1950-1959 | Cyprus | Detention without trial | Martial law | Torture

British introduce state of emergency in Cyprus

A bust of Field Marshal Sir John Harding at Somerset County Museum.
Public domain via Wikimedia.

26 November 1955

During a short radio statement at 17.00 GMT on Saturday 26 November 1955, Field Marshal Sir John Harding, the newly appointed governor of Cyprus, announced draconian emergency laws to crush a growing revolt against British rule.  The death penalty could now be applied for the possession of firearms, ammunition or explosives regardless of intent or whether there had been fatalities. Arrests could be made without any warrant, and suspect rebels detained without trial.  Equally controversial was the power given to courts to impose corporal punishment on detainees under 18 years old.1

In the following weeks, soldiers, often accompanied by hooded informers known as ‘chained toads’ and barking tracker dogs, rounded up thousands of Greek-Cypriot villagers who they abused as ‘bloody wogs’, while ransacking and looting their homes. They forced entry into cinemas, churches and schools, confiscating blue and white ( Greek ) flags, and blue pencils and locking down entire schools where pupils or staff were deemed too sympathetic to the insurgency.2  Men and boys who merely looked suspicious were herded into lorries and driven away for interrogation and often torture. Some were shot dead while ‘attempting to escape.’

Archbishop Mykarios, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus, correctly predicted that the emergency laws would only make the situation ‘more acute.’ Within 24 hours of the declaration, there was an unprecedented escalation of terror offences with seven bomb and grenade attacks across the island, while the streets of Nicosia emptied each night as people refused to go out on the streets. The British responded by exiling Makarios to the Seychelles and then attempted to restore order by offering bribes of £5000 to any Cypriot who provided information leading to the arrest of an insurgent.  There were few takers.3


  1. John Newsinger, British Counterinsurgency, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2015 p. 98 and Robert Holland, Britain and the Revolt in Cyprus, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2002, p. 98, ‘Flare up in Cyprus After Emergency,’ The Birmingham Daily Post, 28 November 1955, p. 1 and Piers Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997, p. 620.
  2. Piers Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997, Jonathan Cape, London, 2007, pp. 620-621.
  3. “Flare up in Cyprus After Emergency,” The Birmingham Post, 28 November 1955 p. 1 and “Cyprus Terrorists say ‘Final Battle Soon: Violence Flares After Emergency Declared,’” The Belfast Newsletter, 28 November 1955, p. 5 .

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