The Sunday Post (Dundee)
‘I can still hear the screams, 60 years on’
Anniversary of ‘forgotten’ Cyprus Emergency
SIXTY years have passed but Margaret Moncur can still hear the screams.
The knock at the door, in a world before instant communications, had been from a boy bearing a telegram with news of her brother’s death.
The agonising wails of her sister and the utter devastation of her mother are as vivid now as they were on that day in 1956.
Matt Neely, just 19, was one of the young British servicemen who died in the four-year Cyprus Emergency. Their lives were lost in what Margaret says is a forgotten conflict.
Today, at last, Glaswegian Margaret will see her darling brother’s sacrifice marked.
She will be one of around 100 family members of the deceased expected to be present at a ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
The Cyprus Memorial Rock, specially brought over from the island by the RAF, will mark the loss of the 371 service personnel who died between 1955 and 1959.
It was the afternoon of October 23, 1956, and Matt, called up under National Service and serving with the Highland Light Infantry, was enjoying an off-duty game of football at Lefkoniko.
“It was a hot day and at the end of the game they ran to a well to pull up a bucket of water,” said Margaret, 75.
“There was a woman in the bushes and just as my brother reached it she signalled to two boys who electronically donated a bomb. “Matt was killed instantly.” Two other Glasgow squaddies, like Matt just teens, succumbed to their injuries later.
John Beattie, 19, died the following day and Ben Doherty, brought back to the city for treatment, died on December 6.
Matt had been due home in three weeks and Margaret, then 16, had been eagerly awaiting the return of the big brother she’d badly missed.
“It was 7am when there was a knock at the door and my brother Billy took the telegram from the wee boy,” recalls Margaret.
“My sister Nan let out this scream when he read it. It woke me up and that was the way I found out.
“My father had already gone to work and my mother always went up to the bakery early. We didn’t have a phone so Billy ran to get her.
“It all seems like yesterday to me. I can still see the horror and disbelief on my mother’s face. “It was so sad.” A military grave on the Mediterranean island was planned but the family were determined to bring their son back home.
Heartbroken pals gave up a month’s wages and neighbours rallied round with collections to meet the repatriation costs.
“On the day of the funeral, everything came to a halt in Maryhill.
“The shops closed and people took the time off work to be there. When my mother went to the undertakers to see the coffin, the grief was such that she fainted. “It was terrible, just terrible.” A manhunt on the island led to the arrest of two suspects but they were found not guilty and Matt’s killers were never brought to justice.
Margaret’s memories of the big brother she adored are undimmed.
“Matt was the blue-eyed boy. He was full of fun. My other brother Ollie and him were so close.
“They were Partick Thistle supporters and they used to love going to the games together. Like my mum, he never got over the loss.”
The family’s grief was compounded by having lost Matt on an overseas duty which they never understood.
“It’s like it was the forgotten conflict,” says Margaret. “They called it the Cyprus Emergency but it was just never spoken about. You heard about people losing their lives serving elsewhere and you knew what it was about, but not this.
“People said the troops were there as peacemakers but I just don’t understand what Matt was doing there at all. That made it so much worse.”
Today will see the unveiling of the rock bearing the names of each of the 371 servicemen as well as 21 British police officers who also lost their lives.
Around 250 colleagues who also served will be alongside the relatives at the 150-acre woodland site which is home to more than 320 memorials.
Currently the only memorials for the Cyprus Emergency are in the old British cemetery over in Kyrenia. The Memorial Rock, from the Troodos Mountains, will be the first on UK shores.
“It’s going to be an emotional day for me,” admits Margaret, whose Broomhill home is still full of photographs, letters and other paperwork.
“Apart from Ollie’s wife I’m the only one left in the family now.
“Matt has never been forgotten by us, but at least after all these years there is something permanent marking him.”
And Matt’s service is also due to be further commemorated with Margaret being told by the MoD that she will be presented with the Elizabeth Cross.
It’s given to next of kin of service personnel killed in action or by terrorist attack since the Second World War and she’s awaiting a date for it to be handed over.