Marshall Mateer

Stone Bomb Memorial

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Stone Bomb memorial for Abyssinia bombing: Woodford, Essex

The Anti-Abyssinian War Memorial is in Woodford Green a suburb of North East London. It was erected as a protest against Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia (now called Ethiopia) in 1935/36. The monument depicts a falling bomb as the Italians used aerial bombing raids to inflict mustard gas on Abyssinian soldiers and civilians.

It was from the confidence the Italian airforce gained in Ethiopia that Mussolini supported Franco and sent planes to bomb civilian populations and Republican troops alike in Spain.The British and other European governments  did not intervene in Ethiopia – a ‘strategy’ they were to repeat  during the Spanish Civil War and during Hitler’s early attacks on  other countries.

Inscriptions on the base of the memorial.Front –  “To those who in 1932 upheld the right to use bombing aeroplanes  ….Left“… this monument is raised as a protest  against war in the air”Right“originally unveiled by R. P. Zaphiro, secretary of the Imperial Ethiopian Legation London.  Supported by James Ranger, E J A Webster, J Davey, Sylvia Pankhurst.  October 20th 1935”.Rear“The site of this monument is the property of Sylvia Pankhurst. Design and work by Eric Benfield”.“Image: Public Monuments and Sculpture  Association National Recording Project”.

Italians Use Mustard Gas Bombs in Ethiopia: 1936

Montage of Swedish and Italian color footage about Italy’s aggressive war in Ethiopia,
with use of poison gas and mustard gas bombs. Collateral damages to a Swedish Red Cross camp hospital, due to the bombing of the troops of an Ethiopian Ras, are also shown. The Italian Air Force (a squad called “La Disperata”) was led by Galeazzo Ciano and Alessandro Pavolini and included as pilots two sons of Mussolini: Bruno and Vittorio.
:: Romano archives
:: Unknown WW2  in Colour – Romano Archives’ You Tube channel.
::  Music composed/performed 2009 by Ceiri Torjussen

The Abyssinian War

Italian troops invaded Abyssinia on October 1935 taking the capital in May 1936 and forcing the Emperor Haile Selassie to flee the country. During their campaign the Italian command used aircraft not only to attack the Abyssinian army and key centres but they also sprayed chemicals and ‘mustard’ gas widely and attacked civilian and non-combatant targets, acts which had been outlawed as an outcome of the first World War by the League of Nations.When the invasion was won the Italian airforce dropped propaganda leaflets and celebratory flares in the colours of the Italian flag – green, white and red.  The use of ariel technology in a systematic manner was witnessed by many journalists including Steer – who later reported from Spain on the bombing of Guernica – and Holmes who had one report in The Times headlined “Poison Gas in Ethiopia: Eye-Witness’s Account” in an attempt to convince those in Britain who seemingly refused to believe that chemical warfare was being waged.Public interest was very high – and not just in Europe and Africa, but also USA and Australia – the ‘world’ – as is shown by the number of newsreel films made of the preparations for invasion and the aftermath and the constant newspaper reporting for at least two years prior to the outbreak of the Second World War.To some it was already clear that Fascism was a threat to everyone and that bombing was  something that could well be visited on Britain should war come about. A member of the Ethiopian Red Cross warned, “To-day a few thousand peasants in Wallo will be groping their way down the dark years … Wallo is a long way from Charing Cross (London) – yes, but not for aeroplanes. If Mussolini had practiced warfare and ariel technology it seemed that Britain and it’s allies had practiced in-action: both would repeat these strategies during the Spanish Civil War, which began the same year – July 1936.

“… “Death-Rain from Air”

Australian newspaper reporting gas bombing in Abyssinia

The invasion of Abyssinia was reported around the world, with stories being widely syndicated by journalists in Abyssinia. ‘The Sun’, a leading Australian newspaper, gave frontpage coverage to Italian airforce attacks strong>Gershai in the Ogaden dessert at the beginning of the war in October 1935. The planes dropped bombs and powdered chemicals which blinded, choked and caused skin burns – the Ethiopian soldiers had no defence against these air attacks. The commander-in-chief of the Abyssian troops in the region, Dejazmatch Nazibu, is quoted in ‘The Sun’s’ article as saying “They call us savages, yet this is Italy’s first contribution to the new civilization in Abyssinia.”  The fears ignited by the use of mustard gas in the First World War had maintained an undercurrent of concern thoughout Europe; then suddenly in Abysinia the realities of technological warfare were being demonstrated again for all to see. The objective of the Italian airforce was very clear; “to inflict upon the enemy attacks of a terrifying nature to which he can in no way react’.(An Italian general quoted in ‘Telegram from Guernica’, Rankin, London 2003. pp45.) Read the fascinating story of how the newspaper fragment in the image above was found in ‘Under the Linoleum’ of a neighbour’s house along with several other newspapers with reports of the Abyssinian invasion at Nick Possum’s website. There’s a short article on the Abyssinian bombing to accompany the images. Elsewhere on Nick Possum there is an article called ’93 years of bombing the Arabs’ by Gavin Catenby, 2004 which was widely distributed around the globe – this time through the internet.Image: copyright Nick Possum: reproduced with kind permission of Nick Possum wesbite:

Swedish Red Cross Bombed

 As the Italian troops advanced they undertook a series of attacks on Red Cross facilities. At Dolo on 30th December 1935 seven Italian planes attacked the Swedish ambulance killing 27 patients and a Swedish medic. Dr Hylander one of the leaders of the Swedish Red Cross effort was seriously wounded.

A British Pathe newsfilm uses voice-over about the Dolo incident edited to footage of the convoy of red-cross trucks leaving Sweeden for Abyssinia to make a report for the newsreels. There were of course no cameras about to record the incident itself. ::See British Pathe Archive. ‘SWEDISH RED CROSS BOMBED (aka SWEEDISH, aka SWEDISH AMBULANCE BOMBED). 13/01/1936 Film Id 851.30Swedish Red Cross convoy is bombed in Southern Abyssinia (Ethiopia). The film shows the convoy before it left Sweeden; the leader Pastor Svenson, putting his helmet on – and key to the story, the not easy to miss red crosses on the roofs of the lorries and trucks. It finishes with a shot of the chief physician Doctor Hylander, who was later wounded, with his wife and two children.

Abyssinia – Questions in the House: Feb 1938. 

The Following Questions and Answers are from Hansard, the official record of the British  Parliament at Westminster. They come from the Abyssinia Debate 21 February 1938Hansard vol 332 cc1-2 1 – when the government was defending its position on non-intervention.

§ Mr. W. Roberts asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any information to show what proportion of Ethiopia is now effectively controlled and administered by the Italian government?

§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon) I have been asked to reply. The information in the possession of the Foreign Office goes to show that there have been sporadic outbursts of disaffection amongst the native population, especially in Western Abyssinia. The Italian military authorities are understood to be taking steps to deal with these; and to be in general control of virtually the whole country. So far as we are aware, civil administration is established in the main centres of population.

§ Mr. Roberts Would it be right to think that the Italian Government controls, perhaps, half of Abyssinia now?

§ Sir J. Simon I could not add to my answer.

§ Mr. Cocks Can the Noble Lord say what proportion of the British Cabinet is controlled in the same way?

Who they?
:: Roberts = Wilfrid Roberts a Liberal MP and member of the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief and committee for Basque Children Relief.
:: Cocks = Seymour Cocks an Independent Labour (ILP) MP
:: SimonSir John Simon Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Conservative Government.

:: See Hansard 21st February 1938
:: See also Cartoons section below …

Mussolini’s Roman Empire

Publishers like Victor Gollancz (‘Gollancz’ and ‘Left Book Club’) and Allen Lane (‘Penguin’) published books because they believed, in Lane’s words, that in the UK there was “a vast reading public for intelligent books at a low price.” Penguin paperbacks were launched in 1935 priced sixpence each and by 1938 were publishing Penguin Specials – books in bright red covers – which gave in-depth coverage of political issues of the day. In his book G.T. Garratt notes, in words as appoosite today as when he wrote them, the consequence of lack of information, “Democracy will fail, and deserve to fail unless those people in Western Europe and America, who still have the free use of their intelligence, will insist on being told the truth by their rulers, … “‘Mussolini’s Roman Empire’ by G. T. Garratt was published in 1938 as the second Penguin Special. Garratt was a journalist who worked for the ‘Manchester Guardian’ and reported for them on the Abyssinian War – later he spent considerable time in Spain. The book sets out the consistent attempts by Mussolini to extend his power through military intervention – usually against, in military and technological terms, much weaker foes. In the final chapter ‘England’s Betrayal’ Garratt sets out a case against the British Government’s policy of non-intervention: “[England’s] sudden collapse in front of Italian aggression has left millions of people in Europe and the Near East bewildered and uncertain.”   See Low’s cartoon below for a visualisation of the British government’s cowering position … :: Internet Archive has a free online copy of Garratt’s book.  Mussolini’s Roman EmpireScroll down the big list of html links on left and choose the DjVu viewer. Click and give it a few seconds to download.

Who he?

:: Geoffrey Theodore Garratt (1888–1942) was an administrator, author, journalist and Labour activist. He worked as an administrator in India and supported the cause of Indian independence; in 1934 he co-wrote ‘The Rise and Fulfilment of British Rule in India’ – the first English account giving prominance to an Indian viewpoint. He stood for parliament as a Labour candiate 4 times, failing on each occasion. He covered the Abyssinian war and saw Britain’s raising of sanctions against Italy as “a lunacy”. He was a leading member of ‘National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief’ and worked for relief of the Spanish refugees. In WW2 he joined ‘The Pioneer Corps’ and was killed in 1942 by an accidential bomb explosion in the UK.

Slyvia Pankhurst in Abyssinia 

:: The British Pathe Archive has several films showing news items and clips about women’s emancipation and the suffragettes such as the compilation Film ID 2261.01. There is also a fascinating film from 1958, showing Sylvia Pankhurst in Ethiopia , in a newly extended hospital. Sylvia Pankhurst had supported the cause of Ethiopia since Mussolini threatened invasion in 1936. Film ID 2924.15. click to view …Slyvia Pankhurst in centre background. Photo: British Pathe; Film 2924.15, frame 60.

About the Stone Bomb memorial 

Stone Bomb memorial for Abyssinia bombing: Woodford, Essex

The Stone Bomb monument was a response by Slyvia Pankhurst and the sculptor Eric Benfield to the Abyssinian crisis.

:: About the monument, the sculptor and Slyvia Pankhurst in Open Democracy and Patrick Wright.:: Download the article (pdf file): Patrick Wright article.:: Details of the monument: Public Monuments & Sculpture Association Recording Project: Image; and Details“Image: Public Monuments and Sculpture Association National Recording Project; published with permission.


Mussolini powering over British Prime Minister who is washing his hands of Spain and Abyssinia. Photo: BCA

The war between Italy and Abyssinia was watched with intense interest and was widley covered by newspapers, radio and the newsreels and cartoonists commentated on it throughout. While film and photography of the preparation for war was plentiful getting footage of the war and its effects was much more difficult – a situation that the cartoonists, to some extent, could overcome as in these depictions of ‘mustard gas’ bombing show. David Low“It’s So Bracing”, Evening Standard, 11 Apr 1936: Mussolini and Poison Gas in AbyssiniaAfter the war…David Low Evening Standard, 20 Apr 1938: the  British positionAn Anglo-Italian pact was signed in Rome in which Britain agreed to formally recognise Italian conquests in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) as legitimate. Italy, in return, agreed to withdraw Italian troops from Spain at the end of the Spanish Civil War a diplomatic trade off that helped neither Abyssinia or Spain.::Search the UK Cartoon Archive for ‘Abyssinia’ and by date – 1930/1945 – to see representations and interpretations of the events from British newspapers.

Archive news film

British Pathe archive

There is a lot of news film about Abyssinia – at least 30 items – in the British Pathe Archive including some items prior to and after the conflict period itself.

[yellow_box]:: For a ‘full’ list please click here for British Pathe archive newsfilm list[sorry currently off-line][/yellow_box]

YouTube About a dozen films (april 2009) – very variable in quality – usual note on care with ‘copyright’.  Searches tend to include current conflict in Eritera. ::USA, full documentary four parts – about 8 mins each. This link to Part 2. ::Airdrop of sheep by parachute to Italian troops – 55 sec clip.


Websites :: British Listed Buildings website has Map references, and copy of the Listed Buildings entry :: Newspaper Report, Guardian, 3rd October 1935

[yellow_box]:: [sorry currently off-line – [/yellow_box]

More on ‘Civilian bombing’ in Shapesoftime article on ‘Guernica’] :: National Archive, ‘Learning Curve’Italy-Abyssinia conflict 1935-1936 – resources for schools. :: History of ariel bombing: Airminded’s excellent ‘Chronology of Bombing’::Theory  of Bombing – written for schools by Alf Wilkinson article covers the development of bombing & air power between the two world wars. ::British Pathe film archive. ::The second Italio-Abyssinian War by Wikipedia.

:: Photo of the Stone Bomb, Public Monuments and Sculpture Association National Recording Project.
:: Patrick Wright. for permission to use articles on Abyssian Bomb memorial published through Open Democracy at The Stone Bomb.
:: Gavin Gatenby and Nick PossumNick Possum website
:: Hansard
:: Romano Archives

About and feedback

:: This material about Abyssinia and the Stone Bomb Memorial is written and  collated by Marshall Mateer. First published on 23rd February 2009; last updates: embedded colour film link and notes on Garratt book, 25th February 2010. ”Questions in Parliament’ section, 17th March 2010. Updated again in transferring to new Shapesoftime website, July 2012.

:: If you have any feedback please contact me at


This work, image, audio and text is by Marshall Mateer and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.  This does not, of course include the third party resources which are published with references here – you need to check these out for yourself if you want to re-use them.