History of Anzac Cypriots
The Cyprus Regiment was a military unit of the British Army. It was created by the British Government during World War II, and was made up of volunteers mainly from the Greek Cypriots, but there were also some Turkish Cypriots, Armenian, Maronite and Latin and other Commonwealth nationalities.
The Cyprus Regiment included Infantry, Mechanical, Transport and Pack Transport Companies. Cypriot mule drivers were the first colonial troops sent to the Western Front. Cyprus contributed more troops per capita (per population) than any other Commonwealth country to fight against the Axis Powers.
The arrival of the Cypriots in France during World War II was covered with interest, especially by the British press, noting that it was the island’s first foray into a European war and, more importantly, as an ally to Britain. The Cypriot muleteers were stationed along the Maginot line – a line of concrete fortifications, obstacles, and weapon installations built by France in the 1930s to deter invasion by Germany.
On August 29, 1939, the British Forces in Egypt were given the go-ahead to enlist up to 500 Cypriot mule drivers for general service in the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) – Cyprus Section. 476 troops were recorded to be the first Colonial troops to arrive in France as part of the British Expeditionary Force established in 1938 in readiness for war in Europe. The Cypriot contingent was primarily for transportation, and they handled the mule trains transporting much-needed logistics over harsh terrain that could not be traversed by mechanical means.
By the end of the war, 17,916 Cypriots had joined the Cyprus Regiment and the Cyprus Volunteer force, including 778 women that joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and Army.
According to the Veterans’ Association, some 600 men, including WAAF, Theodora Kaskani, from Pera, Nicosia, were killed in action and are buried in 56 cemeteries of 16 countries.
A further 1,900 Cypriots were captured during the war, including late president Glafcos Clerides, whose bomber was shot down over Hamburg, Germany in 1942, and who spent time in a German prisoner of war camp.
Cypriots served in France, Ethiopia, Palestine, and Italy carrying equipment to areas inaccessible to vehicles. They were used to supply and support other troops at Monte Casino. On a brief visit to Cyprus in 1943, Winston Churchill praised the “soldiers of the Cyprus Regiment who have served honourably on many fields from Libya to Dunkirk”.
About 30,000 Cypriots served in the Cyprus Regiment.
The Cyprus Regiment was involved in action from the very start and served in the
• Battle of France
• Battle of Greece (600 soldiers were captured at Kalamata, in 1941)
• Battle of Crete
• North Africa (Operation Compass)
The Cypriot regiment under English command and with Cypriot officers, took part and was distinguished in various battles, in many fronts in Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
The British Military Council after the end of the war declared that “the Cypriot Regiment gave an example and created a tradition which will remain in the history of the British army. It must be noted that in the Cyprus Regiment some women were enlisted in units in England (as in R.A.F.) as well as in the Greek Army or also in Greek resistance groups, during the period of the occupation.
Among the members of the Cyprus Regiment, 12 officers and 11 soldiers won medals of bravery while many others were honoured with medals and honorary citations.
In the Auxiliary Territorial Service, known with the initials A.T.S. served from August 1942 onwards a total of 200 Cypriot women approximately, while another 25 Cypriot women served in the Women Auxiliary Air Force (W.A.A.F.).
The Cyprus Regiment fought in many fronts, of which the principal ones are as follows:
* In winter of 1940, in the advanced lines of the front in France served mainly Cypriot mule drivers to get vital supplies through to the front.
* From the positions of the front in France, they were found in Dunkirk and from there in England during the period of the known tragic evacuation of Dunkirk (one of the most known incidents of the war, 29 March – 4 June 1940).
* In Africa they fought in the Western Desert (1940 – 1943), in Erythrea (1941) and the well-known epics of Marsa Matrouh, Sidi Barani, Tobruk and El Alamein.
* In Greece, men of the Cyprus Regiment and mainly diggers were sent to help the allied forces and principally the mechanic section. They served in northern and central Greece and after the advance of the Germans several retreated to Athens and Crete. Many did not catch up with the evacuation and remained in the occupied Greek territory. Some of them were enlisted in the resistance, others were hiding, while more than 2.000 were captured prisoners.
In total, during the entire period of the war, about 2.500 Cypriots were taken prisoners in various fronts and approximately 35 died from the hardships in concentration camps (in Germany, Belgium, Italy, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia).
* In Abyssinia the participation of Cypriots, especially the mule drivers were also considerable (principally during the duration of the siege of Keren).
* In Italy, many Cypriot soldiers participated together with the allied forces against the invasion, advance and occupation of the country, were distinguished mainly the transport drivers while of decisive importance was again the role of the Cypriot mule drivers in decisive operations such as the battle of Monte Cassino (February – May 1944).
* In the Middle East, Cypriots served in Egypt, Syria, Palestine.
Cypriots also served in the British Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) but were not members of the Cypriot Regiment, Cypriots fought also in the sea serving mainly in the royal Military Navy of the British army and the landing boats.
Apart from the Cypriots who were taken prisoners and lived the horrors of concentration camps, the dead were approximately 650, and are buried in 47 cemeteries in 12 countries in total, in which are included the big military cemeteries, the Commonwealth Cemetery in Greece (116 Cypriot graves) the Commonwealth Cemetery of El Alamein (23 Cypriot graves), the Commonwealth Cemetery of Monte Cassino in Italy (14 Cypriot graves).
In total, under the flag of the Cyprus Regiment and under various other banners, approximately 3,500 Cypriots took part in World War II, an extremely large number taking in consideration that it represented approximately one tenth of the total population of Cyprus at that time.
This enthusiasm of the Greek Cypriots exploited immediately the British, in order to enlist volunteers for the English army with the signal “Cypriots in the English army, you fight for Greece and for your freedom”.
Cypriots were the first Colonials to serve in France in 1940.
The Cyprus Regiment has seen service in Greece and Crete, as well as in Sicily and Italy.
Those of the Cyprus Regiment have gained a lasting reputation in many theatres of war for their infantry and their work on transport logistics, lines of communication and mechanical.