The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I – Volume 2 (34)

By the time We were ready to launch the campaign, Our noblemen who had remained in Jerusalem, and whom we had summoned to come and join Us, arrived in Khartoum on October 7, 1940 and met with Us.

 

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Among them were Prince Ras Kassa, Dejazmatch Yigezu, Dejazmatch Amde Mikail, and Bejirond Abathun. Our people, who had been in Kenya, Djibouti, Jerusalem, and Egypt, were also assembled.

On Tir 10, 1933 [Jan. 18, 1941], We left Khartoum by plane and arrived in Rosaires, and there our campaign tent was pitched. The tent was one of the palace treasures that We had taken to London. It was named Desta. During the battle of Adwa, Atse Menelik [r. 1889-1913] received the Italian general and other prisoners of war sitting at the entrance of this same tent. It was because of this history that We decided to take the tent with Us into exile.

 

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On the same day, Saturday Tir 10, 1933 [Jan. 19, 1941], We instructed Crown Prince Asfa Wossen, Prince Makonnen, and Dejazmatch Makonnen Endalkachew to proceed to Omedla. After spending two days in Rosaires, on Monday afternoon, Tir 12, 1933 [Jan. 20, 1941], We flew to a place on the Sudan-Ethiopian border and landed on a dry field in the forest along the Dinder river. This place is called Omedla.

A vanguard unit comprised of Ethiopian refugees, patriots and a few British officers, who had arrived there earlier, lined up as a guard of honor and welcomed Us. Apart from these, several people and camels were assembled on that desolate wilderness covered with hot sand. There was a flag pole at the center of high ground, and around it was a unit of Ethiopian soldiers headed by a British major.

 

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We emerged from the airplane and stepped on the soil of Our country after five years of separation. We said, “death is better than captivity, and to be exiled is better than surrendering one’s own country. One who perseveres in his faith, shall see his hope fulfilled. Likewise, I have come back to you, my country, after a long odyssey, which took me to the skies, on the oceans, and across the wilderness.” I walked a little distance on the sand, reached the place were the flag was to be flown, and hoisted the Ethiopian flag with due honors. The ceremony was accompanied by a guard-of-honor and military music.

After We raised Our flag, Chapman-Andrews approached Us and read out the message of best wishes sent by Major General Platt, the commander of the Sudan Armed Forces, in which he said, “May God guide You.”

On Our part, We thanked Major General Platt for his best wishes and said, “please let him know that we are extremely delighted about Our return to Our people, who, for five years, have been waiting for Our help while fighting the enemy with an iron will and defending the full independence of the country.”

 

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On the same day, the Crown Prince and Prince Makonnen returned to Khartoum to continue studying at the Sobat military school because the British would not allow them to proceed to Gojam with Us.

Needless to say that a worker is immensely delighted when a tiresome and greatly challenging labor results in success. In that desolate place, We underscored Our indebtedness to the people of Great Britain, who heartily felt and shared the bitter challenge and agony of Our people and came to comfort Us. We stressed that We would always keep this in Our thoughts. We also explained that this day marked the beginning of a new chapter in Anglo-Ethiopian relations.

When We were conducting this celebration in the small desert-like place, from afar We could hear the sound of Italy’s airplanes. After this, We ordered the air-drop of the various proclamations about Our return to Ethiopia and the overall war strategy.

 

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The British war plan was prepared by military experts, and, on paper, it appeared to be like pincers. The northern force under the command of General Platt had its headquarters in the Sudan, while the southern force under… General Cunningham had its headquarters in Kenya. The plan… was designed to open up a space for Our march towards Addis Abeba through the Gojam front. It was drawn on the plan that the two forces would come together like pincers, thus narrowing the space to curb the movement of the enemy.

On Our front, We had bodyguard troops numbering around 2,000. These had been recruited from Ethiopian refugees in Khartoum, Kenya, Cairo, and Djibouti, and there was one battalion of Sudanese troops. In contrast, it was already known that the enemy had 35,000 troops deployed on Our front alone.

 

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The force that went to the Eritrean theater under the command of Major General Platt was made up of the 4th and 5th divisions comprised of Indian British and Free French soldiers.

In the southern theater, General Cunningham commanded a strong force comprised of South Africans, West Africans, Nigerians, Ghanaians, Kenyans as well as Belgian Congolese.

Be it in the north or the south, it was obvious that the major power and shield for the allied forces in the central theater was the great heroism of our patriots. At this time, their estimated number… was in the order of 50,000.

On the fascist side, the overall number of the forces present in the whole of East Africa was 300,000, 400 artillery, 200 airplanes, and 9,000 to 10,000 vehicles. Out of this, it was known that, on the Sudanese border, there were 100,000 troops supported by an artillery division.

 

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According to the plan, the war was to be launched on three fronts. Thus, the forces led by General Cunningham proceeded on Tir 10, 1933 [Jan. 18, 1941] into Somaliland, while the forces led by General Platt set out on Tir 11 [Jan 19] and took Kassala the next day. In the meantime, the Italian forces fled to Akordat.

On Our front, the war had not started at this time. It was delayed because initially Our headquarters was planned at Belaya, and Our journey from Omedla to Belaya was very exhausting, and boring. The surroundings had been scorched by the heat of the sun, the land had a heavy shrub cover, and the road was rugged. It was humid, and the heat burned our faces We were travelling in a big truck. Around 15,000 camels loaded with luggage and provisions were also participants in the campaign. After travelling 45 kilometers, We took a rest in a wilderness where one cannot find water.

The Second Ethiopian battalion travelled on the same route with Us but then took another and better route and headed for Belaya with the Sudanese “Frontier Battalion” under the leadership of Colonel [Hugh] Boustead. While We marched along the [horrid] road, there was an Amharic printing machine loaded on the camels, which was used to print Our announcements that were distributed on a daily basis.

 

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On Our way to Belaya, though We were proceeding according to plan, We encountered a number of difficulties. Some of the camels loaded with military equipment and provisions were dying one after the other, unable to climb the mountainous terrain whose elevation was almost 9000 feet. We considered that they, too, died for Ethiopia’s cause. In one day alone, We saw 57 dead camels lying beside the road.

We had also participated in the hard work of Our soldiers in constructing the road, cutting trees and levelling the ground. We remember the days We travelled only six and seven miles because of spending most of the time doing this kind of work.

While Our journey was at this stage, Major Wingate presented a suggestion to Us “since there is an Italian force at a place called Guba, 80 kilometers away from Belaya, our travel needs to be redirected northwards.” Accordingly, We changed direction and headed northwards.

Wingate proposed this idea to Us because he was highly dependent on his compass and binoculars. He never accepted the counsel of the natives of the area who knew all the directions. The change he made on the basis of what he saw on his compass and with his binoculars resulted in a number of troubles, and the journey that should have been completed in five days took us more than fifteen days. Finally, We arrived in Belaya on Tir 29 [Feb 6].

 

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The news of Our journey to Belaya already had become known to Our patriots and most people, and when We arrived several patriot leaders and chiefs came out and welcomed Us in a heartwarming manner with songs and cheering. A short distance from Belaya Italian airplanes bombarded an airfield, the construction of which was not even complete. Those bande who had been protecting the Italian forces’ eastern flank began deserting and joined Our side.

Belaya is located in Gojam province in the lowland plains, and because of its inhospitable environment, the Italians never had set foot there. Once We made Our headquarters at Belaya, We began a survey to decide Our next move and the equipment and provisions that would be sufficient for the coming six months. Meanwhile, those messengers who had been sent out as a vanguard in order to coordinate the patriots and people of Gojam, after completing their mission, returned and joined Us. Among them were Colonel Sandford and Getahun Tessema.

 

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While the forces led by Us remained settled at Belaya, Major Wingate and Colonel Sandford left for Khartoum. After participating in a final military conference with General Platt, they returned to Us. A few days later, Colonel Sandford was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and was instructed to serve as Our political and military advisor, while Major Wingate was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was assigned to be the commander of the forces on Our front…. Accordingly, Colonel Wingate and Colonel Boustead proceeded to Bure at the head of the troops.

In the interim, We heard a rumor that was to affect the future administration of Ethiopia. It was reported that the authorities of the Khartoum-based Administration of East African Colonial Territories, after a long deliberation about the status of liberated Ethiopia, had decided to include Ethiopia in the Occupied Enemy Territories Administration (O.E.T.A.). While We were profoundly upset by this, Sandford and Chapman-Andrews assured Us that such a thing would never happen because it was not consistent with Anthony Eden’s report to parliament. The following is the statement that Anthony Eden gave to the British parliament on February 4, 1941:

 

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The government of His Majesty will allow the restoration of Ethiopia’s independent government after liberation. It will also recognize Emperor Haile Sellassie’s claim to the throne. The Emperor has appealed to His Majesty’s government about his need for assistance and experts from foreign countries. The government of His Majesty the King concurs with this idea. It has to be noted here that the nature of such assistance and experts in terms of economy, planning and political affairs will be provided internationally after peace has been achieved. The British government hereby declares that it has no territorial claim over Ethiopia. But it will be necessary to maintain control over the Imperial Ethiopian forces and their movement for a while. This will be done in consultation with the Emperor and it will be quickly brought to an end when the situation allows.

This formulation was acceptable as long as We were under arms to defeat the Italian East African forces. Nevertheless, We remained deeply suspicious of a possible revival and aggravation of the idea which had earlier been advanced by Brocklehurst.

 

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While We were at Belaya, We constantly air-dropped leaflets for the people of Armacheho, Kemint, Chako, Begemdir, Wogera, Tegede, Kwara, Serako, Alefa Takusa, the entire people of Gojam and Tigray in order to stimulate them to join ranks against the enemy, destroy his communication networks, and to let them know that We were also at war.

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