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The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I - Volume 2



CHAPTER XII

EXCHANGE OF VIEWS WITH THE BRITISH AUTHORITIES ABOUT ITALY'S ENTRY INTO THE WAR AS GERMANY'S ALLY



We had repeatedly warned the rest of the world that the unprovoked military aggression which Italy unleashed, and whose conflagration was confined to Ethiopia, was fraught with dangerous consequences that would extend to Europe... this prophetic warning, which went unheeded then, came to be recognized only when Italy formed an alliance with Germany and declared war on Britain and France on Sene 3, 1932 [June 10, 1940).

Indeed, two years and five months to the day after We were exiled to Europe, Germany invaded its neighbor-Czechoslovakia, with the full connivance of Italy. Since the great powers... ignored this odious act, eleven months later Germany invaded Poland.

Two days later, on Nehassie 28, [Sept. 3], Britain and France declared war on Germany, and went into battle. They did so in an apparent attempt to avoid being the next victims of German aggression. Yet, and in spite of the Anglo-French declaration of war Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France fell victim to Germany. In particular, France, though a major power, was severely beaten by Germany. Meanwhile, our enemy, Italy, stood aside, temporizing and scrutinizing in which direction the balance of power was shifting. At last, when it learned of France's defeat, on Sene 3, 1932 [June 10, 1940], Italy suddenly entered the war on the side of Germany. It did so in its opportunistic drive to masquerade as an ally of the victor and to share the spoils of victory. Accordingly, it declared war on France and Great Britain, and began fighting against them in Europe and Africa. We on Our side, started preparing to return to Our country in the middle of World War II.

The British government was so influenced by the fascist propaganda spread by Mussolini that it was unable objectively to gauge the position of Italy in Ethiopia. The main reason [for its confusion] can be explained in terms of the so called good neighborly (bon voisinage) agreement signed in the month of Miazia 1931 [April 16, 1938] between... Italy, Britain and France, in accordance with which, Britain and France withdrew their diplomatic representation from Addis Abeba.

In the month of Nehase 1931 [September 1939], i.e., ten months before Italy declared war on Britain, We had sent Lorenzo Taezaz to Ethiopia to study the situation in the country. Accordingly, he spent six months in Gojam and Gonder [Begemdir] among the patriots, the noblemen, and the people in general, which enabled him to chart a plan of action for Our return to Ethiopia.

After Lorenzo Taezaz completed his assignment in Ethiopia, We directed him to proceed to Cairo and to provide a report to the British authorities. The report was basically an evaluation of Italy's military strength in Ethiopia, but it also disclosed the unfaltering eagerness of the people for the return of their emperor... [and] it reiterated the possibility of taking action against the Italians, including wreaking havoc upon them.

In those days, the Headquarters of the High Command of the British armed forces for the Middle East was in Cairo. Even then, the High Command had difficulties in assessing Italian military strength in Ethiopia [and] as a result, it had not yet decided on what steps to take against the Italians. Nevertheless, besides Lorenzo's report, Colonel Daniel Arthur Sandford submitted similar as well as additional information which strengthened Lorenzo's account, [and] it became possible to pursue a certain stategy.

Colonel Sandford had served as a [British] Consul in Ethiopia before 1928. Because he was very much aware of the fidelity and tenacity of the Ethiopian people, he did his very best to convince the Middle East High Command to provide Us with full cooperation and support to return to Our homeland; and to explain to them that if the Ethiopian people were to hear of their emperor's return, it would strengthen their resolve to resist and to withstand the enemy. In this regard, he remains a friend to whom We are very much indebted. On the basis of all this, and, on the initiative of Robert Ernest Cheeseman, the British opened an intelligence office in Khartoum with a view to gathering more information on Ethiopia.

Having fulfilled his task, and having assessed the general situation, Lorenzo Taezaz returned to Bath to join Us. While We were together there, Italy declared war on Britain. As a result, Our hopes for returning home grew, even if We remained cautious.

Immediately after Italy announced its military alliance with Germany, We left Bath for London to discuss with the British authorities Our plan to return home to lead the patriotic forces of resistance. Accordingly, We carried out negotiations regarding how the British government could become a war time ally of Ethiopia. One of the officials present at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs was Mr. [(later Sir) Geoffrey] Thompson. The following provides a brief account of what transpired [between Thompson and me] in the negotiations concerning Our return to Ethiopia.

When Italy's decision to enter the war became demonstrably evident, We wrote a letter to His Excellency Prime Minister Churchill informing him how the allied forces could be assisted in Ethiopia and how to launch a concerted assault [against the Italians]. You are evidently aware of the contents of that letter. Now that Italy has entered the war, yesterday I had a meeting with the undersecretary of the Foreign Office, Mr. [R.A.B.] Butler, where I reiterated the same theme and described to him the initial phase of the program. In response, he had certain individuals discuss with me the details of its implementation... We strongly reminded them that timing was crucial when it came to Our part of the task... Italian propaganda asserts that Britain wants to take over Ethiopia and to annex it for itself. To refute this, some signal is expected from Us. Our activities should increase so that the people will not begin to believe Italy's propaganda. This becomes all the more urgent in view of the fact that the people have not heard Our voice [for some] time. If Our efforts might be doubled, both sides will be the beneficiaries. When British war planes move about to bomb targets, they would be rendering great service if they were... also to air drop handbills and pamphlets that convey to the people Our messages.

Mr. Thompson said,

We have already prepared pamphlets and have made contacts with some Ethiopians. In fact, Dejazmatch Adane already has written to us. He wanted to know Britain's policy towards Ethiopia. We replied to him. that Britain had no intention of taking over Ethiopia, and that our wish was to see to it that Ethiopia belonged to Ethiopians.

After this, Mr. Thompson asked, "Do you have contacts with the refugees in Kenya, the Sudan and Somaliland? Have you heard of minor conflicts among them?"

And We replied: "We do have regular contacts with the refugees, including regular correspondence."

[After I had] seen the proclamations and propaganda fliers that were prepared for air drop, Mr. Thompson asked if he could raise a sincere question, and said, "Are you convinced that your people really want to [expel the Italians] and to move on to the path of progress and civilization?"

We responded to him by pointing out that "the trials and tribulations that the people passed through in the last four years, have been more educational than many years of schooling."

After that, Lorenzo Taezaz, with the permission of His Majesty, explained what the people felt about the whole thing, and he began by stating that he had returned from Ethiopia only recently. He reported that the people were informed that Italy might enter the war; that they wished to see the return of His Majesty and to receive [military] assistance for that purpose, and that communications existed even with those Ethiopian officials on the side of Italy, and that even they were waiting for a signal from Us. After exchanging views on these and other matters, Mr. Thompson remarked that We had organized Our papers on military matters most effectively, and that what was left was a political memorandum, to which Lorenzo replied by suggesting that We expected that from them.

While Mr. Thompson had been reading how the military [effort] might be organized, he came across the section dealing with airports. He lauded the idea, but also pointed out that there were not enough airplanes available for them. He then took the draft proclamation and the military organization plan with him. He said that... [the government] would reply to Our requests and that... he would discuss them with Mr. Butler, and that he would request to see what documents he had.


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October 15, 2017