|The Cutthroats Of Stavrokono|
By Frank Colley
I was posted to Cyprus in 1957 as a member of the UN forces. At first I was sent to a camp in Paphos this was for familiarization ,then after a few weeks the company was sent out to various locations. Most soldiers were sent to Turkish villages in the Greek sector to help with repatriation. My section went up to a village in the hills to get to know the locals ;the village was called Stavokono. We had been toll that it was a Turkish village full of Turkish Cypriot Fighters, TCF, who were in contact with the Turkish mainland . There were rumors that every wanted Turk in Cyprus had fled to this village to find sanctuary, a gun and Turkish insignia. When we first travelled up into the hills on a road that was no more than a track we noticed that it went around a hillock on which was perched a tent flying the Greek flag. Our guide informed us that it was a Greek army observation post overloooking the only way into the village. There was also a dug-in heavy machine gun post on the other side of the hillock. Both were obviously there to be seen.
As we approached the village there was a barrier across the road with an armed check point. Manned by two men in uniform they stopped us and phoned their captain. He appeared smartly dressed in his immaculate TCF officer's uniform, by far the best dressed fighter in the village. He came over and spoke to our guide in Turkish or Greek, we had no idea which. After ordering the guards to let us pass; he stood to one side and saluted us. The barrier was hastily put back in place and the captain followed us through the village on foot.
As we drove the few hundred yards to our billet, a shed on a hill overlooking the village, all activity stopped and there was a scurrying as the women and children disappeared. Only the most defiant men stood and stared with puffed out chests.
The captain was waiting for us on the football pitch at the foot of the hillock which was to be our home for the next three months or so.
We were replacing a section from the Royal Marines, who had some discouraging words for us as they left. We settled in to our new home which, to be honest, was not all that bad. It consisted of a large room with three trestle tables at one end and three bunk beds at the other. The middle section held a shower room and a radio room separated by a corridor. The radio room was crammed with radio equipment that had to be monitored 24 hours a day that was our main task. .
Within an hour of our arrival our corporal took three of us out for a walk, without weapons. Although we had seen many men hanging around in the village, we did not want to present a threat to the locals. We were met with stares and silence when we reached the terrace of the taverna., which full with of old men playing cards or backgammon. All eyes were on us,. It was the owner Menktash who motioned us to sit at a table then brought over some Keo beer and placed glasses on the table, filled them haphazardly, took one for himself and said" Cheers." We echoed his actions and all the commotion that had gone on before started up again.--the clicking of backgammon chips, rolling of dice. the chatter, laughter, loud whoops, glasses being chinked.
Menktash returned with plates of cucumber, tomatoes, bread, olives and placed them on the table , saying "is good you eat". There were children watching us now, smiling when we locked eyes, then darting away giggling only to be replaced by others. Old men came to our table for a closer look and one or two to sniff at us. We finished our beers and got to out feet. Silence once more as we left the terrace and went into the street to walk back to our shed. It was like a scene from a film, four dusty men walking slowly, purposely, along a dusty deserted street. With a group of children watching, daring to follow. We were aware of them following at a distance and hiding whenever one of us looked around.. Our corporal stopped and looked down a side street, hardly more than a gap between two houses just wide enough to walk two abreast. A gate in the wall opened and a man in uniform with a Thompson machine gun stepped out, held up his hand and said in English "No Sir". Once again that eerie silence descended and a cold hand clutched at our hearts. We retreated and started towards the shed;. The kids had all gone; the game was over. We had made our presence felt and so had the TCF. That was outrfirst encounter with the so-called cutthroats of Stavrokono.
©Frank Colley 2004