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My Cyprus

By
Victor J Freeman
Ex RAF

On 19th October 1955, I was posted to Cyprus.  I was an eighteen year old, "three years for the extra pay", National Service man in the trade of VHF R/T D/F Op (Radio Telephony Direction Finding Operator) that involved passing bearings to aircraft.  I had signed on for the extra year mainly to get seven shillings a day pay instead of three shillings and sixpence, but partly because I quite liked the RAF uniform and I fancied talking to the aircraft.   Most of my school mates, together with my cousin, served two years in the army, went to Germany and were home on leave every six months. The picture left, shows SAC Freeman, (me) sitting in the operator's chair 

Any way, Cyprus it was.  I arrived at Nicosia, was promptly nick-named Fred, discovered that EOKA was engaged in the struggle for ENNOSIS and that full scale terrorism was under way.

RAF Nicosia originally had a complement of 600 personnel and when I arrived it contained 2,400.  By the time the Suez landings had been and gone and I was posted to Aden, it held nearly 7,000 and the secondary runway was used for parking squadrons of Canberras. I witnessed the destruction of the Hermes aircraft at Nicosia late in the evening on Sunday, 4th March 1956, about half an hour before it was due to take off. It should have been airborne and laden with married families returning to the UK, but a bomb had been placed on board and had exploded prematurely; perhaps the army in Germany wouldn't have been so bad after all

Vic Kyrenia 1956

The feeling was endorsed whilst watching a Hunter having the engine started for take off.  The starter cartridge detonated and was followed by a second bang. A plume of smoke rose from the rear of the aircraft and the pilot leapt from the cockpit and ran for his life.  A bomb had been placed in the rear of the engine.   Standing in the Nicosia Control Tower at night, watching fires start in both the Greek and Turkish areas of the town, the thought of German beer was definitely attractive.

However, setting all the old yarns aside, even though forty four years have passed and I am now a sixty-three year old grandfather, and although I was not directly involved, one incident still regularly enters my thoughts; the murder of my boss, Corporal Patrick J. Hale, in the VHF D/F Homer at RAF Nicosia on Wednesday, 16th May, 1956.

Corporal Hale's resting place
Corporal Hale's resting place
Wayne's Keep Military Cemetery
Nicosia Cyprus 29th of March 1995
click to enlarge

When I was posted to Aden in July 1957, it was my intention never to see Cyprus again.  After a number of years had elapsed, a curiosity entered my mind.  A few years ago the curiosity was overtaken by a whim to return.  As time progressed, the whim became a compelling need.  The need was satisfied in March 1995. Paddy Hale is buried in the Waynes Keep, British Military Cemetery, adjacent to the old RAF Nicosia.  Since the 1974 Turkish invasion, the cemetery has been contained within the United Nations Security Buffer Zone.  This means that you can't just bowl up and wander in.

Not knowing how to gain access, I presented myself to the UN guard at the gate of the old Ledra Palace Hotel, who directed me to make arrangements with the Humanities Section of the local UN contingent.  This section was being staffed by "A" Squadron of The Queens Royal Lancers and what a wonderful help WO. M. A. Davies and Sgt. J. Tector were.  They were both interested in the story of  Paddy Hale's murder and I promised to send them copies of the local press cuttings at the time, together with some photographs that I had retained. 

This is the account of the events of, and after, Paddy's murder  (as I recall them), which I sent to WO. Davies and Sgt. Tector in May 1995.

CORPORAL PATRICK J HALEROYAL AIR FORCE16th MAY 1956

Corporal "Paddy" Hale was shot dead by EOKA terrorists Michael Kyiakou Koutsoftas, Paraskevas Georghiou Hiropoulis, and Andreas Gregori Panaghides in the Homer building at RAF Nicosia on Wednesday, 16th May 1956.   Koutsoftas and Panaghides were executed for the crime later in the year and Hiropoulis was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Paddy's name is written in The Book of the Royal Air Force at the Royal Air Force Church, St. Clement Danes, in The Strand.

The Homer building housed a radio navigational aid to aircraft.  Because of the necessity for it to be isolated from metal objects such as hangers and moving vehicles, it was situated outside of the southern barbed wire perimeter boundary of the airfield.  Despite the EOKA emergency, the staff of four airmen and one corporal was not armed when on duty; not even at night.

As there were villages to both east and west of the Homer, there were frequent passers by, including the shepherd Yiakoumis Poullou and it was the normal practice to give drinking water to any traveller who requested it.

Homer building
Leading Aircraftman John Hollis

On the morning of 16th May, Corporal Hale and Leading Aircraftman John Hollis (referred to as John Colling in the cuttings from the Times of Cyprus) were on duty.  Local Cypriot men were working in a nearby field.  When I later asked Johnny Hollis what had happened, he told me (as I recall the conversation 39 years later) the Cypriot workers had called at the Homer, had asked for and been given a drink of water and had gone back to work, which was a perfectly normal happening.  They had later returned and the procedure was repeated, except that this time they went around to the shaded west side of the Homer and sat on the ground talking.

Corporal Hale was seated at the radio equipment wearing the headphones.  Suddenly, the bullet that killed him was fired through the west window and he fell off the swivel chair.  This would be consistent with the blood spots that I later found on the base of the metal racking and on the electric kettle (see the photograph).

Johnny Hollis was either seated out of line with the window, or he may have been standing to one side.  Whichever, he told me that when Paddy was shot, he ran around to the rear of the radio equipment, thus placing it between the gun window and himself.

The gunmen then tried to shoot him.  They fired two shots.  One hit the notice board behind him (see photo - bullet hole bottom left corner) and one bullet hit the ceiling (see photo - black mark on ceiling.

The Homer as it was left a couple days after the shooting
The Homer as it was left a couple days after the shooting

The Notice board with the bullet hole in the bottom left hand corner
The Notice board with the bullet hole in the bottom left hand corner

The Direction finding Equipments looking from the West (Gun) Window
The Direction finding Equipments looking from the West (Gun) Window

Blood spots on the base of the radio equipment racking
Blood spots on the base of the radio equipment racking

The Shuttered West window
The Shuttered West window

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The watch list from the notice board

News paper cuttings Times of Cyprus
News paper cuttings Times of Cyprus

The Bullet Hole in the Ceiling
The Bullet Hole in the Ceiling

Johnny told me that he yelled into the intercom to the Control Tower (about three quarters of a mile away) to raise the alarm, and that is why the helicopter was scrambled.  I have not figured out how he managed to do this, but it would have been possible for him to reach through the equipment in order to press the transmitter switch.  The newspaper cuttings tell the rest of the story.

Following Paddy's death, I was to spend a further fourteen months at RAF Nicosia.  We were now required to draw Sten guns from the Station Armoury prior to going on duty.  Night shifts were mainly carried out in the Control Tower on a stand by basis and dogs patrolled the area around the Homer with their handlers at night.  Only the shepherd, Yiakoumis Poullou, still called for water.

My recollection of Paddy Hale (I have no photograph of him) is of a pleasant, softly spoken Irish man about 5' 7" tall.  He wore the ribbons of the Defence and 39/45 War Medals, as the Second World War had only been over for ten years.  He was probably the first Corporal with whom I had conversed without having to stand to attention whilst doing so.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE NEWS PAPER CUTTINGS FROM THE TIMES OF CYPRUS

Time fogs memory.  The detail of my recollection varies from the contemporary reporting in the Times of Cyprus.  I do not recall that Paddy had a three year old Son, and I am sure that his Wife had already given birth to a baby Daughter about three months before his death.

In July 1957 I was posted to Aden.  I have never met or heard  of any of my former companions since. If by any chance a member of  Paddy's family should read this web site, please get in touch with me. I would like to make the original paper cuttings are available to you.

Victor J Freeman
(co-incidentally)16th May
WENVIC-FREEMAN@milehouse80.fsnet.co.uk

Victor J Freeman

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