Ever Ready on the Pyla Plateau, Larnaca District, Cyprus
Pyla, Plateau, Cyprus
The shift starts 12 midnight exactly, our comrades woke us up at 11.45, and we struggle to our feet, sleep drunk, exhausted. Outside our 'Nissen hut' (Alu built structure, half-round shaped, used for accommodation and command), the wind is howling over the plains, it makes me shudder to think to be on patrol after midnight. In January the icy winds blow from the Anatolian highlands across the Cyprus strait and covers the island with a blanket of cold.
Radio communication is set at every full hour, just as my colleague takes his seat the control call comes in 'Nicosia to all report'. I grab my FAL NATO rifle, full gear, recounting what I wear, for the exterior is chilly , at winds reaching strength 10 at some points, the cold creeps up fast. Cotton undershirt, warm long sleeves undershirt, Cotton over shirt, Army issue, pullover 1, alpine pullover, wind jacket, 7 PCs of clothes protecting me from the freezing wind.
I relieve my colleague from his post, and the sub-zero temperature hits me straight into the face. This must be the coldest night experienced on the plains. I am fully awake by now, and climb up the ladder that leads to the outlook checkpoint. Trying to get accustomed with the darkness I grab the binoculars to survey the area under our scrutiny. Nothing unusual I gather, the wind is pulling on the trusses and supporting steel cables, making it squeak and moan. I can not remember when such a storm has blown here before. In my six months of duty I find the cold has gone worse day after day, and in the H.Q. as here we use Kerosene heaters in our sleeping wards to keep warm. The resulting fumes are still in my nostrils, and I can't help thinking that the fumes are a health hazard. No one cares, as we have no choice, if you don't want to wake up frozen stiff..
In all my life I remember this to be of a unique, moist cold that cuts to the bone and marrow of one's body. I think of my life ending up in these remote parts of Cyprus, what made me enlist in the service. And the wind rattling goes on and its howling is eerie at some stage.
It is 12.30 AM past midnight, a loud voice cuts through the storm, the shadow below I recognize to be that of the Lieutenant. He asks me to come from the observation post at once. I follow his order, take up position and salute 'report no incidents, Sir'. The unbelievable happens, here, at 12.30 AM, in the middle of nowhere, he asks me to quote the 'duty paragraph's, including specific rules. Thinking to myself the man has tilted over, I nevertheless stumble all the points he refers to, leaving out some. He lectures me for 30 minutes giving me the focus of his career, how he intends to bring sanity in this platoon. A moron I think to myself, what a moron. He wants to make a point, so let him. After he finishes, he abruptly turns back, asking me to return to my post, and vanishes.
As he came he disappears. Now I am left with the wind and still can't make sense of all that happened a while ago, figuring out what was wrong with this guy who happened to be our commanding officer. At exactly one hour into the morning we exchange posts, my colleague who remained inside on readiness will now take post up in the cold. I tell him of the incident and he is puzzled, too.
Once inside, the warmth is overwhelming. I stand near the oven, rubbing my hands and generally feel better within minutes. I switch on the radio and '10 cc blares from the British Forces radio in Nicosia, 'I'm not in love'. They must be playing this song a hundred times a day, I recollect. The night is long, and sometimes you tend to doze off. Overcoming the 'inner Schweinehund' literally the 'pig's dog', as the 'dog within us' is called in our parts of the world. You have to focus and you master self discipline, as I learnt in the Army, compliments of Hauptmann Walter Lukesch, my mentor and company commander, whom I respect.
With every turn the morning is closer, and the thought of the Lieutenant returning is a vague possibility. I take the last turn above the roof of the hut, and watch in disbelieve when the sun's first rays flood over the plains before 6 AM. Our night shift is over, the next six hours will be spent in readiness, but allowed to grab some sleep after breakfast, which we gladly follow. Another night in the plains for the next eight weeks has passed.
Next: The Alarm ....
Related Tags: communications, cyprus, un, united nations, larnaca, pyla, the middle east, unficyp, service for peace
Thirty years Africa, Asia, Europe, working travel, and adventure. From green jungles of Africa to the highest mountains of Tibet.....
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