One for the history books
Keeping the Peace
By Tom Lessard
Even though I spent 18 years in the army, I was never trained as a fighting man. My first two years were spent doing some foot drill, learning how to be a storesman and getting more education. Next, I was posted to London’s 27 C.O.D., where I worked in shipping, loading and unloading trucks.
After a couple of years there, I wanted to go to Germany. The only way I was able to go there was to get a posting to 1RCR in Ipperwash. I grabbed the chance and ended up in the clothing credit department, where I stayed for the next eight years (Rita and I were married in Germany, and our two eldest sons were born there). Since I had been with the battalion so long, I figured I might as well transfer and I became a member of the regiment.
A few years later, in 1970, we shipped out to Cyprus. I was still not a trained infantryman.
One night, at 11 p.m., my buddy and I headed out to do eight hours on an outpost that we had never seen before. The men we were replacing were in a hurry to get back to camp, so they didn’t have time to bring us up to date on what was expected of us or what – if anything – had been going on in the area. A Turkish attachment was 100 yards to our front, and the Greeks were 100 yards to our rear.
About an hour into our tour, my buddy became sick and ended up in a corner of the outpost. He couldn’t move, so he would be unable to ride the bike or walk back to camp by himself. I couldn’t leave the outpost unattended, so I was of very little help to him. I tried to call back to base, but our phone was out and our radio battery was dead. It seems the previous crew was in such a rush to get out that they neglected to tell us about the equipment problems, and forgot to mention it to anyone back in camp. The outpost had no communications, and a sick soldier moaning and groaning.
About 3 a.m., I noticed a lot of movement on the Turk side and none on the Greek side. I didn’t know what to do as I couldn’t contact anyone back at base for assistance and as I mentioned this was my first time at this outpost.
I figured I should even the sides, and walked down to the Greek post and asked for someone who spoke English. A sergeant appeared and I told him that the Turks were moving up more troops. I then went back to my station and watched for any Greek movements. Sure enough, there was a rush of troops, so I went to the Turks and told them to watch for the Greeks moving up.
At 7 a.m., when our relief arrived, I told them about our night and equipment problems and explained that I would make out my report and get them new gear sent out. I loaded my buddy on the bike and pushed him back to camp.
When I reported to the orderly sergeant and told him of my problems, he said they were just beginning; the company commander wanted to see me. The CC wasn’t very happy. He told me that the British and UN headquarters were reporting that the Turks and Greeks were on the alert, getting ready to go at it. I explained what happened and that I wasn’t trained to handle the situation; I said I just wanted to even the sides and that my partner was of no use.
I almost became an item in the history books as the man who started the next Battle of Cyprus; turns out the movement on the Turkish side was just a normal shift change.