Tag Archives: Cyprus

New catalogue: Robert Perceval Armitage Archive

The second half of the catalogue of Robert Perceval Armitage is now online.


Sir Robert Perceval Armitage.

Sir Robert Perceval Armitage (1906–1990), colonial governor, was the governor of both Cyprus and Nyasaland during times of dramatic and turbulent change. When he first embarked on his career in the colonial services, he could not possibly have imagined the rise of nationalism and violent political activism that would characterise his latter days.

Armitage read history at New College, Oxford and took the tropical African services course (1928-1929) before posting to the Nairobi secretariat. There, he swiftly ascended the ranks to administrative secretary and was appointed MBE in 1944. He then transferred to the Gold Coast in 1948 as financial secretary and later minister of finance in Kwame Nkrumah’s cabinet. He filled his post ably and well; expanding the government’s revenue and expenditure threefold whilst doubling imports/exports. He was appointed CMG in 1951 and promoted KCMG in 1954.

With his excellent service record in Kenya and because no good deed goes unpunished, he was appointed governor of Cyprus along with his KCMG. His task was to convince Cyprus to accept a constitution that excluded the possibility of self-determination amidst escalating Greek demands for sovereignty (enosis), increased friction between Greeks and Turks, and Britain’s transfer of its Middle East military headquarters from Suez to Cyprus.

Report on the Central African Federation including a handwritten reply by Sir Roy Welensky inside.

Report on the Central African Federation including a handwritten reply by Sir Roy Welensky inside.

Pro-enosis demonstrations were escalating, guerrilla operations by EOKA were killing Turkish Cypriots and bombing attempts were being made on Armitage himself. By then the British government had changed its stance on intervention and Harold Macmillan, foreign secretary, invited both Greece and Turkey to discuss Middle East affairs. The discussions were inconclusive and rioting and terrorism followed. By September 1955 Armitage was out and military governor John Harding installed in his place.

Armitage was transferred to the governorship of Nyasaland where he soon faced a fresh set of troubles. In 1953 Britain had established the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (also known as the Central African Federation), comprised of the colony of Southern Rhodesia and the territories of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Black Africans of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland opposed the federation, fearing the influence of Southern Rhodesian racial policies (apartheid). Armitage was tasked with winning over the Africans to federation.

Little progress was made and the Nyasaland African Congress, led by Hastings Banda, was stepping up agitation. On 3rd March 1959 a state of emergency was declared and Banda along with 1300 of his followers was detained. Afterwards the Devlin Commission was appointed to determine whether the declaration of emergency and suppression of dissent was justified. Their findings were highly controversial as it found while the declaration was justified the suppression of dissent was ‘excessive’. The state of affairs in Nyasaland led to the appointment of the Monckton commission in 1960 to help determine the future of the Central African Federation.

Banda was released in April 1960 over Armitage’s objections and the state of emergency was lifted in June, soon to be followed by a new constitution in August that gave the Malawi Congress Party (successor to the NAC) a large majority in the legislature and dominating presence in the executive council. Armitage tied up his affairs and retired to Dorset in 1961, giving much over much of his time to charitable organisations and lecturing.

Playbill for Goody Two Shoes: a pantomime.

Playbill for Goody Two Shoes: a pantomime.

From the juxtaposition of amateur playbills in the midst of national unrest to the urgency of confidential telegrams whilst a suspected terrorist plot is afoot; his papers offer a fascinating glimpse into the public and private life of a colonial administrator in the midst of social change. They include correspondence with notable British and African politicians, including: Roy Welensky, Alan Lennox-Boyd and Hastings Banda.

See also the Dictionary of National Biography entry for Armitage; Retreat from empire: Sir Robert Armitage in Africa and Cyprus by Colin Baker (1998); and the Library’s other Armitage archival holdings.

50 years ago today: Independence for Cyprus

Apologies for the lack of posts; July has meant holidays as well as hard work here at the Archive! We’re back with a snippet of 50-year-old history – albeit one that has continued to make headlines ever since…

Images: Pages 1-4 of the July 1960, no. 82 edition of Commonwealth Affairs [PUB 136/2]

60 was a significant year in Britain’s post-War decolonisation process; British Somaliland gained independence on 26 June, Cyprus on 16 August, and Nigeria on 1 October, while both Ghana and South Africa voted to become republics.

In many cases, British rule provided only a fragile veneer of unity over inter-communal tensions – Cyprus is a case in point. Although Cyprus had been under British administration since 1878 and a British Crown Colony from 1925, from 1955 British troops were confronted with the EOKA campaign by Greek Cypriots led by Archbishop Makarios (the future first president of independent Cyprus) in support of ‘enosis’ – independence and union with Greece – while the Turkish Cypriots responded with a counter campaign in favour of ‘Taksim’ – partition.

Following the failure of the 1955 Tripartite Conference between British, Turkish and Greek officials, the Conservative Government was attacked by the Labour Opposition for unnecessary delay. The Government was reluctant to see either solution implemented but keen to withdraw from Cyprus while guaranteeing the future of the British military presence on the island.

Following several years of violence and even a state of emergency, the Prime Minister put forward the Macmillan Plan in June 1958. The plan was rejected by both sides but proved to be a starting point for discussions for a workable alternative solution to union with Greece or partition. Eventually agreement was reached in London for a power-sharing compromise which guaranteed the rights of the Turkish Cypriot minority. The agreement (text available here) was signed by British, Greek, Turkish and Cypriot leaders on 19 February 1959 and came into effect at midnight on 16 August, 1960.

On 12 March 1959, Conservative Colonial Secretary Alan Lennox-Boyd attended a meeting of the Party’s Commonwealth Affairs Committee at the House of Commons to brief Members on the details of the recently agreed plan: ‘He felt that Britain had gained a good deal out of the Agreement. Above all, concord was now established between Britain, Greece and Turkey, and this was an immense gain to NATO. Then Britain had obtained the bases she wanted; also both ENOSIS and partition were now ‘out’.

However, he said the Agreement had only come about because of the war-weariness of the majority of the population, and a growing fear of Communist infiltration by the Greek Cypriots: ‘He agreed that Socialist statements [i.e., in Britain] had made it more difficult to get agreement but he did not think that in the debate we should over stress the Party line: nor would he favour harmful references to Makarios. The great thing now was to look forward to a happier era for Cyprus. It would not be all plan sailing and he would not mind if a word of warning was sounded in the debate…’ [Commonwealth Affairs Committee minutes, 12 March, 1959: CCO 507/1/1].

The arrangement survived for just three years before inter-communal violence broke out again and British troops returned to a peace-keeping role on the island as part of a UN contingent.