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The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I



CHAPTER 36

Our organization of the southern army



We organized Our southern army in three parts, right, left, and centre wings.

We made Dejazmatch Nasibu, the representative of the Duke of Harar, Commander-in-Chief of the right wing of the southern army. We attached to him as aides Dejazmatch Habta Mika’el and Dejazmatch Amde, Dejazmatch Ababa Damtaw and Dejazmatch Makonnen Endalkatchaw. There was also a Turkish national, called General Wehib Pasha; since he knew about Italy’s war of aggression against Ethiopia, he had come to help of his own free will and without any request on our part; We gave him to Dejazmatch Nasibu as adviser in any military matters. With regard to medical work, Dr. Hockman who had been working in the American mission hospital, established at Addis Ababa in the name of Tafari Makonnen, had given notice, through the Ethiopian Red Cross Society, of his wish to go down to Dagahbur to tend to the wounded; for the time being he went on his own. But later on a Red Cross Society had been set up at Cairo, Egypt’s capital, for the assistance of the Ethiopian people; and Prince Ismail Dawd, a member of the royal house, had been sent by the Society together with upwards of twenty doctors and auxiliaries; he had arrived with a complete ambulance, and it was arranged that he should assist the right wing of the southern army with medical work.

We appointed Ras Dasta Commander-in-Chief of the left wing of the southern army. As support for him We nominated Dejazmatch Gabra Maryam and Dejazmatch Makonnen Wassane, Dejazmatch Dabbay Walda Ammanel, and Fitawrari Taddasa Ganname. For the medical work Dr. Hockman had been sent down by the Sudan Mission, but when he went to inspect the condition of a bomb and dismantled the screws, it exploded again and hit him. In consequence he died immediately and We had him brought by aeroplane to Addis Ababa where he was buried.

The valiant Grazmatch Afawarq, the army officer whom We had stationed at Gorrahei, had prepared trenches and had done well digging the ground to make it suitable as a firing position and for defence against bombs from aeroplanes. Hence, when Italian soldiers came there on two occasions, he sent them back defeated both times. And after the Italians had become convinced that they were unable to engage in an infantry battle, having closed in face to face with Grazmatch Afawarq at Gorrahei, they began unleashing a rain of bombs on the place, returning repeatedly by plane. On one occasion they dropped three hundred bombs there. But they did not cause much damage—apart from piling five men and wounding fifteen who had not observed the instructions to be cautious.

On Teqemt 23rd (= November 3rd) 20 aeroplanes returned and dropped bombs, and while the brave Grazmatch Afawarq was firing with the Oerlikon and taking aim to bring down a plane, a bomb splinter that had fallen by his side hit his leg and wounded him. As his bravery, after being wounded, inspired him further, he endured the pain of the wound and carried on his work.

But after he had waited a little, he became aware that his strength was flagging and that he was unable to fire; he therefore requested to be carried off and they took him to a place where he could rest. It was only at Dagahbur, at a distance of some 220 kilometres, that the nearest doctor was; and he was concerned that his soldiers might disperse, if he were to go there. As he lay there, he notified the Commander-in-Chief, Dejazmatch Nasibu, by radio-telegram as follows: I am severely wounded and may perhaps die; therefore, please send an army officer quickly to Gorrahei to replace me.

Dejazmatch Nasibu despatched Fitawrari Gwangul Kolase as commander to Gorrahei. As they took Grazmatch Afawarq Walda Sama’et to Dagahbur for medical treatment, he died on the journey and they buried him with honour in the church of St. George at Dagahbur.

At this time, a physician of the (Sudan) Interior Mission had offered his help as a volunteer and went to Sidamo. But later on the Swedish Red Cross Society had appointed Dr. Hylander and sent doctors and auxiliaries together with a fully equipped ambulance; it was arranged that they should go to the left wing of the southern army.

To the centre wing of the southern army We appointed Dejazmatch Bayyana Mared as Commander-in-Chief and attached to him in support Bajerond Feqra Sellasse Katama, Fitawrari Atnaf Sagad Walda Giyorgis, Qagnazmatch Assefaw Walda Giyorgis as well as Qagnazmatch Salaba and Qagnazmatch Andom who had joined us, having deserted the Italians, because they refused to fight our country together with the enemy. For medical work, however, no doctor could be found for the time being, so those Ethiopians went who had some knowledge of bandaging wounds only. Later on it was arranged that some of the Swedish doctors who had gone to Ras Dasta should be detached and proceed to Dejazmatch Bayyana Mared.

Apart from this, before the beginning of the war, very few soldiers held all the small towns which were in the districts of the right southern front, such as Dagahbur, Bullale, Sasabane, Dagahamado, Burqot, Gorrahei, Haradiget, Gabredarre, Fafan, Cheqo, Webi Shebeli, Burdade, Tafari Katama as well as similar places on the left southern and central southern fronts. We gave orders to all the army officers who were on guard duty to stay in the positions to which they had been assigned; if the Italians attacked them they were to resist as far as possible, but if the aggression against them became too fierce they were to fall back.

But the Italians began to fly over in their planes and to unleash a rain of bombs upon all the little towns enumerated here above. But as the soil of the Ogaden province is dusty and sandy, most of the bombs were found buried in the sand—unexploded. Thus on one occasion a bomb that had fallen near Dagahbur was found unexploded.

The Italians again brought along aeroplanes in waves of 20 each time, on 24th and 25th Teqemt (= 4th and 5th November 1935), and totally obliterated Gorrahei with the bombs they dropped.

They killed the Somalis and their animals, who had come to the Gorrahei region to water their herds, and then entered Gorrahei.

Fitawrari Gwangul Kolase who was Grazmatch Afawarq’s replacement had not heard of the Italians’ entry into Gorrahei; he thus marched on with some 500 soldiers and reached a place called Hanaley, to the east of Sasabane. When he heard gunfire, he ordered his men to scatter quickly and widely amidst the bushes, crevices, and grass.

Having waited a little, they saw Italian soldiers arriving in lorries, followed by quite a number of tanks. They lay silently until the Italians had gone forward. Later on, however, those in the tanks alighted from their vehicles to look at an engine that had broken down—and the men in the lorries got out as well. Gwangul’s soldiers were watching right and left, forward and rear, and when he gave them a sign they fired a volley and wiped out the lot. In this astonishing battle only a few of Gwangul’s soldiers were killed. But Gwangul himself was injured, and as his men remained there, being unable to push forward, he informed Dejazmatch Nasibu of his victory.

When Dejazmatch Nasibu heard of their brave action, he sent two lorries and arranged for the wounded to be taken to Dagahbur for medical attention.

In this victory there were captured, in addition to some damaged machine-guns, four most excellent machine-guns as well as many rifles and bullets, and they were taken to Dagahbur.

After We had heard about the death of Grazmatch Afawarq and the occupation by the Italians of Gorrahei, news also reached Us that the Italians on the northern front were pushing on from Adwa towards Maqalle and that the governor of Maqalle, Dejazmatch Hayla Sellasse Gugsa, had betrayed his mother-country Ethiopia and Us, his Emperor, and had gone over to the Italians. In consequence, We made Dessie Our headquarters. Since We intended to wait while finding out about the position of the armies on the northern and southern front, before proceeding to Dessie We went down by plane to Jijjiga on 9th Hedar (= 19th November 1935).

The next day We conferred the rank of Dejazmatch upon Grazmatch Afawarq who had given his life with such valour for his country’s independence and for the honour of his Emperor. This was intended to be a memorial for future generations and for history. Subsequently We bestowed the rank of officer upon several men. On the third day We assembled the army officers in full and gave them words of advice as to how to guard against bombs from aeroplanes and other dangers. We then arranged for the following written advice to be distributed:

‘Since the Italian Government has for forty years now set out to destroy Ethiopia’s freedom by aggression, you heroes who are alive now and who were present at that time and those of you who were not at Adwa but whose fathers had been there, they have shown their heroism by shedding their blood and they have saved their country’s freedom and their patrimony from the hands of the enemy. Now the Italian Government is preaching to its people to avenge that battle which it lost forty years ago, claiming that in Ethiopia the army was a spent force and that, therefore, they would fight us without difficulty. The Italian Government has begun the war to make you who did not die share the fate of those who did, to destroy your freedom by abasing the well known bravery of Ethiopia’s sons which is recorded in world history, to invade your patrimony and your houses, to acquire as slaves your old parents, to make exiles of your sons, and to reckon Ethiopia’s heroes as if they did not exist, and to attack with its army in the north and in the south. All the governments of the world, being aware of Italy’s violent onslaught upon Ethiopia, are our supporters. While Italy believes that Ethiopia’s heroes have ceased to exist and persists in discounting those who do, the important thing is that it is your duty to revive your valour by defeating the hostile attack launched against your generation and against Ethiopia and by victoriously driving out from our land our enemies who have taken it by violence. Man has not been created to be everlasting. His end is death which severs him from this world. This death may come early or late, but for all mankind it is inescapable. It is man’s name alone that remains as a memorial until the world, which appears to hover beyond the grave, passes altogether.

When this our enemy fought us at Adwa, forty years ago, Ethiopia’s brave men beat him victoriously; hence their names will remain unforgotten, mentioned forever, not only yours who are alive but even theirs who were lost there. It is the main source of pride for the present generation. Again, even for a young man, as the enemy attacks him robbing him of his country and his patrimony and carrying his family into exile, it is the death that comes upon him in battle which is indeed his greatest wish and source of pride.

Even the hen will struggle to save her chicks from the vulture. This being so, do recognize that it is proper for a man to fight with the enemy, however many thousands of times the latter may surpass him in knowledge and strength!

Since death is thus in the end ineluctable for mankind, how great will be your honour if you lose your life fighting the invading enemy to establish an inextinguishable reputation, to prevent aged parents, wife and children, being exiled and, while today they live in dignity in their free country of Ethiopia, if that liberty were to be destroyed, to prevent them sinking into humiliation and this their dignity being lost. Your glorious name will endure, being praised by your children and your families and being recalled by world history. We have been aware for some time of our enemy’s intention to carry through this plan of aggression and We, your Emperor, ruling you in time of peace, have told you of Our resolve to shed Our blood being amidst you in time of war. Thus We are now with you.

Since you know about the multitude of different instruments of war the Italians have been accumulating, they cannot cause you much injury. The thing which is called “aeroplane” is intended to cause shock by the noise of the bombs it drops and to weaken the heart, but other useful things it does not do. While present-day modes of warfare may not cause you much damage, it is necessary to follow the advice We have given you through your respective officers, so as to enable you to attack your enemy. In order to defend your country’s independence, We shall not deprive you of Our support to lighten your burdens in terms of money and provisions in all your difficulties which you may encounter in this place at which you are stationed. And now, lest any kind of trouble should befall the kinsmen and families of the heroes who have laid down their lives, while carrying out their duty, for the honour of their country and their families, We shall protect them as Emperor and father. We have, therefore, instructed Our military representatives that their names should come before Us in writing, through their respective commanding officers. We are forever with you until Our life expires.’

10th Hedar 1928 (= 20th November 1935).

As regards the deployment of the army, if they went down to the central Ogaden, the countryside there would be one of severe desert conditions without sufficient water and food for the army or grass and fodder for the animals. We, therefore, gave orders that they should remain reconnoitring in the area from Jijjiga to Dagahbur and that, if the Italian army crossed the desert and made an approach towards them, they should then open hostilities; they should further let us know about everything that occurred at any time by sending messages to wherever Our headquarters will be.

Subsequently We set out by automobile from Jijjiga to Harar; at Harar We arranged a lunch party for Our retinue and then went down to Dire Dawa. On the morrow, 11th Hedar (= 21st November 1935) We returned to Addis Ababa by air.


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