Childhood Memories 1950-1962
The Cypriots who worked at Government House
By Sermen Erdogan…….
There is a whole lot of stories written about the building or history of Government House of Cyprus, now the Presidential Palace. Probably the reason for this is the political connotations and being the residence and headquarters of the British Colonial Government of Cyprus. The Palace was the focus of Cypriot’s political attention in protests and actions against the British. But not much information exists on the Cypriot people who worked and lived there.
Ulvi Keser in his book Katırcılar: The Muleteers which is about the Cypriot Regiment in World War 2, he interviewed a returned serviceman Ali Tilki, who explained that he worked in the Government House until 1939. Ali Tilki said that he was working in the Government House as a waiter, until the war started. There was also another person named Hasan working with him. As my father was called by his surname Hasan by the British I am wondering if this person was my father as a very young man. However, I am not so sure as no other name was given for Hasan by Ali Tilki. There were two more Hasans who are mentioned below who worked at Government house later on. There was also another Turkish Cypriot named Kişbir Dayı who was responsible for the horses although there were only donkeys there then……
When Sir Hugh Foot arrived as the last British Governor of Cyprus we got to see some horses around as they were brought in for him to ride. Later on stables were built at the bottom of the gardens and some horses were kept for him. The Archibald kids and us were also given little rides by the attendant of the horses who was an Englishman named Mikey.
Also an Armenian girl named Nanny was also working at the Palace at that time. She was around 20 years of age in 1940 Ali Tilki mentions.
My father served during World War II between 1941 and 1946 as part of the Cyprus Contingent and served for the British Army in Egypt, Palestine and Italy. He told us very little about the War except that he got marginally deaf in his ears due to cannon fire when they had to bring in supplies to the front. As a result of his military service in the Cyprus Contingent he was rehabilitated into a job after the war in the Agriculture Department in Athalasa Nicosia. Later he was appointed to run the Government House gardens in the late 1940s. He must have been around 27 years old by then.
When I think and remember some of the people from my childhood memories, I do remember several of them that stand out. I remember the dedication and the commitment of my father Erdogan Hasan as well as the hard work of other staff that comes to mind. I will focus in this article on those people whom I remember as much as I could to remember them by name as a token or recognition and history of the workers of Government House. Maybe there is a record somewhere in the annals of the Palace with names of people who worked there as the British are known for their record keeping virtues. But who knows as the Palace got burned down twice, once in 1931 and the later episode being in 1974.
The people my father worked with were mainly Greek Cypriots in the early 1950s that he mentioned to us. I remember only three of the names and related stories I have been told by my mother and father. Sophia, Yango and Eftimia. I remember actually visiting Sophia’s house in Lakadamia a few times with our mother Gülten and playing with her kids. My mum said that Sophia was my father’s girlfriend a long time ago. Strangely they were respectful and friendly to each other! They would talk for hours inside while we played on the vacant allotment next to their house.
I met Yango in 1962 when my father was transferred out of the Government House to the Public Gardens across from the old Nicosia General Hospital now in South Nicosia. Yango was a good man and respected my father as my father was his boss in Government house previously. I remember his wife visiting us with their children even after the Greek families were turfed out of the Government house in 1957.
One story that sticks in my mind about Yango was how he warned our father on 21st December 1963 of the impending EOKA attacks on Cypriot Turks so that my father escaped the Greek controlled section of Nicosia when the trouble started on that day. Otherwıse if our father was taken by EOKA like some other people have been at that time , he would have been murdered and thrown into a well and never be found like others who are being searched for today ! So in a way Yango as a good human being saved my father’s life and I am forever very thankful to him. I never got to see him again. Although my father did pay him a visit in 1968 when the roads reopened and people could travel freely again. Yango was well and his family was ok too father said. I do not remember much of Eftimia except that she was an elderly lady compared to Sophia. I remember her in an all black outfit with a black headscarf in the gardens working in her later years .
I remember walking hand in hand with my sister Tülen and a giant of a Policeman, Mustafa, up the garden path to go home to see my newborn brother. I remember the birth of Eren my brother who is three years younger than me. It was early August 1955. Mustafa was the Police Sergeant in charge of the security of the garden gates. Sergeant Mustafa was Özer Koray’s father who became the Foreign Affairs Commissioner and representative in London for TRNC in recent years.
Although all our neighbours next to our house were Greek families pre 1956. I do not remember the adults’ names or what work they did as most probably they worked in the Palace itself as cooks, cleaners or waiters. The young man next door was the only one I remember sunning himself sitting on a chair who placed a bomb under the bed of the then Governor Sir John Harding. That incident of course was the cause for all the Greek Cypriot families to be turfed out of their jobs and the houses they were living in and replaced by the English Staff by the Governor. The Turkish Cypriot workers remained as they were not involved in that nasty business.
Hasan Cürcani was a Cypriot Turkish man who used to work in the office of the Government House as a holder of the purse strings and accounts and manager of the officers. I remember him coming down to the garden and paying all the workers weekly wages on Friday lunchtimes. He used to ask us kids “çocuklar bu hafta çalıştı mı?” have the children done any work this week? “. Our answer was always “yes” for which we were awarded a couple of piasters each. We could buy a fair few lollies for two piasters from Andrea the grocer on Strovolos road.
Hasan Cürcani explains the bomb story very well in his memoirs for Osman Güvenirs book called “The Days I Spent With Dr Fazıl Küçük”. Hasan Cürcani said the EOKA would do anything to further their ultimate goal of ENOSIS, unification aspiration of Cyprus with Greece, including the assassination of hasan-curcanithe British Governor. He explains the young man who was used by EOKA was a bit of a hoodlum of around 20 years of age who was given a bomb as small as a cigarette packet that would have killed Sir Harding if it went off. The Greek guy of course did not turn up for work the next day after he placed the bomb under the bed. Hasan Cürcani was asked by Sir Harding if he gave permission for the young man to be away on that day for which the answer was of course “No” by Hasan. As the British Captain responsible for security in the Palace was already suspicious of such Greek attacks and schemes he searched the whole Palace and located the bomb under Sir Harding’s bed and carried it out on a shovel. As soon as the package was taken out and left in open air it exploded luckily without any casualties. The young neighbour sent a message to my father on the next morning to take his bicycle from his room next door to our house and place it near the gate next to Strovolo Road as he was going to pick up his groceries from the shops. My father unaware of the situation and not knowing what was going on in the Palace and trying to help the young neighbour, did him a favour facilitating his escape. Hasan Cürcani explains that in 1960 When the Republic was announced there was a general pardon and amnesty given to all the misdeeds of EOKA fighters . This young Greek man turned up at the Palace found Hasan to the dismay and surprise of all the English staff and everyone else and demanded his wages for 21 days that he said he was not paid to him in 1956 and can he have his cheque for it. Hasan told him he was sacked then and that the Governor ordered that no more monies was to be paid to him. The young Greek guy protested and created a scene and was promptly kicked out of the Palace.
Straight away all the Greek neighbours were replaced by English families in early 1957. Our next door was occupied by the Archibalds who had four children Margaret, Joyce, Robert and David. Their father Sonny Archibald was the Chef for the Palace. We got on well and became good friends with the Archibald’s who we have got in touch with recently after 54 years.
After the London and Zurich agreements in 1959 for the island to become a Republic shared by the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, Makarios was elected as President and Dr. Fazıl Küçük as Vice President according to the new constitution of Cyprus. Sir Hugh Foot who facilitated the agreements was holding weekly meetings with Makarios and Dr Küçük to hand over the running of the Presidentıal Palace and the Government business. It was in one of these meetings that Makarios raised the issue of Clerk Hasan as he called him. He did not foresee that Hasan Cürcani as a Turk should be working next to him. Hasan was made aware of the situation by Dr Küçük. The next day he said he was called to the office of Makarios and asked by him whether he would work with him. Hasan Cürcanı was a very well-educated public servant that could speak four languages and trained in the English tradition. An experienced Hasan knew what was coming and he responded by saying that he was a Public Servant of the government and he could work anywhere. He was promptly dismissed by Makarios and transferred to Dr Küçük’s office as a manager.
The earliest recollection of my father and mother working is under the large shed where all workers of the gardens collected to have their lunches or to do potting for flower seedlings to be planted around the Palace grounds. The shed was next to the irrigation pool that was one of the focal points of the garden at the first part of the slope going down into the gardens and orchards.
My father was responsible for all the Government House gardens on the hill where the Palace was sitting as well as the gardens below the hill where the orchards and vegetable patches were situated. The grounds were bounded by the river to the west and by the Strovolos Road to the east. I estimated the whole area to be approximately 300 donums of land. The gardens around the Palace were landscaped in the English style with lawns and flower beds that needed a lot of attention.
Many a time I remember observing my father working in a sweat in the landscaped areas with workers urging them to hurry so the work can be finished before the ceremonies started on the central lawns or around them. The lawns were cut by mowers pushed around by workers. I remember the first day when my father took the delivery of a large lawn mower and started it. It made a racket it was so noisy we kids had to block our ears to avoid the noise it was making. It was a shiny machine with a handle and controls for petrol and height adjustments. We were mesmerised how effective it was in doing the job compared to hand pushed mowers! My father would not let anyone else do the job any more. He loved that machine! He kept it all shiny and oiled all the time.
Rain or Shine there was work to be done around the gardens. So people turned up at work even if they were sick. After the Bomb episode in 1956 the workers in the gardens were all Turkish Cypriots. The Omologites and Strovolos areas were settled mainly by Greek Cypriots. The Turkish workers had to walk from the North part of Nicosia where they lived or ride their bicycles or catch the Greek bus to come to work. There was a father Hasan Hafız who saved Eren my brother when he fell into the water culvert. He was also a barber and used to cut our hair when he used to bring his barber tools to the gardens once in a while. His daughter Zühre Hasan used to ride to work with her father daily from Ortaköy. Zühre worked in the Palace cleaning and attending house duties helping the Armenian lady who was the house matron in the Palace.
The Armenian lady got married to one of the British Security Personnel and left in 1960 with her husband to live in England. Zühre turned up to work one morning sick as a dog. I remember my father getting upset with her father as to why he brought his sick daughter to work. Hasan the father was apologetic saying she did not want to lose her job. Such were the tough Cyprus times.
I witnessed another occasion with Ferhat the oldest of the garden workers who turned up after a week of being sick. I could see as a child that he was still sick as he was coughing and spluttering all over the place. My father promptly asked him to go home and get better before he turns up to work again. Poor Ferhat would not leave afraid that he would lose his job. Such was dedication to the jobs in those days.
There was another elderly Turkish woman called Nadir aba who was also in black working in the gardens. She ended up working for my father again after the 1963 troubles in Nicosia in the Nursery under the Bastion where the TRNC Presidential Palace is. My father used to attend both the Nursery and Dr Küçük’s gardens above the Bastions then.
Ali dayı as I use to call him was the resident plumber and electrician of the Government House. Nadir aba was his wife who used to have daily morning coffee sessions with my mother.
They used to live in a house near the second entrance of the Palace near a roundabout right on Strovolos road and the entrance to the English School across the road. Later on when the Greek families were moved out Ali and Nadir were moved closer next to our house. Ali was a keen pigeon keeper and constructed a huge enclosure for his pigeons where I used to go and watch his pigeons for hours. As Ali and Nadir had the only television around the place we would go to watch Blue Velvet the horse and Lassie the dog at their place in late afternoons. Later on Ali and Nadir had two sons Cafer and Ulus.
This family also got turfed out of their job and home once the Makarios Presidency commenced. Like my family they shifted to Nicosia Turkish section down the road from where my family relocated in 1962.
Two persons Rüstem and Süleyman Hüseyin enişte (who was my auntie’s husband) used to travel from Lapta to the Government House and back daily to work as gardeners.
My auntie had two daughters and I was her proverbial son. So I used to spend some time in my school holidays in Lapta. I used to travel to Lapta after Süleyman enişte finished work. It was a long drive through the very winding old road between Nicosia and Lapta. For me it was a very long drive as I used to ask every five minutes when are we arriving uncle?
After 16th August 1960 the day the British left we walked down to Nicosia with our mother as there were no buses. I remember walking down through Metaxa Square before Ledra Street. I could see Makarios on a high podium screaming something in Greek repeatedly. I asked my mum what is he screaming about. Mum said he is saying Victory, Victory we have won! I remember asking what did he win mum?
I do not remember when the Greek man Fody arrived and occupied father’s office further down from our house. Father said now Fodis became his boss. Now and then father will be talking with mum about Fody’s mistreatment of every single worker in the gardens including himself. I was so upset overhearing father’s unhappiness with Fodis. One morning I took a piece of chalk and wrote “Eşek, Deli Fody” Donkey, Crazy Fody on the office steps. My father came home very upset at lunch time and gave me the biggest slap I ever remember. He said he was upset because he knew I wrote on the steps and I was lucky that he saw it and washed the writing off before Fody arrived and saw it. Pheww !
I remember the very first Greek neighbours in 1960 that moved into our next door house. I was lucky that my class mate from Higher Technical Institute and Facebook friend Spyros informed me of their names of Mr Nikos who was Makarios limo driver and his family. He was a resident with his wife and the three children that we became friends with. The children of Nikos that we played with were Loris, Thula and Michalskis and were around our age group. The rest of the new Greek neighbours that moved in 1960 had to do with security and were told by our parents that they were previously EOKA people.
All the Turkish Cypriot workers in the Government House and the Palace gardens were replaced by Greek workers by the end of 1962. Some workers were able to find work and some like old Ferhat could not, as far as I remember, which was quite sad.
It was the end of an era for my siblings and I, as we regarded the place as our home and enjoyed the immense size of the gardens and the excitement it offered to us as kids throughout our childhood, as you can see in the following video which shows our father with Lady Foot selecting flowers.