The RCAF began delivering troops and supplies for the Canadian contingent of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Cyprus on March 13, 1964. No one expected the Canadian mission would end 29 years later, or that Canada would continue to have a presence on the Mediterranean island to this day.
Trouble started almost immediately after Cyprus gained its independence from Britain in 1959. Both Greek and Turkish Cypriots wanted to unite with their mother countries. Civil war broke out in 1963, and Greece and Turkey both threatened to intervene to protect their ethnic communities.
Canadian troops were part of the UN peacekeeping force enforcing the ceasefire. Tensions continued even after the island was split into Turkish and Greek republics, with a UN-maintained buffer zone between.
The situation boiled over in July 1974 with a coup d’état launched by the Greek Cypriot National Guard, which aimed to unite Cyprus with Greece.
Within days, Turkey sent a force of 40,000 to invade the island, and the shooting began again.
The Turks claimed they just wanted to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority, but they also tried to take control of the airport in Nicosia. The UN commanders, including Colonel Clay Beattie of Canada, were determined that would not happen.
UN troops from the Canadian Airborne Regiment held the airport, which had been declared a UN protected zone. The Canadians reminded both sides of the ceasefire, and said they would stand their ground and any attack would be reported as a Turkish assault on UN troops. The Turks backed down, but violence continued and Canadians came under fire on occasion—once in response to the soundtrack of a cowboy gunfight in a movie being played in the mess hall.
On July 23, 1974, a Canadian patrol came under machine-gun fire. Several soldiers were killed and wounded, including a Canadian officer. Private Joseph Plouffe, despite a face wound and under continuing fire, administered first aid to the officer. Captain Alain Forand crawled over exposed ground and dragged the wounded officer away. Privates Joseph Belley, Joseph Pelletier and Corporal Roland Whelan carried him to safety. Then they and Forand returned to bring out Plouffe.
Plouffe and Forand were awarded the Star of Courage, while Belley, Pelletier and Whelan earned the Medal of Bravery.
By the time the Cyprus mission ended in 1993, about 25,000 Canadians, some from every infantry regiment and many on multiple tours, had served; 28 died.
In this video (above) from 1989, the late journalist and author Christopher Hitchens investigated the divided island of Cyprus for the BBC and toured with Canadian peacekeepers overseeing the conflict over a decade later.