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For peace­keep­ers in Cyprus, dan­ger was never far away.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - By Frank Reid

A Canadian peace­keeper’s mem­o­ries of Cyprus.

On De­cem­ber 6, 1974, a group of soldiers from the Royal Canadian Reg­i­ment (RCR) boarded a plane in Tren­ton, On­tario. It was freez­ing, and we were en route to a six-month peace­keep­ing tour in Cyprus. Within this group was a naive twenty-one-year-old pri­vate who had never been out of Canada — me.

We landed in Cyprus — an is­land lo­cated off the south coast of Turkey — at a brand new air­port that was to­tally de­void of life. Its empti­ness was creepy, like a scene from a hor­ror movie. In in­tense heat, we walked through the air­port to a line of wait­ing buses.

Only five months ear­lier, the Turk­ish army had in­vaded Cyprus to over­throw a Greek­led regime in­stalled in a coup d’état. Canadian peace­keep­ers had been killed in the ini­tial in­va­sion while try­ing to keep the bel­liger­ents apart. A cease­fire had been called sev­eral weeks af­ter the in­va­sion, but by the time we ar­rived there was no peace to keep.

The cease­fire was bro­ken on av­er­age three times a day. Many of the in­ci­dents were quite se­ri­ous.

I was lucky enough to be as­signed a room at the Le­dra Palace Ho­tel, in down­town Ni­cosia. Once this had been one of the nicest ho­tels on the is­land, re­plete with mar­ble floors and crys­tal chan­de­liers. Un­for­tu­nately, it was sit­u­ated on the Green Line — the buf­fer zone that sep­a­rates the Turk­ish-Cypriot north from the Greek-Cypriot south. The whole build­ing was pock­marked with bul­let holes, with new scars added nightly. Peace­keep­ers who bunked on the up­per lev­els slept on the floors of their rooms, with their backs against the in­ner walls and their mattresses piled in front of them as shields.

I was still at the ho­tel when April 1, 1975, ar­rived. April 1 was a very im­por­tant day for the Cypri­ots. Known as Na­tional An­niver­sary Day, it marked the start of the 1955 re­bel­lion against Bri­tish rule. The RCR brass strongly ad­vised us to avoid the down­town area that day. But it was my first day off in a long time — and so my as­so­ci­ates and I de­cided to head into the bar dis­trict for a drink.

At around 11:00 p.m., the city erupted in cel­e­bra­tory gun­fire. Hun­dreds of peo­ple — Greeks and Turks alike — were shoot­ing firearms into the air.

Time to go home, I thought — but there were no cabs in sight. We care­fully walked back to the Le­dra. When we ar­rived, we went to my room on the sec­ond floor and had an­other drink. We sat on the bal­cony ledge with our feet hang­ing over, watch­ing the trac­ers in the night sky. Quite spec­tac­u­lar!

In ret­ro­spect, it was not the smartest thing to do — we could hear rounds hit­ting the walls on the ho­tel’s higher lev­els — but we were young and felt in­vin­ci­ble. Re­al­ity hit home the next morn­ing, when we learned that some­one on the other side of the ho­tel had been shot and killed the night be­fore while stand­ing on his bal­cony. It could just as easily have been one of us.

On an­other oc­ca­sion in Ni­cosia, a fel­low sol­dier and I were pulling guard duty on top of a down­town build­ing. It was a beau­ti­ful night — the kind that makes you feel like you are the only liv­ing crea­ture on earth.

Around 3:00 a.m., we were stand­ing close to each other, speak­ing in low voices. Sud­denly we heard a whoosh as a sin­gle bul­let passed be­tween our heads. Six inches ei­ther way and one of us would have been dead. To this day, I won­der whether we had been tar­geted or if it was just a ran­dom shot. Luck­ily, I made it back to Canada in one piece.

More than twenty-five thou­sand Cana­di­ans have served as peace­keep­ers in Cyprus since the mis­sion be­gan in 1964. Twen­tyeight have been killed in that time. The mis­sion con­tin­ues to­day.

Frank Reid served in Cyprus from De­cem­ber 1974 to May 1975.

Canadian peace­keeper Frank Reid, back row, third from right, with fel­low mem­bers of the Royal Canadian Reg­i­ment.

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