines’.
After the Christmas duty finished I got a lift back to our Support camp in a jeep. I had not slept since 7 AM the previous day so I felt a bit of a nap was in order. I am a multi-tasker so I went over to the base shower and bath facilities. They had old porcelain tubs on legs. I assumed they were of British origin as our camp had apparently been an RAF camp when Cyprus was a British colony. I filled the tub, got in and proceeded to have a great 2 hour nap. After my nap I hitched a ride with a British officer to our main Officers’ Mess in Nicosia. There the Van Doos were hosting a champagne breakfast. Several of our British lady friends had been invited. As a single lad I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised at the fact that dating was in fact a viable option. Several of the British gals were teachers on the two British Sovereign bases in Cyprus, Akrotiri and Dhekelia. As well a couple worked in Nicosia at the UK Embassy and in hospitals. Over the years a couple of the Canadian officers married British women they met in Cyprus. In fact the dentist who took over from me met a wonderful Scots Lass and they now live a happy life in British Columbia.
I had grown to love Cyprus. It was an historic land filled with beauty and history. The UN presence did keep a lid on things till 1974. During my stay I ventured to both sides of Nicosia freely. Little shops would always welcome me as a guest. We did not get into political conversations, a pattern that all sides observed with decorum and politeness. But, I could not help but feel a deep sense of sorrow that people were , like so many conflicts, the victims of petty politics. I used to go to the Turkish side to have handmade shoes custom made. I always thought it was special to get items which were crafted by local people. I still have several pairs of those boots I bought at the Paris shoe shop. The owner was a Turkish man of about 65 years old. The routine was: the first day they would measure and outline your foot and measure your instep. The second visit they would fit the top of the shoe or boot and place the sole and outline it. On a third visit the shoe would be delivered. The inside of their shoes were a soft leather lining, authentic old world craftsmanship. On one occasion I went in for the second fitting and the owner told me they soles were not ready. It was a first and I asked why. “It was a Greek Holiday last week and my Greek friend makes the soles”. I was floored.... totally taken aback. Two older men had been friends since they were children and still managed to work together. My initial thought was to let these men work out the Island’s problems. What a sad moment as I again reflected on the fact that it is not the ordinary people who have a say; but, isolated politicians. My mind went back temporarily to Nurnberg and the site of the rallies. I also had a few jackets made at a tailor on the Turkish side . He had two girls who worked in his shop. The first day they all sat me down to talk. They never rushed business, they gave me a Turkish Coffee ( Called Greek Coffee on the other side ☺) . It was a small demi-tasse . The coffee was brewed in a pot with all the ingredients in the water. So each demi-tasse had fine coffee grinds near the bottom. I had a sweet version which was tasty. I sipped slowly then took a deep sip near the end and got a mouthful of fine grinds. Apparently most new comers in the UN did this . All in good fun. A few months later the two girls told me they were getting marrried. I replied that since they were Muslim who was the lucky man. They got a good chuckle out of this. The Turks in Cyprus and Turkey are quite Westernized , or were when I was there so there were no tensions that can be felt in some areas of the Levant today.
UN SOCIAL LIFE
I attended many UN social events. I guess it is fair to say they were a lot of fun. Liquor was duty free and all contingents seemed to follow the axiom that we worked hard and played hard. At times my off duty time was like a fraternity. When one writes in a two dimensional medium such as the pages of a book, an outside monitor might read a bit of frivolity into some of the stories so I won’t go into too may details. The Van Doos used to say “Ceci est en famille” This is in the family. In other words some things are kept to ourselves. I would have to state that I enjoyed myself more than most ; so if I do kind of talk about a few party incidents remember I am not pointing fingers…because when you point three fingers are pointing back at you.
To be honest alcohol was duty free and a lot of parties did present an almost unavoidable opportunity to over indulge. When I left Cyprus I did have a short introspection of whether I might have become a bit of an over indulger. But when I got back to Canada I recall having a case of beer in the fridge for weeks without touching it. A worthwhile introspection though as I have known several people including relatives who had alcohol related problems.
I found it intriguing to see the different national proclivities, as it were. I had heard of the class system in Britain; but, I can assume most emigrants from the UK to Canada did so leaving that behind. At one mess dinner I was introduced to several Royal Hussars Officers. It was considered a regiment to which one was recommended. In other words Joe off the street could not become an officer. At least that was the story I was told by an Australian . More on the Aussie / Brit rivalry later. At the dinner I was next to a fellow from a rather wealthy background. I won’t repeat his name out of respect for his privacy. I had just arrived a few weeks earlier and was quite convinced this was going to be a great posting . He told me he was leaving in a week. I asked if he was going to miss Cyprus. “Well no it is the horse season back home and all”. Now here comes the old hayseed Canadian, I replied , “Oh do you own a horse”. I didn’t sense a put down but I couldn't blame him . He replied “Yes I have several really “ man I still find that funny….’DO YOU OWN A HORSE?” . Not hard to spot the colonial
The Hussars had two Royals who served in Cyprus separately. I never met them; but, a few of our officers did meet both the Prince and Duke of Kent. On one occasion; before I arrived, a few of the lads were invited to the British Officers’ mess at Blue Beret Camp and several Hussars officers were present. Most had some sort of title. I wasn’t there so I won’t venture a guess as to which titles. One fellow was asked what his title was and he said , “I do not have a title actually ”. One of our lads retorted, “Of course you do you are the Duke of Sweet Fuck All” . Not dinner conversation material but kind of a social comment which I have told many a time..and if you are reading this it still is being told ☺
I had the honour of being invited to the Irish contingent for St Patrick’s day party. Normally 5 invitations per contingent were sent out; but, I was a good friend with the Irish contingent MD. He had trained in French, in Switzerland and I introduced him to the Canadian Officers’ mess. I gave him French Canadian lessons and he fit in quickly . The evening was somewhat sedate to start with. I quickly realized there was a slight but palpable tension in the air between the Irish officers and the British officers of the Royal Hussars. I found it a small study in international interactions, in a quasi-political science mode. The Irish and British officers were over polite with each other, which I found intriguing. One had to be aware of and understand the not too distant history of conflict between their peoples. I could almost say I had on a double UN Blue beret that evening ☺ . I had no preconceived prejudices or opinions so I was able to just observe some of the tensions. Nothing untoward occurred ;but, one could sense the slight tension. The British officers bid their adieu early and the party then really began. The Irish and French Canadians are both cut from the same cloth when it comes to having a good time. A lot of the fun was frivolous; but, very much positive as far as I am concerned…Did I mention my Irish <Orange and Green> / French Canadian genes ☺ ? I loved it.
As a single lad the social scene was also pretty good. I was able to date women from Germany, Britain and even a Canadian nurse. But , the Swedish "flickas" threw up a barrier when we spoke with them. Someone said you had to be introduced to them to get a date. I again found this to be the case in travels to Spain, particularly Majorca, where many Swedes holidayed. As I have mentioned a couple of the officers during my tour married British women they had met. One was the dentist who succeeded me, another ironically had been our Catholic Padre. He was a fine person with a really caring manner. But, he could not abide by the tenets that forbad priests from marrying. He became a counselor in the Forces and is the proud father of 5 children.
As a single lad my social activities were something out of a Club Med scene. We wore our uniforms whenever we were off the base. This was an era of the Vietnam War and in some circles a military uniform was anathema. But, in Cyprus it was..well shall we say a ‘babe magnet’. Most of the year it was warm and we wore shorts. It is an interesting irony that when I arrived I did not have shorts as part of my “kit”. So a fellow gave me a pair, as he was being transferred back to Canada in a few weeks. He was 5’10” ( 1.77 metres) and I am 6’3” or around 1.92 metres. I never wore shorts before that time so it never occurred to me that they looked more like a version of short shorts than a military uniform. As I mentioned I was somewhat inexperienced socially as I had been going with one gal for over 6 years, till I was shown the curb. So I naively had no idea that I was a bit of a sex object to some female eyes…oh the horrors . As I said there are some 6 billion of us running about the planet so I have not gone into the old mating game routine; but, suffice it to say I had a great time socially. It never occurred to me at the time, but while I found dating European women exciting I think they found a Canadian was a bit of a nice change.
The officers’ mess ( Our private club as it were) was the centre of many of our social activities. I recall one time going into Nicosia to our mess and I had just been given a raise. The word spread so the treat was on me. There were 12 Van Doo officers at the bar and I bought a round. I put down a one pound Cypriot bill, worth about $2.50 at the time and I got half back in change. It was hard not to enjoy the local flavour as it were. It was about 10 cents a drink.
Restaurants were amazing. Part of the experience for me was learning about new foods. Today many ‘exotic’ restaurants are to be found throughout Canada; but, then it was less common. Steak and fries was my exotic date cuisine in Montréal. The fine quality and variety abounded throughout the Island and Nicosia was the centre of the culinary experience. Some restaurants were equal to the best I had experienced before or since in Canada. One in particular was the Cosmopolitan Club. We of course wore our uniforms and with a name tag we were always addressed by name. Not a major thing; but, the way they did it seemed personal and warm. I was introduced to a fare of escargots, local steaks which were cooked to perfection, and the mezé. This was a variety of small dishes. Usually smaller less sophisticated venues held mezés. The meal, or should I say feast, started with a variety of salads from cucumbers in local yogurt , various leafy dishes with a variety of intriguing sauces and a plentiful supply of bread and buns baked in the restaurant. The latter always pleased me as I am the grandson of a small town, Ontario baker. Then the ‘main’ courses would come . Spare ribs, chicken, cutlets and something called sweetbreads. I made the mistake of asking what they were… heart , brain and even sheep testicles. The latter kind of caused a spontaneous clamping of the lags from all present. We would usually go in a group to mezé .
There were also a number of excellent smaller venues where we went more on dates rather than as a group of guys. On one occasion a friend and I had a nice before dinner martini, then a dozen escargot prepared to perfection. Our main course was accompanied by a local red wine. The Cypriot wine was not the caliber of a French vintage; but, my palate never was trained so I loved it . The main course was an exquisite filet mignon, which was as fine a steak as I have ever tasted. A nice salad and potatoes filled out the main course, with the customary fresh warmed buns. For desert we had a nice local ice cream accented by an Irish coffee. Now this was a few years ago..but..the total cost was the equivalent of $7 Canadian for the two of us, about three Cypriot pounds. Not only was I experiencing and learning about fine cuisine; but, I was not breaking the bank . Cyprus is now very expensive from what I have been told. So my timing was perfect ☺
I should point out that all was not just eating and drinking. I met some great people in the UN Force, many of whom I still contact. One was then Captain Lewis Mackenzie. I am not in contact with him often; but when we meet it is always with a few memories of Cyprus and some of the people we served with. Lewis went on to become a Major General and is best known for his fine work in Sarajevo. As a Captain in Cyprus he impressed me as an officer who had the support and respect of his troops. This is a trait I feel is most important in effective military leadership
SITES OF CYPRUS;
When I was sent to Cyprus I read quite a bit about the Island. Lawrence Durrell's “Bitter Lemons” was a good introduction. One part about his buying and bartering for a house was comical and it gave me a heads up on the business aspects of Cyprus. It was an eye opener for me on how to wander about the markets and to not accept the asked price for items I was buying. I also sent home many souvenirs which were locally handmade. We had a weekly mail run back to Canada and many a surprise awaited my parents when the opened a box from me.
Gad a tad painful, I prefer the more convention means of procreations ☺ But, as a North American it was always fascinating to wander about sites of such legends. It is a time warp regardless of one's beliefs.