Search for families of Sheffield veterans killed in Cypus

In the baking Mediterranean sun on the island of Cyprus, stands a white headstone.

Monday, 1st July 2019, 1:52 pm
Updated Thursday, 18th July 2019, 8:21 am
British soldiers fighting against a street riot by EOKA in Nicosia, Cyprus, 1956. Source http://www.nam.ac.uk/exhibitions/online-exhibitions/cyprus-1954-2008 Author British Colonial Government

Located in the no-man's land between the Greek and Turkish parts of the island, it lies within a United Nations buffer zone, and the name inscribed on the stone, Roy Newsome, is seldom seen by human eyes.

But Roy is not forgotten.

After growing up in South Yorkshire he was one of thousands of British soldiers who were sent to Cyprus in the 1950s after violence erupted on the island, which was at the time a British colony. He died more than 60 years ago.

June Thompson, pictured with the Elizabeth Cross, she received on behalf of her late brother Roy Newsome. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-02-07-19-ElizabethCross-2

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In total, 371 British servicemen were killed in what become know as the Cyprus Emergency, but the campaign is not well known like the Falklands conflict, which cost 255 British lives, or Iraq, where UK lost 179 servicemen and women.

For nearly 63 years, Roy’s family have remembered him. They are among the few who have made the visit to his grave, in Wayne’s Keep Military Cemetery, near the island’s capital, Nicosia, in the buffer zone between the two halves of the island. Special appointments have to be to access the site.

But they no longer feel he is forgotten.

This week, Roy’s sister June Thompson finally saw him receive the recognition that they feel he deserves.

Roy Newsome, pictured. Picture: NDFP-02-07-19-ElizabethCross-3

She, along with Roy’s nephews and nieces, were invited to Aldershot, where his regiment, the Royal Army Service Corps was based. There, at a specially arranged service, she was presented with the Elizabeth Cross, by the Lord Lieutenant of South Yorkshire, with a certificate signed by The Queen. There are hopes his family could be the first of many locally to get the medal.

The medal is awarded to the families of soldiers killed in service. The Cyprus Veterans organisation is trying to contact the families of all those who died to help them receive the award.

June said: “After Roy died, we got on with life. But losing him was something that we all had in the back of our minds. Receiving the Elizabeth Cross brought it back again, but the service was beautiful. I only found out about it a few weeks before. It was just in memory of Roy, no one else.

“Roy would do anything for anyone, but I think if he could have seen the service, he would have said ‘What’s all the fuss about? I was so proud of him.

“It means a lot to me. It makes you realise that he was a person, not just a number, to be killed one day and buried the next.

“We have been to see his grave in Cyprus, but I do think it should better known today what he and the others who died in Cyprus did.”

Roy’s headstone among those of several South Yorkshire men in the same cemetery.

Cyprus Veterans is trying to make sure all their families receive the Elizabeth Cross, and to raise awareness of what happened during the Cyprus Emergency, from 1955 until 1959.

Three of the other headstones carry the names of Sheffield men.

Les Smith, of Cyprus Veterans, who served on the island himself, is making it his mission to contact their families and is trying to trace them.

He has some details about all three men, but has so far been unable to contact any surviving relatives.

The youngest of three Sheffielders was Private Roy Hickson. He was aged just 20 when he was accidentally shot dead on an anti-terrorist patrol on January 12, 1959. He had been serving with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Also from Sheffield was Private Derek Bullock. Serving with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, he was killed in a vehicle accident during anti-terrorist operations in the Troodos Mountains on May 10 1957. He was aged 23, and Mr Smith believes he had a niece, called Sandra Thackeray.

The third man from the city was Leading Writer Philip Hugh Bingham. Serving with Royal Navy, he was shot dead in a terrorist incident outside the parcel department of the main post office in Nicosia on January 14 1957. He was aged 23.

Another South Yorkshireman who died was Craftsman Fred Hobson. Serving with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, he was killed in a road accident on June 30 1956. He was aged 21 and from Barnsley

Mr Smith wants to hear from relatives of all four men to contact him. He also wants to hear from anyone who served during the 1955 to 1959 Cyprus Emergency to contact him be emailing cyprusveterans@gmail.com

Killed in tragic accident

Brought on Sandringham Road, Intake, Doncaster Roy Newsome did not have to join the army when he did.

A pupil at Sidney Road School, and then Beckett Road School, with an avid love of football, he started work as a joiner after leaving education, and the nature of his work meant he was not called up for National Service at a time when there was a major rebuilding post-war programme still going on. Under National Service following World War Two, all men other than certain exemptions had to do two years military service, until it was scrapped in 1960.

But as many of his friends were called up, he chose to join the army himself in 1955.

He was soon promoted to lance corporal, and was based in Aldershot.

His family did not know he was being sent to Cyprus until he had already arrived there.

“The first we got to know was when we got a call to say he had been sent to Cyprus and there were pictures of them on the television getting aboard the ships. Then we got one or two letters saying how hot it was and what duties they were having to do. He just took everything in his stride, but it was not used to the heat.”

June had been to the St Leger festival the day the family found out about Roy’s death. She and her friend were coming home from the races.

Unknown to the family, a delivery man had left a telegram with at a shop across the street from the family home on Sandringham Road. He had asked the shopkeeper to drop it off with the family when Roy’s mum had someone with her.

“I was in the back garden when the lady from the shops came across,” said June. “I came back in and everyone was crying.”

Details of the tragic circumstances in which Roy died later reached the family. Roy had been sitting in the front of an army Land Rover, when he was accidentally shot.

He was killed on September 12 1956, aged just 21. He was buried the following day.

“We had to get over it, and we took each day as it came,” said June. “Mum was never completely the same. “It was a shock when we found out he had gone to Cyprus, but not like it was when we were told he had been killed.

“Dad wrote to the army asking them not to punish the soldier whose gun had gone off. He said he didn’t do it on purpose, and that the man would already have to live with for the first of his life. We got a nice letter back saying thank-you.”

The Cyprus Emergency

British troops were sent to Cyprus, then a British colony in 1955, after the Governor of Cyprus, Sir John Harding, declared a state of emergency, after anti-British riots a series of terrorist attacks by EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters)

The majority Greek-Cypriot population of the isiand had been demanding a union with Greece.

By mid-1956 there were 17,000 British servicemen in Cyprus.

EOKA kept up the pressure on Britain by extending their campaign to the towns of Cyprus, where they attacked British servicemen and their families.

Eventually diplomatic efforts found a compromise.

The Greek-Cypriots abandoned their demands for a union with Greece and Cyprus became an independent republic in 1960 with Britain retaining control of two bass, at Akrotiri and Dhekelia.