Adwa was a scar on Italy’s heart. Back in 1896 this parched market town in the north of Ethiopia saw the Italian Army humbled by warriors with swords and spears. Politicians in Rome thought they could carve an empire out of the last independent nation in Africa. Ethiopian warriors killed 7,000 men in one day and ended that dream.
The Italians wanted revenge. In 1935 they got it. The land of Dante and Caravaggio was now a boisterously aggressive Fascist state under Benito Mussolini. Provocations at the border late the previous year led to war talk and demands for compensation. European powers tried to intervene but could not afford to alienate Mussolini, needed onside to counter-balance the growing threat of Nazi Germany. In October Italian Fascist legions kicked aside the half-hearted diplomacy and marched into Ethiopia. Bombs, bullets, and mustard gas started raining down.
Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie knew his country was poor and underdeveloped. He needed expert foreign help. Forty foreigners ignored League of Nations resolutions on non-intervention and came to Addis Ababa to fight. Another sixty joined medical units or found other roles. The international press corps gathered in Addis Ababa wrote them up as heroes.
A few mercenaries were honest. A few were competent. The rest was a crazy gang of playboys, Nazis, and black crusaders who could barely shoot straight.
In earlier posts we looked at foreign volunteers who found their way into the separatist militias of Eastern Ukraine. Most popular was a five-part interview with a well-informed Serbian contact who took us on a deep dive into the activities of his fellow countrymen.
He got back in touch recently with information about a extremist French organisation that supplied volunteers to the separatists for its own political ends. Some were hardened soldiers, others green recruits.
There’s a Serbian connection and a lot of infighting, so buckle up for backstabbing and paranoia in the ranks of Unité Continentale. As always, my interviewee’s opinions are his own. If you have any information about the situation in Novorossiya then please get in touch.
The house at rue Defacqz 71 is thin as a bread stick and pretty as that girl you used to love. Planted four storeys high on a wide side street branching off Brussels’ prestigious avenue Louise, it has a red brick frontage and decorative graphic panels by Adolphe Crespin.
This tall drink of art nouveau was designed by famed Belgian architect Paul Hankar back in 1893 and served as his private home until he passed through the veil of death at the turn of the twentieth century. These days number 71 looks shabbier than in its prime, but is still a fine example of what a Belgian architect can do with money and imagination to spare.
In the morning of 1 September 1944 the locals found two Russian men dead on the pavement outside. They’d been shot with a submachine gun. We’re still not sure who killed them.