A former British soldier who served in Cyprus during the Eoka struggle against colonial rule has spoken out for the first time after 60 years about an incident involving the death of a Greek Cypriot detainee and the cover-up, he said followed the incident.
The details were published exclusively in the Mail on Sunday, and come at a time when 34 Eoka veterans are in the process of suing the British government over torture they said they endured during the 1955-1959 fight for independence.
Jamie Eykyn, now 79, said he was 19 at the time and stationed in Kythrea, in the north of the island. When on duty one night in October 1958, he heard a “peircing scream” coming from a the interrogation centre he was guarding
He told the Mail on Sunday that he reported what he heard to his superior officer, Major Michael Stourton, who in turn, alerted the authorities.
However Eykyn said they both met a wall of hostility and that “Major Stourton was ostracised, cold-shouldered by some fellow officers for speaking out and effectively silenced by Ministry of Defence censors, who saw fit to remove the episode from the official history of the Grenadier Guards”.
The incident, the paper said, has remained a secret – until now.
Eykyn also said he was being supported by the family of the late Major Stourton, who died in 2001, and they opened the family archive to him, which contains a full account.
Stourton papers detail that one of his platoons was sent to Kythrea to guard what he had been told was an interrogation centre.
“There, he spoke to a man in plain clothes who described himself as a ‘District Intelligence Officer’ and asked him to keep the Grenadiers a certain distance away so they would not hear the sounds of Cypriots being interrogated during the night,” the article says.
Eykyn recalls: “At night, they would put the detainees into a big barn. The interrogation hut was on one side of the barn and it was not under our control. I heard screaming coming from it, and one of my guardsmen did, too. It was a terrible sound.”
The following day, he discovered a young man lying on the floor with a “pure white” face,
He couldn’t see any bruises on him but knew something had happened to him,and reported it to Stourton. “I reported my misgivings because I was deeply unhappy about what was going on.”
He said another soldier in the platoon witnessed a prisoner’s head being held back as he was repeatedly struck on the throat, the stomach and the backs of his knees with blocks of ice.
Two days later, he learned from the Greek administrator of the camp that a prisoner had died under interrogation and that they had put ice next to the body when beating him so that there would be no sign of bruising, and that the story was that he died trying to escape.
Eykyn said some of the other British soldiers did not think it was a problem and that the Eoka fighters were suspected terrorists and deserved it.
“One of the other officers totally disagreed with my attitude. I told him we’re not here to reinvent the Nazi tactics of the Second World War.”
Stourton tried to report the situation to Commanding Officer, Colonel James Bowes-Lyon, a cousin of the Queen Mother but he was not there so he decided to drive to Government House to speak to a friend who worked as Private Secretary to the Governor, Sir Hugh Foot. He also set out the details in a letter.
According to the Mail on Sunday, Sir Hugh, immediately went to the interrogation centre to investigate, but it seemed that all trace of mistreatment had been removed by the time he arrived. He had been delayed, wrote Stourton, by an unexplained road block.
It said both Stourton and Eykyn were interviewed by Special Branch, but to little purpose. Eykyn said the investigators were hostile, while Stourton wrote: “I was left with the impression they were anxious to discover as little as possible.”
No one was ever convicted of the Kythrea death, a Greek Cypriot called Spiros Hjiyakoumi. An open verdict was recorded at an inquest.
Coroner Christos Ionnides concluded: “There is a complete lack of any positive evidence as to what really happened to this man to cause his death.”
Stourton was later told that two officers were court-martialled and dismissed but there was no interest in the case from the British authorities other than that. He left the Army shortly afterwards. He and Eykyn remained close friends.
“It took real guts to do what he did, which was typical of him. A lot of fellow officers were not supportive of his decision, and he had to suffer various comments,” he said of Stourton.
Stourton did not tell his four children about the incident until the 1990s, when a book was being written on the history of the Guards, in which the incident was ultimately included based on the accounts given by Stourton and Eykyn but when the book was published in 1996, the incident was not recorded. The author Oliver Lindsay said he had submitted the proofs to the defence ministry but they had redacted the incident.
Stourton’s son said he was “bitterly disappointed”.
“It would have been a vindication of his actions, and it was a crushing blow when he found out it had been redacted. I believe he was ostracised, or something close to it, which is not merely hurtful but dangerous. If good men stand idly by, we are all in terrible trouble.”
The incident is now included in a new book Unsung Heroes, by Algy Cluff.
Eykyn said he was also relieved that the truth was being uncovered.
“Even after all this time, it’s important the record is set straight,” he said.