Haile Selassie I and the Wolseley Helmet

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Ethiopia, or Abyssina as it was unknown until modern times, was unique in Africa in that it was the oldest Christian nation on the continent but also in the fact that until 1936 had been – along with Liberia – the only nation to retain its independence. The Ethiopian military, which looked to modernize following internal struggles that began during the First World War and continued into the 1920s.

With the aid of Swiss, Belgian and Swedish volunteers the army modernized and this included adopting European style uniforms and headgear, notably Wolseley helmets – likely original British surplus and later British supplied versions. What is notable about the use of these helmets is that it actually continued until Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed in 1974.

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Haile Selassie reviewing his troops circa 1965, less than 10 years before he was deposed. The photo shows that the Wolseley pattern helmet was widely used, and note also the British looking uniforms.

A variety of badges were used from the 1930s to the 1970s, and most helmets featured an Ethiopian cockade on the right side of the helmet. What is also notable is that the pre-war cockade was red/yellow/green, but later changed to green/yellow/red, likely because the Italian cockades worn on the similar M28 sun helmets featured the Italian cockades, which were red/white/green.

Cockades on the post war examples are often seen supported with a thin piece of metal, sometimes worn on the outside of the helmet. However, it has never been established why this practice was done.

Following the 1975 revolution the helmets were no longer used, likely because they were associated with the Imperial past.

Haile Selassie and British Major General Cottam in 1946 following the Emperor’s return to Ethiopia after World War II

Haile Selassie and British Major General Cottam in 1946 following the Emperor’s return to Ethiopia after World War II

A 1950s era look at the Emperor with his Wolseley helmet and British tailored uniform

A 1950s era look at the Emperor with his Wolseley helmet and British tailored uniform

The Emperor on horseback in the late 1960s

The Emperor on horseback in the late 1960s

An excellent color photo that shows the Emperor wearing the Wolseley helmet

An excellent color photo that shows the Emperor wearing the Wolseley helmet

Peter Suciu

 

3 thoughts on “Haile Selassie I and the Wolseley Helmet

  1. Jim Marshall

    Nice article.

    My overstanding has been that the red on outside cockade was denoting his mounted Imperial Guard, his cavalry. I have a whitewashed helmet (another thing denoting his mounted troops) with a spike and long hair coming out of it with the red on the outside cockade, and opposite it, a St. George Slaying the Dragon insignia that is also original to the piece. It also includes a linked chain for underneath the chin.

    The above photo link shows the helmet from the front, and clicking on the right edge will show you two more photos, all three depending on whether you are a facebook member or not.

    Lastly, the last style front insignia shown probably didn’t save they money as it was so large and was replacing items that were simply stamped out. That’s the only version I don’t have.

    More conversation on the subject is always welcome. Cheers!

    Reply
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