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15 October 2014
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How I met the Emperor of Ethiopia

by North Warwickshire Libraries

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
North Warwickshire Libraries
People in story: 
Betty Beresford
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
16 September 2003

In 1940 my father came on leave and had a taste of the Birmingham blitz. The next day he took us to the station and booked us on the first train leaving the city and this was to Malvern, so with my older sister my younger brother and my mother we set off with dad. 1 do not know how we arrived at Miss Ainsworth's but that is where we spent some time. During my time in Small Heath 1 had played with my brother two boy cousins and a gang of boys, so 1 was very much a tomboy, and how this poor woman coped with us I shall never know! Apparently she had retired to Malvern on the death of her father, a colonel in the Indian army, whom she had looked after since she was a young woman and she had never married. The house was huge to my young eyes coming from a two down and two up terrace house and the garden was a tomboy's dream, it went on forever, the house was so big we never saw Miss Ainsworth who obviously kept out of our way, but was aware of all my adventures as her maid was continually telling my mother of my misdeeds in the garden. 1 was forever being told that a young lady did not climb trees, do handstands against the kitchen wall or climb down drainpipes. I was always being sent to bed in disgrace and NEVER allowed to meet any of Miss Ainsworth's circle of friends as were my older sister and young brother.

One day 1 was waiting outside on the pavement for my mother and brother to go to school, this way my mother knew 1 could not get into mischief while she got my brother ready, when out of the house next door stepped three-in my eyes- apparitions in long nightgowns and two were carrying huge swords. I screamed and ran back up the path shouting ' help come quick the devil's after me'. Everybody came tumbling out of the house including Miss Ainsworth and there was a deathly silence except for me screaming the devil's after me, over and over at the top of my voice. MY mother grabbed me by the arm and rushed me round the back of the house flung me in the kitchen and shook me till my teeth rattled. When she calmed down she said 'Did 1 know what I had done, I had only insulted the Emperor of
Ethiopia a man who had the right of life and death over his people and was treated like a god by everyone!' When a very chastened little girl got home from school I was taken in to see Miss Ainsworth by my mother and informed that 1 must go round and apologise to His Majesty Haile Selassie. To say 1 was terrified is an understatement but round I was dragged by my mother and older sister one on each arm and taken into the great man's presence. He was sitting on a chair which to my eyes looked like a throne with his two bodyguards standing either side. They were so black they shone! 1 was amazed how small he was I seemed to loom over him ( 1 had always been 'a bonny girl') 1 tried to speak but my throat was so dry and 1 was very frightened of the two big black men and their swords. I looked up and out of this brown face 1 saw a flash of white teeth and thought 'It's alright! So swallowing and taking a deep breath I presented the bunch of flowers I had been given and said 'I am so sorry for saying what 1 did", one of his men took the flowers and he waved his arm about and 1 turned and fled out of the room. Of course the first thing my mother said to me was 'You did remember to curtsey didn't you!" and knew by my face I hadn't

I never saw him again except on newsreels and later in life on the televison but often wondered what he thought of that cheeky English girl in Malvern during the war! Needless to say within a very short time we were back home in Small Heath, and strangely the subject was never mentioned again. When I grew older I realised that my mother hated being 'evacuated' and in actual fact I had done her a favour giving her an excuse to come home. We went back to Malvern again when dad came home on leave and endured another air raid. But that, as they say, is another story, as is the time I was machined-gunned because I had been in the queue for oranges and the time I was chased by a headless chicken, and also when I was buzzed by the Luftwaffe. When I get time I will put these adventures on to disc.

B. Beresford

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