Another extract from my ‘Posted in Wartime’ (Pen & Sword 2017), this time about the mismatch between the beauty of Cyprus and the plight of Jewish ‘illegal immigrants’…

 

Later that autumn Donald drove into the mountains, to a resort near the summit of Mount Olympus, at the wheel of a grandly proportioned Chevrolet staff-car, ‘the sort of thing that Brigadiers and Generals ride around in.’  A man raised his cap as the limousine progressed in stately fashion through a white-stoned village.  ‘Perhaps,’ Donald reflected, ‘he thought we were a hearse.’    A series of hairpin bends slowly revealed clusters of red-roofed villages and churches with ‘sugar-icing belfries’ in the valley below.  Vines clung to the precipitous  hillside.  As they climbed, poplar and beech trees were replaced by pine and juniper.    Donald stopped for sweet Turkish coffee, and bought some apples, before travelling on towards Troodos.  There, through a break in the cloud, ‘round the hoary head of old Olympus’, he could see the whole of the island spread out below him and the blue, glittering sweep of the Mediterranean.  There was no barbed wire to be seen, or camp huts, just the winding road, the island’s coastline and the occasional sprawl of people’s homes.  The weekend over, he drove back to Nicosia along a ‘switchback highway,’ stunned by the island’s beauty, its tree-clad hills, the golden sunset, and ‘the intense rose and purple of the hills which shared the afterglow’ as twilight fell.  Back in the valley floor, speeding towards Nicosia, he soon began to think of what lay ahead, rather than the idyll of the past few days, and his return to the camp was as dispiriting as he feared.  Officers in the mess were huddled ‘around the blazing hearth in an atmosphere of choking cigarette smoke,’ and when night fell it brought the first chill of autumn.  Soon after, 850 more Jewish ‘illegal immigrants’ arrived by sea.

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