Author KEVIN BARNETT | Read time 13 MINS | 19052101
He was a super secret agent provocateur in an RAF sergeant’s uniform, armed with a 9mm Sten sub-machine gun and a pistol. Both carried at all times in the strife-torn British colony of Cyprus during the 1950s. But, his main armoury in the escalating battle for the hearts and minds of Greek Cypriots was his typewriter and Gestetner duplicator.
In five years of anti-British and ethnic strife, he never had to fire his guns in anger, but his activities with the printed word helped to pave the way to peace and prosperity for the Mediterranean paradise.
As an active serviceman, he had joined the search for the leaders of paramilitary groups opposed to British rule and he secretly produced propaganda leaflets for a clandestine militia of disgruntled British soldiers.
But, as the war of words escalated, he unwittingly became the main intermediary between British Intelligence and three rebel groups. A super secret agent on the Isle of Spies. It was 30 years before he discovered the full truth of his role and the duplicity and subterfuge that had dangled his life on a thread.
Whilst, by now, this social history story might be looking more like the plot of a new John le Carre novel, it is the real-life true story of a British family’s ancestor. This unsung hero was a secret agent whose activities helped to prove that “The Pen is mightier than the Sword” and so shaped a nation’s future.
“We fight for the liberation of our country from English slavery and we kill every English man and every collaborator of the English. We do not impose mediaeval tortures on anyone. We kill the enemy and the traitor, but we respect human beings.”
An EOKA statement released via leaflet
Code-named “Phillip”, the sergeant in the Royal Air Force Regiment was based in Nicosia. But lived off-base, in a nearby village, where the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots were ethnically divided. The demarcation was close to the rented bungalow where agent “Philip” had a windowless safe room. His wife and their two young sons used it during skirmishes between the two communities. “Philip’s” landlord, Yiannis and his wife and family also shared the safe room when Greeks and Turks were killing each other in nearby streets.
Village killings as British troops seek EOKA
Agent “Phillip” and his family were never threatened by any of the insurgents. He said later: “There were many skirmishes by the Turks against my village. Some became massacres because both Greeks and Turks would be killed and the bodies abused. I was ordered not to take any action other than to protect myself, and my family. I never needed to do that.”
In other parts of the island, Greek Cypriot para-military groups were killing British servicemen and Cypriot police as part of their campaign for Enosis – union with Greece. Led by Colonel George Grivas, whose codename was “Digenis”. EOKA murdered British military personnel and local police. Greek Cypriot opponents of EOKA were punished and some of those working for British organisations were shot dead on Nicosia’s “Murder Mile” or in their villages.
At one time 40,000 British soldiers and local police were trying to capture the man who issued edicts via leaflets signed “Digenis” as EOKA pushed its Enosis aims. The leaflets were aimed at the British authorities and the local Cypriot population. Agent “Philip” was ordered to join patrols seeking to destroy EOKA and arrest its leader. With an EOKA-coerced population and dense mountain forests, this proved to be an impossible task. The conflict evolved into a stalemate between EOKA and the British Military.
RAF planes dropped 1,000s of leaflets on towns and villages urging support for continued British Rule. The government-controlled Radio Cyprus beamed out the same message:” You are better off with the British.
War of Words for hearts and minds
EOKA produced streams of leaflets demanding that the island becomes a part of Greece and threatening any Greek Cypriots who opposed this view. Minority Turkish Cypriots were happy with the status quo, but fearful of increased ethnic oppression if EOKA became victorious.
Soon it became a War of Words, as all sides fought for the hearts and minds of locals. Greek and Turkish “sides” attacked each other, while EOKA continued its campaign for Enosis. RAF planes increased leaflet drops over towns and villages to push the benefits of British rule. EOKA’s efficient courier and distribution service countered with opposing messages and new threats. Turks stepped up their demands for change but the United Nations had little impact on the conflict. They were dangerous times for the super secret agent, his comrades in arms and all Cyprus residents.
British forces began to lose the propaganda war with EOKA. Many military commanders claimed this was due to the politically imposed soft rules of engagement. One rule banned stop and search on priests of the Greek Orthodox Church. Many of them smuggled rifles, pistols, and hand grenades beneath their robes. Schoolchildren, who often couriered pistols from the scenes of shootings, could not be searched.
In 1958, a group of British intelligence officers decided to “fight dirty, like the enemy.” Using the nom de guerre “Cromwell” they set up a clandestine organisation to directly confront EOKA. “Cromwell” threatened EOKA members that British soldiers would affect swift retribution by killing two or more Greek Cypriots for each murdered Brit. If Grivas ordered the bombing of a British establishment, “Cromwell” would destroy Cypriot property.
Terrorist propaganda to British intelligence
Agent “Philip” was recruited by “Cromwell” to type and print off 1,000s of warning leaflets. These were then handed out in towns and villages around the island. British military chiefs ordered a crackdown on “Cromwell’s” activities. To avoid bad publicity in the UK and United Nations, service personnel involved in “Cromwell” were secretly shipped back to the UK. Others were removed from their posts or reduced in rank.
Our super secret agent continued to be involved in the conflict, directly assisting British intelligence in its psychological war against EOKA. At the same time, he was being supplied with EOKA leaflets by his landlord, Yiannes. He said he collected them when visiting his mother’s village in the mountains.
There were also streams of leaflets from other Greek Cypriot anti-British groups that fought against the British and Turkish Cypriots for the union of Cyprus with Greece. These included:
PEKA (Politiki Epitropi Kypriakou Agona – Political Committee of the Cypriot Struggle, the political wing of EOKA;
ANE (Alkimos Neolaia Tis EOKA – Valiant Youth of EOKA) was the youth movement.
“Sword” armoury outgunned the insurgents
British Intelligence received their EOKA propaganda leaflets via ”Phillip” who continued to live with his family in their rented village bungalow. No threats against them came from EOKA or any of the other insurgent groups.
The secret agent was surprised their home was never attacked by EOKA or by warring neighbours. He told an interviewer: “My landlord, Yiannis, knowing I was armed, would plead to be allowed to move with his family into my blocked-off safe room. I always agreed. Yiannis gave me lots of EOKA, PEKA, ANE, and other leaflets telling me they were in gratitude for my protection.”
The leaflets handed over included threats against “traitors” – Greek Cypriots opposed to EOKA and its stated aim of union with Greece.
”Phillip” assumed he was never attacked because his “sword” armoury outgunned the weaponry of the insurgents, mainly country shotguns. His vital work with his “pen” was never discovered and this proved to be more effective in ending the island’s insurrection.
Shock as years later the full story is revealed
However, 30 years later Agent “Phillip” returned to Cyprus and was shocked to discover the full truth of the time he was based on the isle of spies:
Yiannis was an EOKA operative and go-between under threat of death. “Phillip” kept alive for EOKA propaganda to reach British Intelligence. EOKA tactics were influenced by “Cromwell” leaflets produced by him.
His brave and heroic story may still be unknown to his family, so if any readers suspect they might be related to Agent “Phillip” please contact Ancestry-Stories.com to share information etc.
In a letter that arrived unexpectedly, Agent “Phillip” revealed details of the deception that tricked him into the war of words as an agent provocateur for British Intelligence, a British rogue terror unit, and three Greek Cypriot terrorist groups.
“In 1990, I went back to Cyprus on holiday and contacted Yiannis. He invited me to spend a day at my old bungalow where he and his wife now lived. He asked me if I remembered that he regularly visited his aged mother. I replied that he was a good son. He said that, in this case, that was not true.
“He told me that whenever the British found and destroyed an EOKA hideout he was called upon by EOKA to use his skills as a carpenter to build a new hideout. He said he did it under death threats against his family. EOKA told him he must develop a relationship with me and give me their leaflets as if he had found them in the street. He told me from that time my life was useful to EOKA and I was safe. Apparently, I was the unknowing conduit for EOKA propaganda to reach the British authorities.
“On the bright side, I recently discovered that the Cromwell leaflets affected Grivas’s thinking. How satisfying it is to think that his use of me may have saved some soldiers’ lives.
“Yiannis and Cromwell are dead. Both were good men. Cromwell became a prominent member of the government.”
Pen victory over the sword as insurgency ends
The end of the Cyprus insurgency proved to be a victory for the pen over the sword. It was words and not bullets that eventually brought peace to the country.
It had become obvious to all sides in the conflict that a military solution was unlikely and there had to be a negotiated settlement. At one stage, there were 40,000 British troops in Cyprus under Field Marshal Sir John Harding, His opponent, Colonel Grivas, had 300 Greek Cypriots in his EOKA. The ratio between regular troops and guerrillas was 110-to-1 in favour of the British. Grivas remained at large in the Troodos Mountains for years, although he had a narrow escape when his diary and EOKA accounts were seized in a raid.
After five years of strife, the British Government preferred to come to terms with the rebels. The independence agreement was negotiated in Zurich and London in 1960. It was a compromise that gave each of the main protagonists something of what they had sought. But none could claim an outright victory.
When Cyprus became a republic, EOKA and demands for Enosis faded away. Increased factional in-fighting between the Turkish and Greek communities, led to the introduction of a United Nations Force to keep them apart. It remains in post 60 years later…
On the night of 31 March 1955, 16 bombs exploded in Nicosia and several other main towns on the island of Cyprus. The insurgent organization, EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston or the National Organization of Cypriot Combatants), proclaimed that it was acting to induce the British to grant Enosis – the union between Cyprus and Greece.
The following day, Grivas distributed a first leaflet that said in part: “With the help of God, and faith in our honourable struggle, with the backing of all Hellenism, and the help of the Cypriots WE HAVE TAKEN UP THE STRUGGLE TO THROW OFF THE ENGLISH YOKE, our banners high, bearing the slogan which our ancestors handed down to us as a holy trust – DEATH OR VICTORY.
A second Grivas leaflet said in part: “To the Cyprus People. Cyprus must get rid of the English and will do so. Our slogan: self-determination, with the dire warning that if anyone loses his courage and attempt to co-operate with the ruler he will be struck implacably.”
A third Grivas leaflet said: “To all British soldiers and citizens and to their families now on Cyprus. You have been sent to Cyprus to slaughter innocent Cypriots at the behest of a narrow and selfish clique of politicians in London. The sooner and stronger you object and resist these forces of Colonialism, the faster this man’s slaughtering of British and Greek people in Cyprus will come to an end. This will be done by giving the Cyprus people the Divine Right of Self-determination.”
Cyprus has been called the Isle of Spies; a clearing house for secret agents of friend and foe. The island was a key location for London and Washington during the Cold War, a military and data collection base for the wider region of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The British moved their Middle East Headquarters to Cyprus in December 1954, making it clear that they intended to stay on the island for the immediate future. The main MI6 station for the Middle East was based in Nicosia and the Middle East High Command in Episcope. Permanent radio signal monitoring stations were placed on Aghios Nicolaos and mount Troodos, Olympus, andPergamos.
British radio stations targeting Arab populations in the Middle East transmitted from Cyprus. The Arab Near East Radio Station transmits from Polemydia, and its signal reached as far as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Northern Egypt, and parts of Saudi Arabia. A source of British propaganda, this station was a major means of PSYOP against the Arabs.
Documents in the National Archives (released in 2018) reveal that there was resistance within the Colonial Office to the concept of psychological warfare. One unnamed official said that the propaganda efforts in Cyprus failed partly because people had made up their minds. “Reason, logic, thought, common sense, analysis, all the processes which are usual in the Western mind are absent,” the official wrote. “Once the Greek Cypriot has taken a side in an issue, he will tenaciously cling to a belief in that side.”