Sometimes history throws up the truly surreal moment. This week, Peter Christie looks at when the Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie opened a North Devon church fete

Not something you see every day - an advert for the Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie to open the church fete at Hartland.Not something you see every day - an advert for the Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie to open the church fete at Hartland.

Hartland has played host to a wide variety of people over the years ranging from members of the Royal family through famous actors to thousands of tourists but one particular visitor must be the most exotic.

In August 1938 Haile Selassie the Emperor of Ethiopia arrived to open a church fete.

Selassie was then aged 46 and had ruled his country since 1928. Known in his early days as a reformer he introduced many new ideas to try and modernise his country – all of which came to an abrupt end in 1935 when the Italian fascist leader Mussolini decided he wanted some African colonies – and invaded Ethiopia.

Selassie’s army fought back but the Emperor was forced into exile in May 1936 ending up in Britain. Here he spent five years travelling from one host to another not really knowing if he would ever see his country again.

He was a Christian and attended many church events – hence his invitation to open the Hartland fete.

Here he was welcomed by the parish vicar the Reverend Gregory who made a rousing speech saying ‘We greatly appreciate the generosity of your heart in coming to this remote corner of England to help forward the work of the Church of Christ in this place’.

Selassie made a short speech in return – which was given in Amharic and was translated by his interpreter.

He denounced the Italian invasion of his country pointing out that ‘women are weeping, where is my husband, where is the father of my children; children are crying, where is my mother; where is my father?’

The emotional charge behind these powerful sentiments was rather brought down to earth when he added ‘I would like finally to say that I hope you will all have an enjoyable time and I hope this bazaar which I have much pleasure in declaring open, will be a success’.

His speech was followed by one from D Stucley, the owner of Hartland Abbey, who admired the gallantry of the Emperor and his army ‘against terrible odds’.

Following this the villagers started to visit the various stalls.

When one considers that today Haile Selassie is revered as a god by the Rastafarians of Jamaica and Britain it seems even more amazing that he ever came to this rather isolated corner of North Devon.