International Police Peacekeeping
UNFICYP Cyprus 17-18th Contingents (April 1980 – June 1982)
The Skippy’s – Adventurous, Professional and Innovative
The history of Australian Policing in Cyprus (the United Nations Force in Cyprus -UNFICYP) is one that has been comprehensively documented. Commencing in 1964 the Cypriot community quickly embraced the Australian Contingent, many of whom had relatives in Australia. Up until their withdrawal in 2017, fifty-three (53) consecutive years saw one of the longest national commitment to an International mission. Some 1600 Australian police officers from all policing jurisdictions in Australia enjoyed an experience very unique to International postings and remains a significant career highlight to all that had the opportunity.
The ‘skippies’ as they became affectionately known, applied themselves both flexibly and professionally. They were un-armed and were one of very few UN missions that deployed without firearms into a hostile military environment which, ultimately, saw the Island divided in 1974. The Australian role was to negotiate civilian disputes, to investigate crimes and to provide an effective policing presence across the UN mandated buffer zone. Undertaking humanitarian medical transfers, whilst also monitoring the wellbeing of ethnic minorities located in small enclaves such as the ethnic Maronite’s, was an additional role.
It is generally fair to say that all contingents had their fair share of characters, a unique ability to quickly adapt and were able to apply practical skilled civilian policing to suit local customs and ethnicities. The skippy’s, armed only with a Blue Beret, a UN badge and a painted red kangaroo emblazoned over the white fleet of UN Land Rovers, certainly won over the hearts and minds of the local communities.
As one would expect, during downtime there was time to take in ‘all things Cypriot’, the culture and history, the cuisine and brandy sours and recreation including, standing under the tree of idleness, recreational sea activities, diving on ancient shipwrecks, darts, rugby, parachuting, flying, cricket, soccer and of course a smattering of love. Dine in mess dinners and a drop-in bar at KT made for many memorable events. During 1981 Ashes Test series the Aussies were initially gloating over the seeming invincible Aussies until Sir Ian Botham single-handedly destroyed the Aussies. The nearby British Contingent at St David’s Camp were not about to let us forget, the banter all good natured and we played a few entertaining social cricket matches during the tour. Incidentally St David’s Camp was used as a transit camp by refugee Jews from WW2 prior to being resettled in the then new state of Israel.
This article looks at some unique aspects of the 17 & 18th Contingent (April 1980 to June 1982), where members had, by virtue of an extended deployment, an opportunity to also pursue their love of fine vintage vehicles and motorcycles. It seems that our contingent had all their bases covered in fulfilling wonderful and memorable experiences whilst implementing some determined and effective policing.
A pivotal member of the 17th-18th Contingents was the position of Police Operations Officer (POLOPS) with Chief Inspector Peter Wise deployed to both the 17th and 18th Contingents as POLOPS. In his role Peter had access to all areas of Cyprus and was responsible for providing advice and reporting to UNFICYP Headquarters on behalf of the Australian and Swedish Civilian Police Contingents.
Peter, now rapidly approaching 80 years of age, was asked to provide a short resume of his police career, including his recollection of some unusual events during his posting to Cyprus.
I recall these events from some 39 years ago as if it was yesterday. I arrived in Cyprus in April 1980. The 17th contingent was made up of 20 men, the first to be fully drawn from the Australian Federal Police (AFP), a service which was formed following the amalgamations of the Commonwealth and ACT Police Forces in October 1979. Many of these members were offered an extension for another tour of duty with members of the 18th contingent.
Our Commander for the 17th and the 18th was Chief Superintendent Richard (Dick) Allatson. Our headquarters at this was time located in a two-storey mattress factory building at Kokkina Trimithia (KT), just west of Nicosia. The divided island was patrolled by Military Contingents across Sectors 1 (The Danish), Sector 2 (British), Sector 4 (Canada), Sector 3 had by then been subsumed following the departure of another contingent and was to be shared between the British and Canadian Sectors. The British also maintained an Aviation Helicopter component (flying Alouettes) and also a mobile Scout Car Squadron (Ferrets). The Swedish Civilian Police provided civilian police support to Sectors 5 and 6 (Swedish and Austrian) military components.
I lived in a ‘Cave’ at Blue Beret Camp in the UN Protected Area. My position was an important one, as I worked as POLOPS, a Police Operations Officer answering direct to the Force Commander, the Chief of Staff and the Operations Officer. As far as I was concerned the job description read like one would dream about as a Police Officer in any service. Duties listed as Seconded from the Australian Contingent to the Operations Branch, Headquarters United Nations Forces, Cyprus, Operations Staff Officer, Co-ordinator of Military Police Operations, Liaison Officer between United Nations Civilian Police Stations, United Nations Secretariat and United Nations Headquarters Military Branches, Police Signals Officer, Liaison Officer to the Turkish Cypriot Police (TCPE) and the Greek Cypriot Police with direct communication to both the Turkish Police Commissioner and the Greek Cypriot Police Commissioner.
I can say that during my period as POLOPS I assisted a Homicide Investigation into a Greek Army Officer’s wife found murdered and naked, with her head caved in, on the slopes of the Troodos Mountains. I liaised with the Detective Inspector of the Greek Cypriot Police in this investigation.
I investigated an attempted rape in the buffer zone in Sector Five of a British woman from the UN High Commission. I worked into the early hours of the morning with a Swedish Police Inspector and later identified the offender, a Turkish farmer.
I caused a stir when I tried to take two British REME Mechanics out of a Turkish Police Station after they were arrested for allegedly spying, whilst driving a UN Tow Truck into the Turkish Army Camp in the Karpas Area, after making a wrong turn whilst recovering a broken-down UN Scout Car in Sector Six. We were stopped in the hallway of the CIB with uniform police pointing machine guns at us. It was a heavy scene and the only time I got to ride in the Force Commander’s UN 1 with him.
Peter’s Passion for Cars
I must now admit a weakness in my life. I am a car lover, having had at last count, ninety (90) cars of various makes and models, some of which, if I had kept, would set me up financially for life. I purchased my first car in 1957 at the age of 16, a 1948 Ford Anglia Tourer and remember paying 100 pounds for it.
In Cyprus, it didn’t take long to sniff out a 1958 model 356 Porsche, red in colour, belonging to a Turkish Cypriot Doctor who fled the Island in 1974 during the invasion. I purchased this car from his sister who had the car in the front yard of her home on the north side of the Island controlled by the Turkish Cypriots. This was sometime in the middle of 1980. I paid to have this car road worthy, including paying back taxes, restored it, and later sold it to a German Tourist on the Island.
My next car I discovered in a Used Car lot in down town Nicosia. A pretty run down and sad looking 1958 Bug Eye Austin Healey Sprite. I again road-worthied this vehicle, painted it blue and re-upholstered it in white leather. Had the chrome wire wheels sent from London. This would be a car I would keep. I also purchased a left-hand drive 1978 Porsche 911, a great looking car. Paid US $1,000.00 for it. I purchased it from an Irish UN Officer serving in the middle east. I later sold this car to a British Major serving in Cyprus.
In hindsight, I should have kept both Porsches if only I knew what lay ahead for me in the latter part of February 1982. During the early part of 1982 I purchased a black 1978 Saab Turbo. This car, one of the first road turbo charged cars to come onto the world market place. It belonged to a Major who was the Military Press Information Officer, responsible for the production of The Blue Beret Magazine in Cyprus.
I had a nose for finding classic cars. I located on the Island, a 1976 TR6 Triumph Sports car. It belonged to the Greek Ambassador’s son. I put Chief Inspector Bob McLeod on to it and he purchased it, later selling it to another contingent member Sergeant David King. I also located a yellow MGB, driven by a Swedish Soldier on the Island. I put Commander Dick Allatson onto it and he purchased the car and did it up whilst on the Island, painting it British Racing Green.
During this period, one of the contingent members, Sgt Randall Gawne, had managed to purchase a 1962 Harley Davison Police Special Duo Glide. The interest around this bike was that this and six or eight other Harleys had been gifted to the Cyprus Police by US President John F. Kennedy prior to him being assassinated in 1964. The bikes were used for a short period on then, less than developed Cypriot Roads, and found unsuitable for local conditions. Apparently, several were involved in accidents and they were placed into storage and auctioned to the General Public in the early 1980’s.
A Cypriot purchased all the auctioned bikes for 200 Cypriot Pounds each and this bike, Registration CG 389 (Cyprus Government) was purchased for $2,600 by Randall Gawne. Randall had planned to leave Cyprus and motorcycle around Europe and found that this bike would be unsuitable for such a venture and offered it for sale. He ultimately went to Germany and collected a BMW motorcycle as part of his journey home. CG389 was sold to contingent member Inspector Marzio Da Re and the bike remains within the family to this day in Western Australia and, incredibly, in 2019 is still on the original front tyre.
The ingenious plan was hatched
In early 1982 and over a few beers at the Aussie bar at KT, the members who had stayed on with the 18th were starting to discuss “how to get their accumulated property and cars home to Australia”. With limited baggage allowances I considered that I would have to sell my cars, as I couldn’t afford to ship two cars home plus other property acquired whilst living here for two years. Our boss, Dick Allatson stood beside me at the bar, holding a Gin and Tonic in one hand and smoking a Havana Cigar in the other and said, “I would like to take the MGB home to Canberra,” then I added, “I have mine too and Marzio the Harley Motor Cycle”.
Chief Inspector Bob McLeod who then owned a Triumph TR6 decided not to import it into Australia, as he had done a deal to buy my E Type Jaguar back in Australia. What a tangled web of deals we made. That E Type deal allowed me to purchase the aforementioned Saab in Cyprus and Bob McLeod not taking the Triumph. Doesn’t need to as he has bought my E Type back in Australia, gave me the money to buy the Saab here.” The other members had accumulated a lot of keepsakes, so the issue of returning property and vehicles to Australia was likely to be costly and problematic.
The upshot of this gathering, after discussions was that the HMAS TOBRUK was bringing Helicopters to the Middle East to participate in the Multinational Force Observers Group and that they were arriving sometime around the 17th of March 1982. We agreed as a long shot, to send a telex to the Captain of the TOBRUK requesting consideration to taking our cars, motor cycle and personnel effects back to Australia. It was worth a try and that night I took a draft message to the Canadian Operations Branch at Headquarters, Blue Beret Camp and requested a Telex be sent to the Captain of the TOBRUK. By this time the ship was ‘on the water’ having left Australia.
I arrived for a meeting with Dick Allatson at Kokkina Trimithia the following morning at 8 am. He called me into his office and said, “Read this mate.” He handed me a telex as long as your arm. It read with instructions from the Captain of the Tobruk. “Get to Ashdod (near Haifa) in Israel by the 17th of March 1982 and your cars and personnel effects will be taken back to Australia”. There was only one commercial shipping service from Cyprus to Israel prior to the 17th March. We had a couple of weeks to get our container on it, otherwise we would miss the boat, so to speak.
We, who were wanting this to happen, now agreed that we had to act quickly and decisively, hire a container, build a decking above the cars and motor cycle and store furniture and personnel effects. We hired a carpenter to build inside the container and it was my job to make the necessary arrangements for the shipping of the container and insurance arrangements. We loaded the container ourselves, arranged for Cypriot Customs Clearance, Insurance and locked it up. I had the keys.
With another stroke of luck, there was an available UN flight service from Nicosia to Jerusalem and UNFICYP members were permitted to take R & R for a few days in Israel. The timing of the UN flight coincided with the arrival of the TOBRUK which was to dock at Ashdod some 500 metres from where our container had arrived. Marzio and myself flew in a UN Aircraft to Israel and arrived in Tel Aviv a day before the TOBRUK arrived. Our container was on the wharf in Ashdod waiting.
The next day a member of the Australian Embassy made contact with us and briefed us on protocols with the Israelis. He came with us to the wharf where the TOBRUK lay anchored. We met with the Captain who advised us that the Army would be unloading a forklift to assist in shifting our property onto the TOBRUK. Our vehicles would be lifted on slings and safely stored under deck.
We went to our container where I began to unlock several locks attached to the container doors. I heard this voice, “Stop, you not unlock, you no touch this container.” I said, “I am unlocking this container. See the Forklifts coming towards us driven by Australian Army officer. Our property will be taken from the container and loaded onto the TOBRUK. Do you understand?” There were about six of these men, some had weapons and I assumed they were wharfies. The big guy telling me “no unlock” seemed agitated on my reply. We were rapidly getting to a point where I thought we would not move our property.
The next thing I see a white Toyota Utility being driven at a fast rate along the wharf towards us and stop beside the container. The driver, a man in his forties, short in stature, got out of the vehicle and spoke to the group of wharfies in words I did not understand. He came over to us and introduced himself as the head honcho on the wharf and I told him of our concerns and that this container must be unloaded now. He looked inside the container and turned to me and said, “What are you doing with the timber in the container?” I knew what the go was then, and I said,” It’s yours.” He put out his hand and looked me in the eye and I shook his hand. He replied, “us masons, we must stick together.” I said, “Yes.” The wharfies departed. An hour later I had a can of cold XXXX beer in my hand and eating barbecued sausages and eggs on the deck of the TOBRUK. The mission completed, well not quite.
My wife was given the task to meet the TOBRUK on arrival in Brisbane and to handle the Customs details of duty on the cars. I was still in Cyprus and did not return to Australia until the end of July 1982. Also as a stoke of fortune, Marzio’s brother was then stationed at Amberley Air Force Base in Brisbane, took the day off work to collect the Motorcycle and also managed to have the other members personnel effects despatched via the RAAF to the members home states. I consider we were indeed fortunate to have been looked after by the Captain of the TOBRUK so long ago.
The HMAS TOBRUK saw active service across a number of missions, both war and humanitarian and was finally decommissioned in 2015 and scuttled in mid 2018 to become an artificial reef in Queensland.
There are many Cypriot stories to be told, all contingents had unique experiences, and fond memories, the camaraderie and friendships still exist to this day between Cypriots and Contingent members with several members finding love and were married on the island.
Where are the contingent members now? Sadly, several have passed away including Commander Allatson, Chief Inspectors Brian Graham, Bob McLeod, Kevin Inwood and Graham Shinnick. The others are now mostly retired and scattered across Australia, sipping on a cold beer and no doubt reflecting glowingly on their Cypriot adventures.
As we all know, regrettably, the Australian contribution to peacekeeping in Cyprus has now ended with the withdrawal of the last contingent in 2017.
Peter Frederick Wise
Peter joined and served with the Queensland Police Service from September 1961 to May 1974, then the Australian Customs Service for a short period, then Commonwealth Police and then transferred to the AFP on formation in October 1979. He retired as a Detective Superintendent in January 1988. Peter served geographically in Townsville, Brisbane, Norfolk Island, Darwin, Broome and Cyprus. He was commended by the first AFP Commissioner Sir Colin Woods for his service to POLOPS in Cyprus, a recognition he tells me he still proudly displays in the family home. Peter has also been awarded a number of National and AFP medals in recognition of his meritorious service to policing, both domestically and internationally.
Since his retirement Peter has written and had published six (6) books, all around the adventures of a fictional Private Eye Detective called Peter Sage, mostly sex and murder mysteries. The books include: Death in Famagusta, Palomino Gold, Bushrangers Treasure, The Body, The Kimberley Killers and Sage’s Saga, all available at Zeus Publications or at any fine weekend Swap Meets and Garage Sales.
Peter was a surf lifesaver and footballer in his younger days and became a body builder winning the Mr Queensland award for Bodybuilding in 1968, 69 & 70 as well as a Gold Medal at the World Masters Games in Brisbane in 1994. He was sponsored by Queensland Milk and no doubt this led to his later favoured tipple being Kahlua and milk. He lives with his wife Roslyn at Bracken Ridge in Queensland. In this his 50th anniversary of his 1969 bodybuilding title Peter was requested to provide for this article a ‘before (1969) and after (2019) photographs’ however he politely declined. I managed to find a photo of Peter in the prime of his life.
Marzio Da Re, APM
AFP Detective Superintendent 0868 (Ret’d)
17-18th AUSTCIVPOL Cyprus Contingents