The Dreadnought Dare.  Or (Bunga - Bunga).


HMS DreadnoughtOn a chilly February morning in 1910, the Royal Navy demonstrated its power and splendour on the ample Weymouth Bay in Dorset. The ships were lined up to show the world a large and mighty navy. Among the armoured gun platforms was the powerful HMS Dreadnought looming above the rest. Dreadnought was the flagship displaying bunting and national flags for princely visitors from Abyssinia, a Foreign office official and an interpreter who spoke with a German accent.

 Protocol in a situation such as this was strictly observed. They were piped aboard the ship and welcomed by officers resplendent in their best uniforms. Not one of the naval ranks had the slightest idea of the flag or national anthem of Abyssinia. To counter this dilemma the flag of Zanzibar was run up and the Marine Band was ordered to play the Zanzibar anthem. The Abyssinian Princes seemed to ignore the errors as they strolled around the ship. Occasionally they would stop in admiration of naval wonders and fling their arms in the air shouting, “Bunga-Bunga.”

The Admiral could not provide prayer mats at sunset and to avoid insult the usual bugle call was not sounded. The visit had been a great success and crowds gathered around at Weymouth Train Station. The princes and their entourage were on their way to London and waved at their admirers from the carriage window.

The leading prince were seen turning his head away during the farewells. He had sneezed and dislodged his moustache. Fortunately no one had noticed and the hoax went as planned.

 Those involved were the master mind William Horace De Vere Cole who had in the past impersonated the Sultan of Zanzibar to great effect in a student prank. One of his most successful tricks was to pose as a foremen to direct road workmen to Piccadilly Circus. There they proceeded to dig a large deep hole while a policeman directed the busy traffic.  

Duncan Grant was born in Scotland in 1885, his father a major in the army. He spend most of this childhood in India and Burma. After much indulgence he became an artist attending Westminster School of Art.

Virginia WoolfVirginia Woolf, an important novelist a member of the Bloomsbury group, a British collection of scholars and artists. One of her works displayed her womanly independence in the essay A Room of One’s Own where she stated, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”  Her brother Adrian, an author and amongst the first of British Psychoanalyst’s, also a member of the Bloomsbury set who posed as the interpreter in the deception.

Guy Ridley the son of a prominent judge and Anthony Buxton the university cricketer.

Cole suitably dressed as a man of the Foreign Office went of Paddington Rail Station. Under the name of Herbert Cholmondeley, he demanded the station master arrange a special train for his party and an official body to see them off to Weymouth. After some disagreement the station master attached a coach on to the usual train and lined up his ticket inspectors as a guard of honour. The princes ambled to the train on a quickly appropriated red carpet. As the train moved off the station master waved to them with his top hat.

 The Admiral of the Fleet had received information from the supposed Foreign Office to prepare for eminent visitors.The Admiral none too pleased followed the instructions.

The 'Royal Party'

The guests were invited to tea posing a problem for the Abyssinian Princes in their make up. The skin disguise had been applied by Sarah Bernard’s make up man, who had warned them to avoid food and drink. Cole, sharp as ever explained the Abyssinian princes had already consumed two meals their strict daily limit. When the visit was near the end a Staff Officer walked into the room to hear the interpreters Germen accent. He was so concerned the interpreter may be a spy he did not notice his relation Virginia Woolf and Arian. The Staff Officer approached the Admiral to warn him of the secrecy of the Dreadnought battleship. Just then Cole pronounced the visit over and ushered the Princes ashore to carry out their evening prayers.

On the train back to London Cole informed the buffet car attendants the princes had to be served in grey kit cloves. This Cole insisted was the only way they would receive food. At Reading station an attendant was sent to appropriate the grey kit gloves so the Abyssinian princes could eat. No doubt the hoaxers hailed in appreciation , “Bunga- Bunga.  

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