Soldiers with the local regiment, the Royal Scots Borderers, have gone into the New Year walking a thin ‘green line’ that divides the holiday island of Cyprus.
For their role is part of the British contingent with the United Nations peace-keeping force patrolling the buffer zone between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities.
The zone stretches 180 kilometres across the island, varying from the width of an alleyway in parts of Nicosia to a few kilometres in parts of the countryside where the opposing forces stood following a ceasefire just over 40 years ago.
And the Borderers, in their light-blue UN bonnets, are tasked with “keeping the peace” in the Nicosia area of the line.
Half-way through a six‑month tour, their patrols take them to eerie scenes of intimidating watchtowers and barbed wire fences, streets of derelict houses and shops with bushes and even trees growing through the doorways and glassless windows – a car’s width just separating one side from the other.
In other areas where the “line” is a few yards wider, lie the remains of cars, some abandoned when they were almost new and one soldier commenting: “When you open the door you can still almost smell the new leather as it was.”
Perhaps most dramatic of all is Nicosia International Airport, lying empty and forlorn, and complete with the rusting skeleton of a Trident airliner of Cyprus Airways, once all set for take-off.
The task of the “Jocks” – home base normally Palace Barracks, Belfast – is to ensure there is no encroachment from either side into the buffer zone and no recurrence of fighting.
Commanding officer, Lt Col. Nick Wight-Boycott, said: “It’s an incredibly different role for the men whose last task as a battalion was as a battle group in Afghanistan in a very dangerous situation where there was a threat of a fire-fight, doing counter-insurgence operations, facing exploding devices or being shot at on a daily basis.
“Here the threat is more from road traffic accidents or wrecked buildings that have stood for more than 40 years without maintenance collapsing on the green line.”
And Lt Col. Wight-Boycott added: “There have been very few incidents since we have been here and both opposing sides have been very courteous to my soldiers.”