'European Subaltern War Asses: ‘Service’ or ‘Employment’ in the Cypriot Mule Corps during the Great War?'

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    Abstract

    In summer 1916 the British Salonica Army and the Cypriot colonial government established the Cypriot Mule Corps (also known as the Macedonian Mule Corps). It was a staggering success in terms of recruitment, with over 12,000 men serving at one time or another in Salonica during the war and in Constantinople after the armistice, consisting of about 25% of the Cypriot male population aged 18-35. This article engages with three historiographical fields: British military history, British imperial history and Cypriot colonial and peasant and labouring history. All three are connected by the scope, the Great War and its immediate aftermath, and more specifically by the Cypriot Mule Corps. It brings Cyprus into the broader debate on the participation of the British non-settler empire in World War I. The main focus of the article is on the experiences of the men and their dependants. At the heart of this story is the power-imbalance in the relationship between the British coloniser, who desperately needed mule drivers, and the colonised Cypriots, mostly peasants and unskilled rural and urban labourers who enlisted because of the wages. The Cypriots had little control over the terms of their service, as the British progressively reduced their responsibilities to the men and their families, but because the British were desperate for their service they attempted to accommodate their grievances. Therefore, the article proposes to envisage the experience of Cypriot muleteers and their families through a theoretical framework borrowed from the Subaltern Studies Group. Homi Bhabha’s ‘liminal space’, in which ʼnegotiation’ can take place between colonised and coloniser, seems applicable here, even if dominated by the coloniser. When it suited them, such as when recruitment was at risk, the British not only listened but attempted to rectify the injustices, even showing flexibility; but when it did not they proved inflexible.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)6-31
    Number of pages26
    JournalBritain and the World
    Volume10
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2017

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