Richard Knott



Posted in Wartime

Places in ‘Posted in Wartime’ 3: Cyprus, 1946

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.


Places in ‘Posted in Wartime’: 1. Cairo

Cairo was a kind of wartime Clapham Junction, people constantly passing through on their slow journey to some posting far from home.  Almost all the main protagonists of my book Posted in Wartime were there at some time or other, occasionally on the same day.  The two in this extract are a good example.  The date is early 1945…

Donald Macdonald arrived in Cairo soon after the assassination of Lord Moyne.  I like to think that he and Jack might unwittingly have passed each other on an Egyptian street, though clearly not in one of the places in the city where ‘Other Ranks’ were unwelcome or forbidden.  To Donald, after weeks at sea, and years of blackout darkness, Egypt’s extravagant lights and riotous noise were a revelation.  Everything about Cairo was a shock to the system, be it the ‘utterly oriental’ railway station – ‘ yellow ochre in colour, with turrets, battlements and grilles, it might be a sultan’s palace;’ the continual hooting of horns; the Nile ‘busy with feluccas and the old paddle steamers’; the street Arabs who ‘actually cultivated Glasgow accents,’ the better to ingratiate themselves with the troops; the city streets ‘strewn with orange skins, loud with street cries, (and) the drone of tramways.’


Posted in Wartime by Richard Knott (Pen & Sword, 2017)

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