Retired Master-Cpl. Kevin Hollohan takes part in a ceremony at the gravesites of Canadian peacekeepers in Cyprus earlier this month.
— Submitted photo
It was 43 years to the day he left Cyprus that retired Master-Cpl. Kevin Hollohan made it back to the little Mediterranean island.
As part of a pilgrimage to mark the 50th anniversary of Canada’s participation in the United Nations peacekeeping operation, Hollohan and nine other veterans accompanied Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino on the trip earlier this month.
The 64-year-old Corner Brook native left Deer Lake Regional Airport on March 12, arrived in Cyprus on the 13th and returned home on the 21st. It’s a fair trek with several stopovers — Hollohan said it took 27 hours to get back — but he jumped at the opportunity when it was presented to him.
The Department of Veteran Affairs contacted people who were involved with peacekeeping, and as founding president of the Western Newfoundland Chapter of the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping, Hollohan — who now resides in Summerside with his wife Annie — was on the list. His only tour of duty in Cyprus began in September 1970, when he was stationed at Nicosia Airport. He was an infantry driver and, while it was a dangerous area for many, his particular job never put him in harm’s way.
“I mainly drove the paymaster,” he said. “I’d take the paymaster from post to post to pay the troops.”
His six-month stint ended in March 1971. Two years later, he retired from the Canadian Armed Forces entirely.
A large part of why he was so eager to return to Cyprus was to see what changes had been made to the island since he’d last laid eyes on it.
“There were a lot of changes, good and bad,” he said.
The infrastructure stood out the most, he said, with recently-constructed buildings, divided highways and new vehicles catching his attention.
“When I was there it was donkeys, horse carts and dirt roads,” he said.
Another unforgettable sight for Hollohan was down at the Green Line, a cease-fire line and buffer zone stretching across Cyprus. It was established in 1974 after war broke out between Greeks and Turks, who controlled the north and south portions of the island.
There, he said, things hadn’t changed at all — or had even gotten worse.
“Places where we shopped were all closed up, but the merchandise was still in the shops,” he said. “I took some pictures of a (Toyota) Corolla with 39 miles on it, plastic still on the doors, all covered in dust.
“They can’t move it out because it’s a neutral buffer zone.”
The only ones allowed in the area are armed UN troops.
“We were lucky enough to get a tour with them,” Hollohan said.
The group also held a ceremony at a cemetery with nine Canadians buried there. A total of 28 Canadian peacekeepers are buried on the island because there was no repatriation back then.
According to the Veteran Affairs Canada website, more than 25,000 Canadian Forces members served on the UN peace misson from 1964 until 1993, when Canada withdrew most of its troops. A small Canadian presence remains, however.
Issues surrounding ethnic tensions still clearly exist in Cyprus, but Hollohan thinks it’s getting better and believes Canada has played a positive role in the process.
“I think, actually, we saved a lot of lives,” he said.