Chapter 7

Thus, in the grey dawn on April 9th,we were once more on the road. We little realised that an action-packed, strenuous, rain-drenched struggle through the mountainous “lake district” was ahead of us. The heavy rain season had started and the few days in the Capital had been cold and wet. Our route took us back to Hadama to link up, once more, with the Nigerians and the 22nd East African Brigade. They had taken up this position to protect the supply route to Addis from attack by the Italian forces around Shashamanna. We reached Hadama about midday and, after a lunch break, moved out to the Awash River at Ponte Malcasa where a pontoon bridge had been built to replace the bridge demolished by the Italians. Our triangle of guns took up position around the bridge while the rest of our Section moved forward to Infantry positions and transport area. It was rather a delightful spot on the River and, for a few fine days, we were able to swim and relax. However, vicious mosquitos were particularly fierce in the evenings and were inclined to spoil our evening meal around the campfire. Gordon Jolly and Denis were feeling ill with a touch of dysentery and Lt. Riddel returned to Addis as he had Malaria.

Several truckloads of Italian farmers and their wives and families with all their worldly possessions passed through on their way to the safety of Addis. The heavy rains and the constant use of the roads by heavy vehicles made movement difficult and, one day, I had terrible drive up to our HQ. The road wound up a steep tortuous mountain Pass and suddenly the engine choked off and would not start again. I only managed to start it again by de-clutching and letting the truck run down the hill in reverse gear. I was much too close to the edge for my comfort and heaved a sigh of relief when the engine started. I had to return to our site after dark, which was an even more hair-raising experience. Finally, I overshot our campsite and very nearly ended up in the river.

After 4 days we moved on to the agricultural and fertile farms around Ascelle. The farms were all deserted and many farm implements had been abandoned. Our Brigade HQ was situated at a farm that had been the scene of a tragic siege of an Italian family by Abyssinian “Shifta”. The farmers had painted a huge sign in the Courtyard enclosure – “Please Save Us.” They had also constructed an armoured vehicle from a tractor and had obviously withstood several attacks, as the buildings were bullet-scarred, before being over-run. Our troops had arrived too late and seven graves marked the Italians’ final resting place. We remained in the area for about a fortnight while the Nigerians tried to find a satisfactory route forward. The rain continued but there were several sunny days in between and our rations had improved. We actually received fresh meat, flour and Italian Olive Oil and bartered with Abyssinians for eggs and chickens.

A collections of tour poems and verses and office Christmas party doggerel written by Howard J. Bates