NOTES AND ORDERS by Donal Kennedy


You’ll remember Eric Morecambe’s defence of his rendition of Grieg’s Piano Concerto to Andre Previn’s criticism – “I am playing all the right notes, but not NECESSARILY in the right order.”

I don’t know whether the sketch was first shown by the BBC, which, in 1940 when Germany was overrunning its western neighbours, signed off its evening broadcasts with the National Anthems of the victims – ending with – Abyssinia!

Abyssinia has never been a Western neighbour of Germany, nor been threatened or attacked by her. She might, these days, qualify for participation in the Eurovision Song Contest, being in a non-European Continent. Alone among African countries, Abyssinia entered the twentieth Century having never been overrun, looted or enslaved by Europeans, and was over a third of away that century, when, in 1936 she was attacked and raped by Fascist Italy, with the connivance of Britain and France, the admiration of Winston Churchill,and the Blessing of Pope Pius XI.

Britain and France, together with Japan and Italy, were the BIG FOUR of the League of Nations, permanently represented on its Council of Ministers.

Abyssinia was a member of the League, as was the Irish Free State. All members of the league had signed its charter and were bound to come to the aid of victims of aggression. All were equal, but some more equal than others. Imperial powers were absolved from adherence to the Geneva Convention or from not using chemical weapons, such as mustard gas, on territories under their protection and control. Britain, France and Spain used them, with impunity on so-called ” lesser breeds”. But Abyssinia was NOT a colony. The Italians used mustard gas on men, women and children, machine-gunned them from the air. The Abyssinians fought back using weapons centuries outdated. Their Emperor, Haile Selassie, appeared at the League of Nations HQ in Geneva, where, alone among delegates, Eamon de Valera demanded that his plea be supported and the League’s Covenant be honoured. Fine Gael, back in Ireland, criticised Dev for not supporting “Catholic” Italy.

Italian forces with their war equipment, steamed through the British-owned, British-run, Suez Canal on their way to the Rape of Abyssinia. It should not be imagined that they were given Free Passage. No Siree! The canny British levied their tolls and made sure they were paid in ALL THE RIGHT NOTES.

The unfortunate Haile Selassie fled to Britain, taking refuge in BATH, where you can be sure he too was PAYING ALL THE RIGHT NOTES. For his hosts have always been sticklers for ORDER. 

SOURCES: Much of the above I gleaned from Volume 2 of Malcolm Muggeridge’s four- volume Autobiography and from Piers Brendon’s “The Dark Valley” aPanorama of the 1930s.

Muggeridge served with MI6 during WWII. Brendon was a biographer of Churchill. Both were brilliant writers who enlivened their accounts of serious matters with many hilarious remarks. And in the writing cited were totally honest.

Neither so much as mentioned Ireland or Dev.

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