Cyprus

'Historic Occasion' As 6 Rifles Battlegroup Takes Over Cyprus Peacekeeping Duties

7 Rifles Battlegroup passed on duties to 6 Rifles Battlegroup during a historic ceremony in Nicosia.

For the first time in British Army Reserve history, one battalion from the same regiment has handed over to another reserve battalion for operations in Cyprus.

Soldiers from 7 Rifles Battlegroup have been replaced by personnel from 6 Rifles Battlegroup after a ceremony in the country's capital, Nicosia.

6 Rifles Battlegroup is deploying for six months, patrolling Cyprus' buffer zone as part of a United Nations' peacekeeping mission.

Lieutenant Colonel Andy Pearce, Commanding Officer of 6 Rifles Battlegroup, The Rifles, told Forces News: "It’s fantastic to finally be here after what seems to be a really long journey, frankly.

"After a lot of hard work to get here – a lot of frustrations that we’ve had to get through with COVID and all of the constraints that the rest of the country has had to live with.

"But we’ve got a job to do. We’ve hit the training standard to get here... I just really hope they’re [the soldiers] going to have the opportunity to contribute to their full potential."

Lieutenant Colonel James Gaynor, Commanding Officer of 7 Rifles Battlegroup, said: "It’s a really kind of historic occasion for us and I couldn’t be happier to be leaving a legacy to those guys."

Cyprus has remained in limbo for decades, as a resolution between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots has failed to materialise.

The aim of the UN mission is to maintain peace and prevent further conflict between the opposing sides until a resolution is reached.

Personnel from 7 Rifles Battlegroup patrol the buffer zone in Nicosia.

The mission, known as Operation Tosca by the UK, was described by Lt Col Pearce as "incredibly important".

The new battlegroup is made of up of more than 230 soldiers, with 93% reservists - something Lt Col Pearce said can be of benefit during the deployment.

"Those second strings to their bows; the plumbers, the plasterers, the police officers, paramedics, the whole assortment that we’ve got as a secondary skillset," he said.

"I really hope that some of those life skills will be able to provide a unique contribution to this important mission."

Among the reservists deploying is self-employed fencer and landscaper, Private Toby Rist. He said: "I’ve always been interested in the Army from when I was a little kid and I quite like civilian life, so I thought I’d get the best of both worlds; join the Army Reserves.

"It's really good to get an operational tour out of the Reserves, especially with, at the moment, not much is happening around the world so opportunities are fairly scarce."

WATCH: Personnel from 7 Rifles Battlegroup return to the UK.

Whilst 6 Rifles Battlegroup began to prepare for duties, the first contingent of 7 Rifles Battlegroup started to arrive back in the UK.

They landed in wet and windy conditions at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire - a far cry from the Mediterranean temperatures of Cyprus.

Speaking to Forces News after getting off the plane, Lieutenant Ben Goodwill said: "It’s been a fantastic tour all-round.

"I think we’ve made some real good progress, particularly with ensuring that we’re handing it over in a good state to the next group but also ensuring that we’ve been maintaining peace and stability on the island overall."

Due to coronavirus, the majority of the personnel from 7 Rifles Battlegroup have not seen their loved ones since deploying nearly seven months ago.