The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I - Volume 2



On Friday, January 3, 1941, at 11 a. m., We met with Major General Platt and We gave him all Our reports. After reading them through, he told us the following story about the status of military equipment.

We expect to receive a large amount of military material from the Middle East. We also hope it will reach us shortly. As soon as the... equipment arrives, one after the other, it will be sent to Belaya. Thereafter, the people whom Colonel Sandford sent and those coming to meet Your Majesty will receive military equipment. The soldiers will also be trained there. What We plan to do at Belaya is temporary. Everything may change depending on circumstances. It is believed that the people who come to Belaya will face no problems.

I asked him the amount of equipment and money available at Belaya. General Platt responded...

The first round of camel transport has taken a thousand rifles and a hundred thousand [Maria Theresa] dollars. The second included some money, some grain, salt and things of that sort. We hope all these will be there shortly. Once the military equipment we are expecting arrives here, it will be transhipped there [Belaya]. Six thousand camels will be employed for this purpose beginning January. After February the number of the camels will grow to 15,000. Lorries will be available for technical workers and military officers and for emergency purposes. But the roads have not yet been made ready...

I replied:

If the said money and equipment are available at Belaya, and if in the future We are to receive more in large numbers, that is fine. I am asking this because as soon as I arrive in Belaya a number of patriots are likely to come to me and ask for weapons, clothing, and money. If I fail to meet their wishes, that would make useful propaganda material for the enemy.

General Platt explained:

I concur with Your Majesty on this matter. Our plan is not to mass military hardware at Belaya, but rather to store and organize the necessary provisions for the coming dry and rainy seasons. Therefore from the end of February, 15,000 camels will serve to transport a lot of things. I have learned that the captured military equipment has been delayed until the good items are separated from the bad, and we will dispatch them as soon as we receive them. I understand the importance of inspecting military equipment. The rifles that we already have sent were for the purpose of propaganda. In the future, we will provide whatever is needed.

[The emperor:]

As I have already told Major Wingate, I want to send Fitawrari Biru to Begemdir, first, to inspect the military equipment there, and second, because the patriots of Begemdir and its vicinity have asked Us to send Our representative to them. I want Fitawrari Biru to get everything he needs to proceed with the people who are with him at Gedaref. For this reason, I would like to ask you to send out instructions so that he may be able to get all the possible assistance, including a physician and a radio.

[General Platt:]

I will do everything I can.... However, I regret that a physician and a radio... are not available. We did dispatch a telegram to the Middle East requesting physicians. In the meantime, let me tell you that the physician in Rosaires has been instructed to attend Your Majesty on your journey. With regard to the Red Cross, since the representative of the British Red Cross Association is in Cairo, I will write a letter to General Wavell about it.

By the way, what does Your Majesty think about your journey to Belaya? I would like to know your complaints, if there are any, or is everything in order? Since our plan is to take Your Majesty on this route, We have to be extremely cautious....

I replied,

I would not like to... enter my country complaining about unfulfilled things. But I would be pleased, if my soldiers, whose presence I requested a long time ago, would arrive... before I leave. I also want other things like this brought to completion.... but in no way would I like the day of my departure postponed for these reasons.

He said, "your soldiers will be here by the end of January at the latest and will be sent to Belaya as soon as they arrive."

Then he asked, "does Your Majesty agree that the time is right for entering Ethiopia?"

I answered,

I already have told General Wavell and you that I wanted to enter... in August. But I was asked to stay until everything was organized. That is why I remained here until now. It is still my earnest desire to start doing my job from within my country.

General Platt asked again, "do you believe that Belaya is the right place?"

"I have not seen Belaya before. But I am pleased with the security preparations en route... and the precautions to be taken after I arrive there; therefore I hope it will prove suitable," I replied.

He then said,

I gather Captain Critchley, who just returned from there, has met with Your Majesty. Captain Critchley has surveyed Belaya and reported to me that it is... [well suited] for defensive purposes. I believe it should be placed under tight military protection. If a better place is found, it is possible to change. But for now I do not think that there is any better place than Belaya.

From a telegram I received from Colonel Sandford, I learned that Your Majesty's presence in Ethiopia is crucial. He also suggested Wombera as your headquarters. However, I have a sense that Belaya is a much better place than Wombera.

I raised the issue of camp facilities. In response, he offered to discuss the matter with Major Chapman-Andrews. I told him that I was not requesting luxurious things but the basic necessities for myself, my noblemen, and workers, and asked him what needed to be done about this.

He replied,

For propaganda reasons, we have to announce that Your Majesty is back in his country. Since [the Italians] will look hard for you, we have to take maximum precautions. Nevertheless, it is possible to pitch small tents under trees. This matter can be settled there with Wingate. Concerning the large tent to be pitched for the guests who will be coming to meet Your Majesty, the situation should govern but it should be possible to do so.

"How about taking my noblemen and workers?" I asked him.

General Platt answered,

General Wavell, the Supreme Commander of the Middle Eastern High Command, intended that Your Majesty's journey be as secret as possible. We bear a great responsibility for Your Majesty's security, and we have to ensure that Your Majesty is safe from any possible danger. We also need to take the necessary precautions so that you may arrive at a set time. Thus, it is necessary to limit the number of people travelling with you to two or three. But after you have arrived in Belaya, all can follow you there.

I said to him,

I understand that all these precautions are taken for my security. The number of the people I would like to have with me is small. But still, I want all of them to travel with me. Let them leave immediately before I set out. When they start out, we will leak rumors, as was done with the first camel caravan, claiming that they are headed somewhere else.

General Platt said, "if this is the wish of Your Majesty, fine, they will go. Please give to Wingate the list you told me about earlier, and he will organize their transport. Wingate will also be travelling with Your Majesty."

And I thanked him for that.

And then, General Platt asked me, "do you intend to take the Crown Prince and the Duke of Harer with you?"

"Yes, I am determined to take them with me," I replied.

He commented:

To my mind, it is better if you do not have them accompany you. The situation is very uncertain. There would be very grave consequences for the fate of Ethiopia and the throne if something unexpected happened to you. If there is bombing or the like when Your Majesty and the two princes are travelling together, that would be a great loss for Ethiopia. And what will be left for us to do? Therefore, it seems sensible that Your Majesty leave the Crown Prince here and depart alone. We will keep an eye on how things are developing, and I will make sending him my first duty when the time appears to be right. It would be good for you to think this over.

"[Since] it is also incumbent upon them to work for their country, it is a closed matter that they go with me," I answered.

General Platt responded, "I will inform General Wavell about your decision."

I said, "I do not think it is necessary. But do as you wish."

He added, "in the event of the Crown Prince and the Duke of Harer travelling with Your Majesty, I advise you not to stay together, but a mile or two apart."

"I am grateful for your counsel. I will see to it once I arrive in Belaya, and will be changing places depending on the circumstances," I said.

General Platt asked, "keep me informed about your movements."

"I will send you telegrams," I said.

Platt stated:

The plan to send [Capt. Hubert] Erskine through the south has been cancelled. General Wavell learned from your telegram to the Prime Minster that you would not permit the work Erskine was about to undertake. For that reason, he was not allowed to continue his activities in that region [southern Ethiopia]. I have also confirmed this matter to him. However, [since] Brocklehurst is believed to be a loyal officer... he has been assigned to General Cunningham, the Supreme Commander of the Kenyan Forces... to stir up rebellions, just as Wingate is doing for me here. As he said in the presence of Wingate and Chapman-Andrews, he is ready to assist you in terms of propaganda and political work. The intention of both of us is to do everything possible for the destruction of the Italians. There is nothing more or less to that. To that effect, I have received a telegram from General Wavell asking you to see and have a conversation with him [Brocklehurst]. Moreover, since General Wavell is prepared to send someone to help the operations from Kenya, Your Majesty should discuss the matter with Major Wingate, and tell him who should be contacted there.

I retorted,

You are aware that I did not accept the Brocklehurst and Erskine missions. I also think that you have seen in the telegram I sent to the Prime Minister that I am not willing to have any conversation with them. I do not understand why, after I sent that telegram, I am asked to see Brocklehurst. His assignment to work for General Cunningham in the capacity that Wingate holds in working for you is your business. Nonetheless, Brocklehurst's job has ramifications for my people... not acceptable to me.

General Platt then told me, "it would be nice if, for the sake of General Wavell's telegram, Your Majesty be willing to receive and allow him to express his ideas to you."

I said, "the missions of Erskine and Brocklehurst are not in the best interests of our two countries. I do not think it is necessary to go into any further detail. I prefer that you not bother me any longer regarding this matter. I deeply regret that I can not receive him," and We departed.

* * *

When Italy joined the war in alliance with Germany, Great Britain did not appear to have enough power to defend herself both in East Africa and the Middle East. Nevertheless, she gradually became stronger, owing to the inexorable wisdom of her leaders and the work of her great generals, who were well versed in military strategy. The forces of the United States and the Soviet Union also joined ranks to fight the common enemy. When the preparations for war reached a reliable stage six months after We arrived in the Sudan, the then Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. Churchill, on December 23, 1940, broadcast the following message to the people of Italy revealing that the real cause for the outbreak of the war was the Ethiopian affair.

I broadcast my speech from London, the capital of the British Empire.... Now we are at war. It is tragic and strange. Until the recent pathetic years, who ever thought that the peoples of Britain and Italy would attempt to destroy each other?

We were always friends. We provided support in the struggle of the Italian peoples for unity and freedom. We were supporters of Garibaldi and admirers of Mazzini and Cavour. The British people and parliament supported the movement for the unity of the Italian peoples, who were the light of the nineteenth century. Our forefathers supported the Italian quest for independence from the Austrian yoke and wished to see Italy overcome all her obstacles and occupy her respected place in the European Christian community as one of the great countries of Europe.

Until now we have never been enemies. We were your allies in the [First World War]... We had been your friends for fifteen years after the conclusion of the war. Although we believed that the institutions you built up after the war were different from those of ours, and not consistent with the internal ideology of Italian unification, we could still live in peace and good faith. Thousands of people of Italian descent live with us. With them we have had friendship, mutual support, and respect.

Now we are at war We busily search for the means of mutual destruction. Your pilots have attempted to drop bombs on London. In Africa, our soldiers are tearing your imperial territories apart. Alas, we are now opening a new chapter of history covered by darkness. No one knows where the end will be. Currently we are being forced to obliterate each other. What is the source of all these? Why did this happen?

Behold, people of Italy, I will tell you the truth. All these happened because of one person. Only one person has lined up the Italian people to sacrifice them on the territories of the British Empire. He has also alienated the United States away from its... good will and closeness toward the Italian people. I will not deny that he is a great man. No one will also deny that, after enjoying unbridled power for 18 years, he has led your country toward a tragic destruction. It is only one person who organized you in a ferocious war ostensibly to make you the inheritors and keepers of the Old Roman empire. He did all these against the wish of the Italian royal family, the Pope and the Vatican Roman Catholic Church, and the people of Italy, who have no desire for war.

The history of Italy has reached this sad moment. The criminal who is about to commit this mistake and humiliation stands right beside you. How does he justify what he has done?.... Let us review, Britain and Italy were signatories of the Treaty of the League of Nations, which was signed at the conclusion of World War I. According to the treaty, member countries were not to war against each other, or... invade the other. It also required member states to come to the defense of another, if assaulted. Ethiopia came in search of membership. We the British spoke against her admission. We suspected that Ethiopia was not civilized enough to be a member of the sanctified League. It was then Signor Mussolini who argued for her admission. Therefore, it is he who got you, us, Ethiopia, into abiding by the laws of the League. It was in this way that the conflict started and our age old friendship was negated.

The Ethiopian crisis, which resulted from breaking the law which we both had vowed to respect, has now brought Britain and Italy to the verge of death and destruction. The conflict between us, which started because of Ethiopia, will not be a lasting one. My words will stand the test of time.

Meanwhile, the great war... broke out because of Germany's military attack and Nazi feeling of superiority. What made Italy get involved all of a sudden? Or else, what was the reason which made her attack the fallen France? And what was the reason for declaring war on Britain? What was the reason for attacking Egypt, which was under British protection? We had been delighted at Italy's neutrality. During the eight months to the outbreak of the war, we had respected the territorial integrity and wealth of Italy. However, this was construed as cowardice. We were told that we were weak and fearful and talking in an outdated nineteenth-century language. In fact, we had no fear, and we were not weak.

Surely, the French republic has fallen for the time being. But France will rise again. The British people and the people of the Commonwealth Nations, and I dare say all English-speaking countries, have risen indignantly. The forces of modern civilization and the culture of antiquity have lined up with them.

Why have you chosen to follow a misdirected and poorly conceived policy, which already has started to unravel, while you could be our friends and brothers? Let me ask you this, what is the reason for invading Greece and causing tragedy? Perhaps, you may be asking the same question? But you do not know the answer because [Mussolini] has never consulted you. The Italian people have never been given the chance to express their opinions. One person alone ordered the Italian army to loot the vineyards of its neighbors. The time has surely arrived for the King of Italy, who is also the Custodian of a Christian capital, and the people of Italy to give their opinions with regard to the dangerous phenomenon and the tragic consequences it entails. Indeed, the Italian army, which periodically has fought courageously, but whose courage is currently lost, should be concerned for the life and prospects of Italy.

I, Churchill, would like to make it known to you that I have done everything within my power to avert this war between Italy and the British Empire. As a proof to this I will read out the message I have sent to Signor Mussolini:

I have now assumed the powers of the Prime Minister and Secretary of Defence. Let me call your attention to the meeting we had in Rome and remind you, as the leader of the people of Italy, of my inclination toward peace. Can we not stop the stream of blood about to be spilled between Italy and Britain from flowing? There is no doubt that we will inflict a terrible loss on you and you on us, as a result of which the Mediterranean sea may sink into an agonizing darkness. Well, if you would like this to happen, let it happen. But I would not like to pass without mentioning that I have not been opposed to Italy's greatness, and that I have not antagonized Italian authorities. Try to weigh the consequences of this great war, which is about to dismember Europe and which benefits no one. Whatever is to happen in the continent of Europe, Britain is ready to fight to the end.

Be that as it may, I want you to know that my plea for peace is not the result of fear or weakness. A certain protective caution was present... lest the inheritors of Latin and Christian civilization destroy each other. And now, before the declaration of war has been issued, I plead with you respectfully to listen to this voice.

I sent this message on May 16, and Mussolini answered on June 8, 1940:

I am responding to your statement just to let you know that I am aware of the historic but ephemeral effort that you have made so that our two countries would not confront each other in battle. Without going deeply into history, I would like to remind you that your government, solely to safeguard its own interests in Africa, spear-headed the initiative to impose economic sanctions on Italy in 1935.

I would also like you to recognize Italy's standing in the area of her own sea. If your government's declaration of war on Germany was prompted by the need to honor its commitment, likewise, I am ready to protect the honor of Italy's policy in alliance with Germany.

This was his response. I refrain from commenting on it. It was a clear-cut response. It was self-explanatory. Anyone can understand who the peace-seeker was. Anyone can understand who was the belligerent. After all these tiresome and trying years, only one person dragged Italy into war. Today, where does Italy stand? After eighteen years of dictatorship, where is the Duce leading his loyal people? And now, what other options do the people have? Is it to withstand British firepower on the territories of the British empire, in air and on sea as well as in Africa?

Only one person has led you to this catastrophe. Until the time when the Italian people will decide on their own destiny, and I hope it will be soon, I will leave this clear history there.

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December 3, 2017