1950-1959 | Cyprus

Report into massacre of Greek Cypriots whitewashes role of British Army

British troops search a bus at a checkpoint – © IWM HU 52031

9 December 1958

On 9 December 1958, Patrick Bourke, the Chief Justice of Cyprus, published the conclusions of an inquiry in to a massacre of unarmed Greeks outside the Turkish Cypriot village of Geunyeli. On 12 June thirty five Greek detainees had been released from the British Army’s custody into the countryside between two Turkish villages at a time of bitter intercommunal violence between Greeks and Turks. They were forced to walk 13 miles to their homes. The inquiry noted that it was ‘not a haphazard affair’ and that an ambush by Turkish Cypriots had somehow been ‘arranged in anticipation.’1 According to the Daily Herald, ‘six of the Greeks were hacked to pieces and their remains thrown on a bonfire, two more crawled away to die… (while) the rest, some of them gravely wounded, managed to hide from their attackers.’2

Once the inquiry’s findings were published, British newspapers claimed they exonerated the role of the British armed forces in Cyprus, who were at the time engaged in quelling a Greek Cypriot insurgency against British rule. The Times headline declared ‘Cyprus “Massacre” Inquiry Clears Security Forces.’ The Daily Mirror similarly led with the header ‘Ambush Inquiry: Troops Cleared,’ while the Birmingham Post trumpeted ‘Horrible Allegations Disproved’, informing its readers that Bourke had ‘cleared British security forces of charges that they wilfully exposed released Greek Cypriot prisoners to Turkish savagery.’3

The truth was uglier. The inquiry heard how one sergeant, unhappy with what he was being asked to do, had initially refused to comply with the commanding officer’s order almost to the point of mutiny.4 Bourke, however, accepted unquestioningly the assurance of senior officers that there was absolutely no truth to Greek accusations that British security forces deliberately made the men ‘run the gauntlet’ or had abetted or arranged the ambush. There was, he agreed, no evidence of collusion in the crime but he did find that, by forcing the men to walk home across Turkish property, the army had acted unlawfully. The generals, the War Office, the Colonial Office and the island’s governor all piled pressure on Bourke to withhold this damning conclusion from the published version of the report, which he eventually agreed to do, on that dubious ground that it had been merely his opinion rather than a finding.5 The full minutes of the testimony and evidence presented also remained unpublished and even today, despite a freedom of information request in 2012, the file remains closed.6

FOOTNOTES

  1. ‘Cyprus “Massacre” Inquiry Clears Security Forces,’ The Times, 10 December 1958, p. 8.
  2. ‘Mystery of the Cyprus Massacre,’ The Daily Herald, 3 December 1958, p. 4.
  3. ‘Cyprus “Massacre” Inquiry Clears Security Forces,’ The Times, 10 December 1958, p. 8, ‘Ambush Inquiry: Troops Cleared,’ The Daily Mirror, 10 December 1958, p. 19 and ‘Horrible Allegations Disproved,’ The Birmingham Post, 10 December 1958, p. 13.
  4. Martin Bell, War and the Death of News, Oneworld Publications, London, 2018
  5. Ibid.
  6. Closed extract: Folio 109, FCO 141/3849/1, National Archives.

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