The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I - Volume 2



On Saturday Hamle 6, 1932 [July 13, 1940], We met with the Governor-General of the Sudan, Sir Stewart Symes. The governor-general asked for a private conversation, and We alone met with him. We delivered a memorandum We had prepared, and he read [it] through, making some signs indicating that our requisitions could not be made available. The following is the note We presented to him:

1. Our people do not know that We have arrived here, and they have not received the arms they hoped for. Because of this, they were not able to organize fighting units at Armacheho, toward which the Italians are advancing. We have also heard that some of the officials awaiting Us on the frontier at Metemma, have gone back. We were disappointed about this. Since Our arrival here, besides spending time in discussions, We have not really begun serious work. Therefore, Our most important request is that you permit Our officers, reportedly in Gedaref, to come [to Khartoum], and let a messenger be sent urgently to Wolkait and Armacheho to bring back those officers who have returned home. We also want preparations to be started soon. With the Italians advancing, if your soldiers block their way with increased strength, and if our people attack them from the back, the Italian forces would be divided. Their advance would also be halted. Moreover, I anticipate that they will be forced to evacuate Metemma and Gallabat which they now hold.

2. If the Armacheho operation becomes successful, in consultation with Our officials, we can extend Our activities to Begemdir and Gojam through correspondence.

3. If Dejazmatch Abebe goes to Kenya and enters [Ethiopia] from there, quickly joins his people, takes up leadership, and starts operations with Our proclamation, he would get the support of many Ethiopians.

4. Dejazmatch Abebe will be joined quickly by the 600 Eritreans presently living in Kenya. We have heard that the force that attacked Gallabat was the Beni Amer battalion. And if the Eritreans who are now here, precede Us and voice their support for Us, we expect that those who had previously joined the Italians, would desert them and come to our side. In Our opinion, [Eritrean] support would significantly help the Sudanese forces to dislodge the Italians from the areas they now occupy.

5. I have not received a satisfactory answer to my repeated requests for airplanes. Airplane service would now be of great advantage for Our forces in Ethiopia. I wish to express to you that an airplane which could fly into Ethiopia and air-drop Our proclamation is more necessary than anything else at this time. It seems to me that my people would be deeply hurt during this rainy season if they are not informed of my arrival, on the one hand, and do not hear about the occupation of Gallabat, on the other.

6. I would also like to know the location of the arms about which Colonel Sandford reported. This knowledge will help my officers, when they arrive there, to get them easily. If the cache has not been moved already to a location close to the border, I would like to remind you that it is necessary to do so.

7. Along with arms, money is a necessity. So, it also needs to be made available.

8. To enable my people to harass the Italians from their rear, it is urgent to provide them with artillery as well as machine guns and anti-aircraft guns along with sufficient ammunition and technicians to operate them. If Our operations do not start according to the plan I have submitted-because these days one hour is seen as one year... the result will be profound mistakes that none of us will be able to rectify.

If you agree with me on the fundamental matters, We will work out a plan and decide the details with members of the military mission assigned to assist me.

Initially, the governor-general revealed that there were insufficient arms and soldiers even for the defence of the Sudan and stated that it would be unfair to give [me] empty promises. Nevertheless, he added that more equipment was due to arrive in October and December, [when] it would be possible to extend assistance. In the end, We told him that We needed to meet with General [Sir Archibald] Wavell, [which] he promised... to arrange. He also told Us that he would forward a summary of Our report by telegram to Cairo and London.

We also discussed Colonel Sandford's trip I suggested that he should stay behind and that I would delegate another person to be sent instead. But [the governor-general] refused, claiming that no other person was as experienced in Ethiopia as [Sandford]. I insisted, however, that Colonel Sandford's trip would not be of any use without the help of my people and recommended [its] delay. Then he confided to Us that "to tantalize your people, who have been defending their country without sufficient arms for the last four years, is tantamount to burdening them with a heavy yoke. To make this clear to you, we were forced to expose the secret of our strength in the Sudan," and therewith he departed.

Colonel Sandford, who had accompanied the governor-general, remained behind and told us that he was ready to proceed to Gojam We told him that We would have preferred him to stay with Us. At that very moment, I told him: "had it not been for the lack of an escort, I was determined to set out with anyone who wanted to go with me." Then he asked me, are you ready to leave right now if you get some followers? We confirmed to him that it was Our firm intention.

Afterwards, sharing with Us his personal feelings, he told Us the following:

The governor-general is intent on having you stay here until October so that he would have the time to prepare everything necessary for the war. So it is advisable to stay. As for me, I am ordered to go. If [you deem] it necessary for me to remain here, you need to discuss it with the governor-general and inform him that you have made your mind up about leaving. After all, you are a King, and he is a governor-general; you should order him to fulfil your needs.

When, on July 16, We met again with the governor-general to resume our talks, nothing had changed.... Since the governor-general wished to discuss the military situation in the Sudan, he again sought a private meeting. We requested Captain George Steer to be Our interpreter, but the governor-general did not agree. Afterwards, Colonel Sandford was made Our interpreter with the help of Ato Wolde Giorgis Wolde Yohannes. Then Our talks proceeded. First of all, the governor-general revealed that the primary task of the British armed forces was to cut off the supply lines of the enemy in the Mediterranean sea. The next move was to pound, from the air, enemy positions near the Sudanese border including Asmera, Metemma, Guba and similar places. The pilots would receive their instructions from the command in Cairo... [since] for the whole of Sudan, there were only three airplanes available. The number of soldiers was too few even to defend Port Sudan and Khartoum. Speaking of how the Italians occupied Kassala, he explained: there was a large number of infantry assisted by tanks and artillery, and the troops had high morale. The British garrison at Kassala was overpowered and retreated. The force currently at Gedaref numbers 200 men and is composed of reserve soldiers called to active duty. Gedaref is 90 miles away from Gallabat...

Talking about Gallabat, he said:

We had told Ethiopian officers to come and receive military equipment. But only a few showed up. My guess is that they were prevented by heavy rains. Those who came received some weapons. However, since the lines of communication to Gonder were not cut off, the Italians were able to send reinforcements of over a thousand soldiers and to attack us. At that moment, we had only 200 soldiers and eight machine guns. We attempted to drop bombs on the enemy but because of the mountainous terrain, the airplanes were not able to fly low enough. [The enemy] downed one of the planes. The others were damaged but were able to return. All the airplanes we have are single-engined. Currently we have stored some rifles and ammunition to give away to the Ethiopians. I am only in charge of the Sudanese theater of operations, and not responsible for what others are supposed to do. And I am telling you this frankly because I do not want Your Majesty to place hopes on vain promises. As I have just learned from what Your Majesty has confided to me, everything needs to be completed without delay. So there is no time to lose. But the Italians have 300,000 soldiers and 200 airplanes in Ethiopia...

We thanked him for the information he shared with Us. We also explained to him that We had not discussed the matter in detail [in] London as We left for Africa under very hectic circumstances. We also told him that Our intention remained unfulfilled to have a discussion with the Supreme Commander of the Middle Eastern High Command. We also admonished him that, even after We arrived here, We had spent most of Our time in vain because of the lack of sufficient assistance, which disheartened Our people. At the same time, I asked him to bring my officers from Gedaref to Khartoum as quickly as possible.

Moreover, We reminded him that helping Ethiopia meant helping Britain. We also explained that it... [was apparent] that Italy's power would be divided if the forces on the other side were strengthened. In addition, We advised the governor-general, even though certainly his responsibility was limited to the Sudan, to take note of events on both sides of the Mediterranean when trying to execute the plan to cut off the Mediterranean supply line.

In response, he informed Us that, when he had returned from Wadi Halfa, he had told Colonel Sandford everything about... [the war strategy]. With regard to the military mission, he said that an extensive plan had been designed earlier. But now, since a number of things have changed, a decision has been made to send a small unit into [Ethiopia] in order to assess the situation. And with respect to this, he said, we are in complete agreement with Colonel Sandford.

"To decide whether or not this is possible," I said, "first of all, I shall have to discuss the matter with my officers to get a better grasp of the situation. That being the case, I strongly urge you to bring my officers [to Khartoum] as soon as possible."

The governor-general said: "I am not against the idea; I only need to expedite things. Everything is fine," and he left.

* * *

On Hamle 7, 1932 [July 14, 1940], a meeting was held in which Etchege Gebre Giorgis, Fitawrari Biru, Dejazmatch Abebe and Dejazmatch Adafrisaw were in attendance. Speaking on behalf of the noblemen, the Etchege said: "if the reason why the British government minimized its assistance has to do with an anticipation of an arrangement with Ethiopia, why do we not extend a concession and in exchange receive full assistance. The only thing that demoralized our troops [in 1935-36] was the airplane, and since we have not received an airplane in assistance, our alternative is to go ahead and die; we do not have the reliable weapons that would permit us the certainty of waging a victorious war."

After the noblemen expressed their views privately, Ato Wolde Giorgis and Ato Lorenzo were summoned to join the discussion. Recalling his previous report about the internal situation in Ethiopia, Ato Lorenzo said, "the number of rifles that already has been provided in assistance is not that small. I do not see any reason for us to retreat while 18,000 rifles with two million rounds are available. We should better go to our country, fight and die there."

Etchege Gebre Giorgis replied: "there is nothing in my suggestion that alludes to the idea of a retreat. All we proposed was to explore ways and means to offer a concession... in order to get adequate assistance in return."

Ato Wolde Giorgis intervened... and said:

Whether or not British policy seeks to obtain certain advantages from Ethiopia, the fall of France has broken its will. I guess, when the two governments talked about giving support to Ethiopia, their intention was to... get full advantage in return. At the moment however, Britain is alone. It has ran short of sufficient forces to defend what it has, let alone seek aggrandizement. In a world so disturbed by war, the fate of Britain itself is not clear. It will be much better for us to enter our country and die there rather than staying and perishing here. If Britain is victorious, even if we have died, Ethiopia's freedom will not have been destroyed. If Britain is defeated, however, whether we stayed here or returned to our country, both we and Ethiopia are doomed.

Finally, We reiterated that, "we ought to do what our forefathers have done. We must return to our native country and die there. There is nothing that has not been done, as I have explained to you, to get adequate assistance," and, on that note, the meeting was concluded.

On the same day in the afternoon, Colonel Sandford left to meet with the governor-general. Captain Steer stayed behind with Us, but Sandford telephoned and summoned him. After meeting with Sandford, Captain Steer returned to Us with the following message:

I was disappointed by yesterday's discussion with the governor-general. But now I am happy. A telegram has been sent out to the High Command in Cairo asking to bring here the people in Kenya and all the others whose presence Your Majesty has requested. The governor-general has also concurred with Your Majesty's proposal. We have agreed to complete the preparations within a month and then to set out for the campaign. I was directed to stay behind and leave with Your Majesty. For the time being, however, I will be going to Gedaref because the governor-general asked me to accompany him there and assist him in the deployment of troops. He will be back on Friday. I would like to return before that. If not, I will be returning with him.

This matter is classified; it is not for general consumption. We are headed for Gedaref to organize the deployment of white troops.

After this message, [Sandford] also came to see Us. We told him what We discussed with the governor-general on Hamle 6 [July 13]. Colonel Sandford, on his part, said, "this morning, on the basis of the discussion I had with the governor-general, I proposed the following idea to him. That is, if Your Majesty's departure will not certainly happen within a month, I said let me go ahead. The governor-general once again changed his mind and agreed with the idea of my entering Gojam ahead of you." So [Sandford] informed Us that he was determined to leave sooner rather than later.

I replied,

The next tasks were the immediate transport of the people from Kenya, Djibouti, Jerusalem, London; recruitment of the Ethiopians living in Egypt, Khartoum and its vicinity and their training as soldiers, and the distribution of my proclamation in Ethiopia soon. To find ways of implementing the proposal you just presented to me should not await another time. Nevertheless, my desire is to send a mission led by Azaj Kebbedde, which would take my proclamation and my seal into Gojam. Since I have so decided, I request you to transfer to him the provisions you prepared.

Colonel Sandford responded, "I must refer this to the governor-general, and in case my departure is decided, be willing to give me your seal," and he left to talk to the governor-general.

* * *

In the interim, General Wavell arrived in the Sudan from Cairo. We met him in Khartoum and had an extensive discussion. We enumerated Our problems and presented the following list of requests:

I had hoped to meet you in Cairo, but I came from Alexandria directly to Wadi Halfa, where I was forced to remain for no obvious reason. Colonel Sandford came to me and informed me about the state of preparations.

I found what had been done to be much less than what I had anticipated in London. I... proceeded to Khartoum hoping to complete my negotiations there. I also asked to go to my country immediately. On my arrival in Khartoum, I had discussions with the commanding general and the governor-general. Both men informed me that there was insufficient force to help Ethiopia. They explained to me that there was not adequate equipment for the Sudan, let alone for helping Ethiopia.

The general frankly explained to me that he was in charge of the Sudan and not responsible for other places and that giving false promises for what was not available served no good purpose.

The governor-general, on his part, clarified that it was unfair to talk about assistance which could not be delivered. That would be tantamount to spurring Your Majesty and your people into a hardship more severe than the earlier one.

And We told them this: 'You can imagine the extent of the problem We have on Our hands. Only this week, Metemma and Gallabat were occupied [by the Italians], I had sensed back in London that this would happen. The reason why I hurried out of London was to preempt the Italians before they deceived my people with false propaganda, and to gain the strength to assist my helpers, the British'.

My arrival was not revealed to my people and the so-called assistance that was given them was not the kind they expected from Britain. This has led to confusion and ambivalence. This can be gleaned from the letters We received in Khartoum from Our noblemen.

On my arrival here, I discussed the inadequacy of the preparations and asked that Ethiopians living in Kenya, Djibouti, Jerusalem, and Egypt be sent here. I presented to the governor-general a detailed list of my requests and asked him to forward it to the government of Great Britain and to you as well. Immediately thereafter, I suggested meeting with you even in Cairo to expedite the issue of my immediate return to my country in order to reciprocate in a meaningful way the indebtedness I owe the British people.

The governor-general informed me that it would take up to Nehassie 15 [21 August], to organize all arrangements. He promised that he would notify me as soon as the reply to my requisition arrived, and I am still here waiting for that. I also asked to have the British mission stay with me and move with me when the time comes.

The situation here has remained static. Now that you are here, before pleading with you to give me a detailed reply, let me briefly call your attention to a few things.

I feel that the issue we are discussing at this moment is vitally important for my country and people as well as for Great Britain and its people. Thus it is my responsibility to be as forthcoming as possible.

Even though the source of the trouble is unknown, the goal that brought me here has been blocked by obstacles. Thus, that there has not been any accomplishment based on cooperation and mutual trust is vividly visible. Its absence is a setback to Our power. For instance, the proclamation to my people has not been air-dropped. The people living in nearby countries, Egypt and Jerusalem, whose presence I requested, have not arrived.

I asked to enlist and begin to train Ethiopians in military tactics. I have not heard anything about the status of this. Paradoxically, some of them were alerted for a mission I know nothing about.

I heard over the radio that the British Prime Minister's letter to me, which recognized Ethiopia's sovereignty and indicated that my mission was to provide leadership, was read out openly at the House of Commons. I can not proceed without mentioning to you that I was profoundly suprised that the newspapers of this country ommitted this news. I wish to know why there has been such a lapse.

I recount these points to demonstrate the lack of 'sincere collaboration'. In relation to other things, I want to specify that my people were defeated owing to the enemy's superior equipment, particularly in aircraft. All the letters I received before and after I arrived here emphasize that air power is more essential than anything else. I wish to present to you the copies of these letters.

The Italians are living in their fortifications. Thus, besides the bombs that are to be dropped on them along with the proclamation, it is necessary to have adequate anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. Although these are the main equipment, I have not received anything of that sort.

I am sure you are aware that propaganda is a crucial weapon to counter Italy's false preaching and also to unify the thoughts of our two peoples. Therefore, I urge you to establish a group of people selected from our side and the British side to begin this work quickly.

Let British airplanes attack enemy positions around the border, thereby helping us to dislodge the Italians from there.

The Italians are spreading false rumors that would inhibit full collaboration between Ethiopia and the British people. We have now received strong indications that there is a potential danger arising from not air-dropping a proclamation that would express Our commitment to mutual assistance. Thus, let the proclamation be air-dropped soon.

Let my request for Dejazmatch Abebe's entry through Western Ethiopia as the commander of my army be fulfilled immediately.

Apart from the people in Kenya, Jerusalem, [and] Egypt, whose presence I have requested, I want those who were supposed to have followed me in eight days, but remained in London, to arrive here as soon as possible. Finally, I would like to receive the full assistance that our cooperation should allow for and money enough to enable me to work for the benefit of our countries.

I would like to get the responses for these matters from you. I also want to establish a military headquarters here and organize expeditiously what is necessary for the campaign.

I am also determined to establish my government.

I have expressed my thoughts so clearly because of our pact of alliance and mutual assistance as well as for the benefit of frank discussion.

General Wavell, on his part, gave Us the following answers to Our questions, indicating what was possible and what was not.

Your Majesty: I thank you for telling me everything so frankly. I would also like to be honest with you. Since I have nothing to do with political affairs, I will be telling you what concerns the military. I can understand the problems facing Your Majesty.

Until last April, the British government never thought that Italy would enter the war. But I asked to prepare a contingency plan for our side in case Italy joined the war. The response was that we needed to concentrate on the war in the western front.... In my theatre, even after the fall of France, I had an army prepared for defense, not for offense.

Prior to Italy's entry into the war, my instructions were not to do anything that might incite the people of Ethiopia and to refrain from any activity that might signal to the Italians that assistance was being provided from our side. Now that Italy has entered the war, since it is not possible to provide sufficient equipment for an all-out conflict, it has become necessary to give a few arms to the people and begin operations.... For this, as far I as could, I assembled a limited number of arms and some money. To that effect, I selected Colonel Sandford to head the British military mission. His assignment was to mobilize the people clandestinely against Italy without dropping bombs on fortifications. Colonel Sandford conducted his mission by preparing and sending out propaganda materials in the name of Your Majesty.

It had been hoped that the propaganda work would grow and Your Majesty would return when the time became ripe. Yet we never thought that Your Majesty would arrive so quickly to return home. We were aware that the available assistance was inadequate. I was astonished when I received the news of Your Majesty's return from London. I never knew anything about the war plans that Your Majesty claims to have presented to the British government.

At the moment I am responsibile for defending Egypt, Sudan, Khartoum, and Kenya. For the time being, I can not provide anti-tank, anti-aircraft or aircraft for operations in Ethiopia.

Furthermore, if Your Majesty leaves with a large escort, You will be a target for the Italians. They are intently looking for you. Therefore, let me return to the military mission, which was scheduled to precede you. It appears to me that it will be much better if the military mission under the leadership of Colonel Sandford leaves to work in the name of Your Majesty. It will rouse the people gradually and make a survey of the situation and eventually recommend to Your Majesty what needs to be done. It would be much better as well if Your Majesty remained for some time outside of Ethiopia and worked from abroad in providing leadership and support to the propaganda work. While the status quo remains, to enter the country without having a strong military force is simply to become an easy target.

With regard to the arrival of the refugees, the lack of transportation poses a problem. I heard about the issue only today. And with this I have expressed what my ideas are. I can not promise anything about the coming of the refugees. But I have taken note of the issue to try and do whatever is possible.

In reply, I said,

Had I known in London what you told me now, I would have looked for... [alternate means to attain my goals]. I was informed that instructions had been given to General Wavell. Everyone... [in London] told me that everything was ready and advised me to go ahead and discuss [matters] with General Wavell. If everything is just as you told me, is it not the same as killing my people with empty promises?

Instantly, General Wavell asked me: "how many people do you want to escort you?"

To this I answered:

I asked for 600 people to come here from Kenya and 400 from among those who were in British Somaliland and who were transferred to Djibouti, of whom some were members of the Imperial Bodyguard. Altogether they amount to 1,000 men. It would be of great help if more people can be added to these. If they arrive here before Nehassie 15 [August 21], I am ready to leave with whatever additional force I can get. Since there are arms captured from the Italians in Libya kept in storage, please make them available to us. Armed with whatever may be provided, I am determined to enter my country and share in the destiny of my people...

General Wavell replied:

We cannot supply anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. However, I can assure you that victory will be ours, no matter what. Ultimately our full assistance will reach Your Majesty. But for the moment, I can not give what you have requested. You need to wait patiently. If you ask for a specific date for everything to happen, I cannot say it will be October or November. It may take up to six months.

After this, the general left.

* * *

Shortly thereafter, the British decided to send into Gojam a... military group, code-named Mission 101, headed by Colonel Sandford. With them, We sent Our own representative... Azaj Kebbedde Tessema, who... [had] arrived from Jerusalem on Hamle 21 [28 July 1940].

Time was short, so the mission made urgent preparations to leave. The unit was led by... Azaj Kebbedde Tessema and Colonel Sandford and entered Gojam in the month of Hamle. The group was comprised of one British Colonel, four British officers with radios, and from the Ethiopian side, Merid Mengesha, Getahun Tessema, Gebre Meskel Habte Mariam, Asegahegn Araya, Alemu Nurilgh, Zewde Mulat, and Amanuel Mengesha. Obviously the unit had a formidable task ahead; yet, it withstood the difficulties and achieved a great degree of success in creating the necessary preconditions for the campaign by announcing that We were in the Sudan preparing for war; distributing various leaflets and posters among the patriots; harmonizing warring patriot leaders; and winning over the bande... to the side of their compatriots.

Among Our noblemen who were living in Jerusalem, We summoned to Us Dejazmatch Makonnen Endalkachew, Princess Yeshashwork Yilma, and Tsehafe Taezaz Haile Wolderufe. They arrived in late Nehassie [early September] accompanied by Haile Mariam Gizaw. Also, Our son, the Crown Prince Meridazmatch Asfa Wossen arrived in Kenya in October 1940, accompanied by Tefera Work Kidane Wold, Abba Hanna, and [Fit.] Asfaw Kebbedde. He had sailed there from England via South Africa and went on by air to the Sudan to join Us.

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November 5, 2017