Tuesday, March 9, 2004

The Fladds

In 1922, the ship bringing my parents through the Mediterranean to Djibouti had a honeymoon couple on board. I think they got on the ship in Alexandria, Egypt. Because the tropical heat was intense, the two young couples spent many hours visiting while sitting in deck chairs.

While they visited, my father was fascinated by a story told to him by the young Mr. Fladd. He was born in Ethiopia and spent years with his parents and siblings imprisoned in Magdella. In 1863, Emperor Theodore of Abyssinia had imprisoned all the foreigners in his country. They were placed in cruel shackles in the Fort of Magdella. Not only was the fort escape proof, located as it was on top of a mountain, but should any prisoner break out of the fort, sheer escarpments and deep gorges prevented escape.

King Theodore was cruel and vindictive even to his own people. The reason he had turned against the foreigners was clear only to him. He had wished for recognition from Queen Victoria in England, and had sent a letter to her by way of Vice-Counsel Cameron. When there was no letter in response, he felt rebuffed and took revenge on hapless foreigners. Later, when the Queen sent equipment to a port south of Massawah, it was hoped that he would free the prisoners. However, the exchange was never made, and the prisoners remained in the Fort, many barefoot and freezing. Martin Fladd, his wife and children and baby, survived, but they had no way of communicating with the outside world except for the Vice-Counsel Cameron.

The decision was made in England that only armed intervention could free the prisoners. Lord William Napier headed the British rescue forces. He was in charge of an Indian army that included elephants. News of this invasion brought terror to King Theodore. As Lord Napier and the elephants ascended the mountain, King Theodore declared his great joy to see them coming, and the prisoners were released.

The Fladd family returned to Germany. The infant had grown to manhood and married one of the daughters of the wealthy Swiss Nestle’s chocolate family. The honeymoon couple was returning to Fort Magdella as tourists.

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