One of my life’s minor pleasures is a daily trip to the obituary pages. And there’s usually no better place to turn to for this than the Daily Telegraph. This ripping yarn proves just why. It tells the tale of Amedeo Guillet, an Italian soldier and diplomat, who died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 101.
Here’s an extract:
Early in 1941, following outstanding successes in the Western Desert, the British invasion of Mussolini’s East African empire seemed to be going like clockwork. But at daybreak on January 21, 250 horsemen erupted through the morning mist at Keru, cut through the 4/11th Sikhs, flanked the armoured cars of Skinner’s Horse and then galloped straight towards British brigade headquarters and the 25-pound artillery of the Surrey and Sussex Yeomanry.
Red Italian grenades – “like cricket balls” – exploded among the defenders, several of whom were cut down by swords. There were frantic cries of “Tank alert!”, and guns that had been pointing towards Italian fortifications were swivelled to face the new enemy. At a distance of 25 yards they fired, cutting swathes through the galloping horses but also causing mayhem as the shells exploded amid the Sikhs and Skinner’s Horse.
After a few more seconds the horsemen disappeared into the network of wadis that criss-crossed the Sudan-Eritrean lowlands.
It was not quite the last cavalry charge in history – the unmechanised Savoia Cavalry regiment charged the Soviets at Izbushensky on the Don in August 1942. But it was the last one faced by the British Army, with many soldiers declaring it the most frightening and extraordinary episode of the Second World War.
The charge, you will have guessed by now, was led by Guillet.
Read the whole thing. Really. Just towards the end, we find this paragraph, written with the characteristically sly edge that makes The Telegraph’s obituaries the delight that they so often are:
He celebrated his 100th birthday in Rome in February last year at the army officers’ club in the Palazzo Barberini, where the royal march was played and friends gathered from Ireland, the Middle East and India – as well as those members of the Italian royal family still on speaking terms with each other.