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Civilian Casualties from British Military: The Cyprus Emergency

This section provides a detailed account of recorded civilian casualties that resulted from the British military’s involvement in the Cyprus Emergency.

When did this conflict occur?

26th November, 1955^ – 19th March, 1959*

^ – Though a state of emergency was only declared in Cyprus on the 26th of November, 1955, the first attack by the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters, EOKA, took place on the 1st of April when a wave of coordinated bombings struck government offices in Nicosia. [1]

* British troops remain garrisoned on Cyprus to this day as part of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) and are tasked with monitoring the ceasefire between Turkish Northern Cyprus and the Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus [2]

What is the background to this conflict?

Under British control since 1878, the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus has traditionally been composed of a Greek-Cypriot majority population and a Turkish-Cypriot minority. Led by Archbishop Makarios of the Cyprus Orthodox Church in 1955, the Greek-Cypriot population sought the removal of British political rule and enosis, a Greek term meaning ‘union’ which envisioned the island’s reunification with Greece. [3] The enosis movement’s armed wing consisted of the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters, the EOKA, and was led by Georgios Grivas, a retired Hellenic Army officer and veteran of the Greek resistance during the Second World War. Beginning on the 1st of April, 1955, the EOKA launched a campaign of irregular warfare against the British government in Cyprus; the movement staged a series of coordinated bombings of government installations in Nicosia, targeted Greek civil servants and Special Branch officers who assisted the protectorate’s government, and ambushed columns of British troops moving by convoy on rural roads. [4]  A state of emergency was formally declared on the 26th of November, 1955, by Governor Lord Harding, and the British military presence in Cyprus steadily expanded as reinforcements were drawn from nearby Egypt. By 1957, most of EOKA’s senior leaders had been captured or killed, and Archbishop Makarios, now exiled in Greece, was forced to abandon the goal of enosis. It was only in 1959, following the establishment of an independent Republic of Cyprus under the London and Zurich Agreements attended by Makarios as well as leaders from the United Kingdom, Greece, and Turkey, that EOKA halted its attacks and effectively signalled the end of the Cyprus Emergency. [5]

What role did British military forces play?

The initial British counterinsurgency effort in Cyprus struggled to degrade and defeat EOKA in the months following the state of emergency declaration in November, 1955. Hampered by a lack of actionable intelligence and a reduced military presence due to defence commitments in neighbouring Egypt, British troops were forced to rely on large-scale cordon and search operations which were often unsuccessful due to an extensive early warning network possessed by EOKA fighters. [6] 1956 and early 1957, however, saw a consistent growth in the British military, police, and intelligence apparatus in addition to a growing political willingness to employ the legal powers bestowed upon the administration by the state of emergency. Human source networks expanded, and new units of ‘Toads’, a term referring to small teams of British military personnel as well as Special Branch officers and defected EOKA insurgents, spearheaded the new, intelligence-centred counter-gang effort in the mountains of Cyprus. [7] As British military efforts continued to weaken EOKA’s operational capacity through the capture of vital equipment and elimination of key personnel, Grivas responded by dividing EOKA’s campaign into acts of agitational terrorism, symbolic acts against government targets to convince British authorities of the unsustainable  price of blocking enosis, and enforcement terrorism, where  Greek Cypriots who refused to support the movement were targeted. Assassinations and sporadic bombings continued until the the London and Zurich Agreements of 1959, but the British counterinsurgency campaign had succeeded in fatally weakening EOKA by 1957. 

Can a figure of civilian deaths due to British military action be determined?

Yes. Over the course of the Cyprus Emergency, there were 16 confirmed killings of civilians by British military forces. In contrast to these 16 civilian deaths, 358 British military personnel died in the conflict. [8]

Are there any trends or incidents of note?

Of the 16 confirmed instances of civilian fatalities during the Cyprus Emergency, five involved youths under the age of 18 while an additional incident resulted in the death of a pregnant woman and her child.

  • November, 1956: An anti-tank platoon from 1st Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment, was ambushed by gunmen occupying the upper floors of a house in Nikitari, Western Cyprus. Reacting to the contact, platoon commander Lieutenant Trollope ordered the platoon to storm the house. The EOKA gunmen were chased to the back garden where a brief gun battle took place and, in the process, a child was caught in the crossfire and fatally injured. [9]
  • 28th January, 1958: In response to the killing of a Turkish-Cypriot civilian by a British military vehicle the previous day, protests erupted in Nicosia’s Old City. Amidst the crowds, British troops observed two male Turkish-Cypriot youths climbing the Old City walls. Believing that the youth could employ the elevated position to throw stones at security forces below, British troops opened fire and killed both boys. [10]
  • 5th July, 1958: British troops arrested 15-year-old Kyriakos Makri in Avgorou, Southwestern Cyprus, for refusing to erase a pro-EOKA slogan that had been painted on a wall. Women in the village attempted to intervene  and, as the crowd surrounding the British patrol quickly swelled, an officer climbed into an armoured car and attempted to fire a warning shot to disperse the civilians. In the process, one civilian was mortally wounded while a pregnant woman, Louika Papageorghiou, was killed. [11]

3rd October, 1958 = following the murder of Catherine Cutliffe, the wife of a British Sergeant, in Famagusta, British troops conduct a cordon and search operation aimed at capturing potential suspects. The ensuing clashes saw widespread violence with servicemembers testifying that fellow troops were seen “kicking Cypriots as they lay on the ground and beating them in the head, face, and body with rifle butts”. Three civilians were killed including a 37-year-old father of six, Panayotis Chrystostomos, a 17-year-old boy named Loukas Andreou who suffered fatal skull injuries from being struck by a Royal Military Police officer, and an unidentified 12-year-old.  [12, 13]

Endnotes:

[1] What Caused The Division Of The Island of Cyprus, Imperial War Museum, 2022, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-caused-the-division-of-the-island-of-cyprus

[2] Cyprus, The British Army, 2020, https://www.army.mod.uk/deployments/cyprus/

[3] Walker, Anita M, “Enosis in Cyprus: Dhali, a Case Study”,  Middle East Journal 38, no. 3 (1984): 474-494. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4326858

[4] Novo, Andrew R. On All Fronts: Cyprus and the EOKA Insurgency, 1955-1959 (Oxford: University of Oxford, 2010): 105.

[5] “DOCUMENT 5: AGREEMENTS ENDING DISPUTE OVER CYPRUS : FEBRUARY 1959.” Chronique de Politique Étrangère 12, no. 2 (1959): 262–71. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44826209.

[6] French, David. Fighting EOKA: The British Counter–Insurgency Campaign on Cyprus, 1955-1959 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015): 132.

[7] French, Fighting EOKA, 149.

[8] [1] UK armed forces Deaths: Operational deaths post World War II, Ministry of Defence, 2021, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/972075/20210325_UK_armed_forces_Operational_deaths_post_World_War_II-O.pdf

[9] Van Der Bijl, Nick. Cyprus Emergency: The Divided Island 1955-1974 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2014): 347.

[10] Van Der Bijl, Cyprus Emergency, 420.

[11] Crawshaw, Nancy. The Cyprus Revolt: An Account of the Struggle for Union with Greece (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 1978): 302-303.

[12] Crawshaw, The Cyprus Revolt, 320-322.

[13] Norton-Taylor, Richard, “Files reveal brutal treatment meted out by British forces in 1950s Cyprus”, The Guardian, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/jul/27/brutality-british-forces-1950s-cyprus