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Brand: Martin Bell

End of Empire

by Martin Bell

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End of Empire : Cyprus A Soldier's Story

Martin Bell, the former BBC war reporter and Independent MP, served as a soldier in the British army in Cyprus in the late 1950s during the EOKA rebellion against British rule, and recently he discovered the letters he had written home during the conflict. They describe road blocks and cordons and searches, murders and explosions and riots - and a strategy of armed repression that failed. Now, almost sixty years later, he has used these letters to write The End of Empire.

His narrative is a powerful personal account of the violent process of decolonization, of the character of the British army at the time and the impact of National Service on young men who were not much more than 'kids in uniform'. He also gives a graphic insight into the futility of the use of force in wars among the people and reveals, for the first time, the true story of the insurgency and the campaign to defeat it, for recently declassified documents show that the army commanders adopted misguided tactics that served only to strengthen support for their enemy.

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Martin Bell has written an interesting perspective on the last days of British rule in Cyprus. As a National Serviceman, he served there in the Suffolk Regiment from 1957-1959. Many years later he discovered in a chocolate box letters he had written to his family at the time recounting his experiences. From these, his own later knowledge and research at The National Archives, he has put together an absorbing tale of Britain's role in what was known at the time as the 'Emergency'. The picture he paints is not unfamiliar with other accounts of decolonisation, the difference in Cyprus being that it was not so much a demand for independence that caused the British difficulties as a demand by the Greek Cypriots for 'enosis', union with Greece. As the controlling power with the additional duty to safeguard the welfare of the Turkish Cypriots, Britain was caught in the middle. As Martin Bell narrates it, the British Army leaders in Cyprus, at times in opposition to the Governor, mistakenly thought that they were winning the Emergency in the same way they had indeed done so earlier in Malaya against the Communist insurgents. They were wrong. In the end, Archbishop Makarios was recalled from the Seychelles where he had been sent into exile and independence was eventually painfully achieved. Martin Bell's account gains added force by his campaign, using the Freedom of Information Act, to secure the release to the public in 2014 of an account of the Emergency called "Flaming Cassock" written by Lieut. Col. Arthur Campbell, at the request of the Governor of the time, Sir John Harding. The Colonial Office and Harding's successor as Governor, Sir Hugh Foot had suppressed the account. It contains some remarkable revelations about the true state of the security forces in Cyprus at the time as well as some less than complimentary remarks about the Archbishop. Martin Bell's book is a valuable addition to Britain's history of decolonisation. Ian Hay-Campbell Friends of The National Archives http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/get-involved/friends.htm Friends of The National Archives