Stalham Tesco worker patrols streets of Cyprus

A man who works at Stalham's Tesco supermarket is on peacekeeping patrols in Cyprus during his first operational tour with the Territorial Army.

Private Sam Johnston, 24, is an infantry soldier with the 3 Royal Anglian TA unit currently deployed on Operation Tosca – the UN's long-standing peacekeeping mission on the island which has been split between the Greek Cypriot forces in the south and the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot Army in the north since a war broke out in 1974.

It means patrolling, unarmed, the battle-scarred demilitarised zone that runs through the divided capital of Nicosia on foot, by bicycle or in a vehicle.

'This tour is a bit of a culture shock,' said Sam. 'You do all your training and then you have got to forget about it completely almost – even the way that we carry ourselves to not appear aggressive. You have to be very open and natural.

'But what we have learnt here to that will help us when I go to Afghanistan for patrolling and talking to the locals. It's a good stepping stone to everything really. You still have your infantry skills as well as diplomatic skills learnt here.'

The former Stalham High School student patrols the centre section of the buffer zone around the Ledra Street crossing point, which includes some of the narrowest parts in the buffer – at times only 3.3m wide.

'It is a pretty stunning place,' he added. 'Some of the buildings are worn, torn and really badly destroyed, and then you have got other places that are untouched where the owners basically pulled the shutters down, locked the door and left,' said Mr Johnston who is due to return home in September.

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'It can be a bit eerie walking around sometimes, especially driving around on your night shifts. And there are a lot of twisty corners and turns, which you need to check because there are a lot of places where people can cross the border which we need to make secure. I know the area pretty well now though, although probably not as well as Stalham!'