An Italian cavalry officer who swashed but didn’t buckle

One of the things I love about the Saturday edition of the Financial Times is that it often has the most unexpected obituaries. Here’s the latest — the life story of an Italian cavalry officer who is straight out of the pages of Evelyn Waugh. Sample:

Amedeo Guillet crammed rather a lot into his 101 years. He is best remembered for leading, on his white Arabian stallion, Sandor, a potentially suicidal cavalry charge against the tanks and 25-pounder artillery guns of Britain’s advancing “Gazelle Force” in the Horn of Africa in 1941. It was the last ever cavalry charge against British troops and earned the then Lieutenant Guillet the nickname Comandante Diavolo – the Devil Commander – from both his own men and an enemy that came to respect and even befriend him. Usually dressed like an Arab or Ethiopian tribesman, he became known in his native land as “Italy’s Lawrence of Arabia”.

On that misty January dawn in 1941 at Keru gorge, Eritrea, troops of Britain’s 4/11th Sikh regiment, the Surrey and Sussex Yeomanry and the 1st Bengal Cavalry were brewing tea before advancing against regular Italian forces. It was then that Guillet, wearing Arab clothes and screaming “Savoia!” – Savoy, his homeland – led 250 Ethiopian and Yemeni tribesmen in a galloping charge through the allied ranks, firing antique carbines, slashing with scimitars and tossing home-made grenades before retreating in a cloud of dust. The raiders’ loss was great – perhaps half their men – but the psychological damage they inflicted gave an important breather to retreating Italian regular troops…

Wow! He lived to be 102, and spent the last part of his life in Ireland chasing foxes — on horseback, naturally.