Time mellows the `Smiling Killer'

Colin Smith in Nicosia meets one of the most wanted men involved in the Greek Cypriot revolt against British rule, which began 40 years ago tomorrow, on All Fools' Day

Athos Petrides, a portly middle-aged civil servant once known to British colonial police as ``The Smiling Killer'', stands on a small spur of land amid some barren little hills of white flint dotted with struggling thyme shrubs. With him is his friend Vassos Kallenos, who works for the Bank of Cyprus. ``Go on, tell us where you think it is,'' challenges Vassos.

I point to some dark vegetation flourishing in the corner of one of the ravines that fissure the place. Triumphantly, Vassos shakes his head, bends and plucks out some dusty thyme plants, revealed to be rootless and quite recently cut. He begins to brush away some dirt and slowly the rim of a manhole-size cover becomes apparent, like the revelation of a water-mark. When this is removed there is a vertical shaft, descended by a rough-hewn wooden ladder.

In 1958 they took three weeks to hack out the igloo-shaped cavity, with ample standing room, beneath the spur. When they had finished they sank the entrance shaft and filled in the way they had come in. Five of them lived in this hole in the ground for eight months, venturing out only at night to bury their rubbish and defecate about a mile away, eschewing toilet paper for stones and grass so as not to start tongues wagging among the local shepherds, in whose rabbit snares they sometimes became entangled, and had painstakingly to replace.

When they returned to their lair they brushed their footprints away with a branch and scattered pepper around to put off the tracker dogs. Once, a British search-party practically walked on top of them. Athos and Vassos picked up their Sten guns and prepared to sell their lives dearly, but the soldiers walked over them.

Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the Greek Cypriots' armed rebellion against British rule in Cyprus, which began on All Fools' Day.

The rebels called themselves Eoka, the acronym for National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters. They were fighting for Enosis - union with Greece. On that first day the only casualty was in Famagusta, where an enthusiastic saboteur entangled a rope damp with dew on power lines and was electrocuted. But they got better.

By March 1959, when the shooting ended, 509 people had died, of whom 156 were British soldiers and police. Fleet Street dubbed Ledra Street, then Nicosia's main shopping thoroughfare, "Murder Mile". One of the most successful local reporters was Nicos Sampson, whose uncanny ability to be first on the scene of a shooting was explained when he was sentenced to death for being in possession of a Sten gun.

Among the British civilian dead was Catherine Cutliffe, a sergeant's wife shot emerging from a Famagusta dress-shop. The police responded by issuing revolvers to those Britons who applied for them. Both sides indulged in graffiti: "Greeks are sneaks" and "Plato is a potato" were among more memorable British offerings.

Last year about a million British visitors, more than the entire Cypriot population, came to what the Daily Sketch once called ``this hateful, squalid island'' as it campaigned for the exclusion of Cypriot sultanas from Winston Churchill's 84th- birthday cake. Most of today's tourists were not even born in 1960, when Archbishop Makarios was persuaded to drop the idea of Enosis and accept independence and permanent British bases.

Enosis may no longer be a popular cause but most Greek Cypriots still see the Eoka struggle as a celebration of both their heroes and their Hellenism. Most school days, coachloads of children come to the Central Prison to lay flowers on the graves of 13 Cypriots buried in the little walled garden a minute's walk from the execution shed, where a working British gallows is demonstrated to the older children. Nine of the Cypriots were hanged, one an 18-year-old condemned merely for possessing a firearm. The others were Eoka men killed in gunfights whose public funerals were deemed likely to turn into riots. Among them is Gregoris Afxentiou, cornered in a dug-out in the Troodos mountains where he made an epic last stand until petrol was poured in and lit.

Athos was described as "The Smiling Killer'' by Detective Sergeant William Webb, the sole survivor of three detectives ambushed in Ledra Street by 17-year-old Athos and two others who exchanged shots with them at point- blank range.

``It was like the movies," Athos recalled over afternoon tea at the Nicosia Hilton. "Were we terrorists? I think not. We were patriots and very religious, like the Irish. We certainly weren't doing it for the money."

But Athos, an amiable man who meets British troops almost daily as a Cypriot liaison officer with United Nations forces here, seems troubled by the killing and says there is no way he could do it now: "Only God has the right to take life."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power