Author Q&A: Martin Bell

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The former BBC war correspondent’s book The End of Empire: Cyprus, a Soldier’s Story (Pen & Sword Military, £26.37) is a powerful and personal account of his time as a British soldier in Cyprus in the late 1950s, during the rebellion against British rule. He appears at Ilkley Literature Festival, 6 Oct.

What inspired you to write The End Of Empire?
The book was triggered by the discovery of some letters that I had written home during my time as a soldier with the Suffolk Regiment on active service in Cyprus between 1957 and 1959.

You also used recently declassified documents. What did you discover?
I was encouraged to write a personal account of the army’s campaign against the EOKA rebels between 1955 and 1959. I was fortunate enough to discover that most of the top-secret documents of the time, including cables between two governors and the Colonial Office, had been declassified within the past three years. I also used a Freedom of Information request to rescue from oblivion a book about the campaign. It was written by one of our officers, Lt Col Arthur Campbell, commissioned by one governor of Cyprus (Field Marshal Sir John Harding) and suppressed by the next (Sir Hugh Foot).

Was British rule a failure in Cyprus? 
The British colonial regime in Cyprus delivered certain benefits to the people, but it ended disastrously, with a series of unsustainable independence agreements which led in time to the Turkish invasion and the division of the island.

War correspondents are now sometimes seen as enemy combatants. Is that changing the way conflict is reported? 
The nature of war reporting was changed by 9/11. Before then, the principal danger was being caught in the crossfire. Now, correspondents are at risk of being kidnapped, ransomed or executed. They have therefore retreated to the margins or become ‘embedded’ with military forces.

Would you advocate UK military action in Syria?
I do not advocate the use of British ground troops in Syria.

What will your Ilkley appearance consist of?
At Ilkley I shall talk about my new book, but I shall also discuss my life in the war zones and in the House of Commons. I hope that this will be an illustrated presentation. In the second half, I shall answer questions.

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