CHEREN a.k.a KEREN
Edition of August 9, 2008
View from Cheren (Keren) road, northwest out of Asmara. Cheren was scene of decisive battle for the WW2 fate of East Africa. Camel train on way home, might be 100 miles after trading silver, corn, etc. Womens red dyed clothes are common off the Asmara plateau. Ty Curtis and his '37 Fiat Topolino. View west from Cheren's fort. Note uniform housing huts and terraced farming. Broad expanse of white in middle foreground is a dry riverbed. Mountains in background are last ridge before land drops to Sudan's flatlands. View northeast from fort towards the Asmara road in center. Italian population lives to right of center,remainder of populace is Moslem Tigrinian. Note Minaret to left. View from top of fort towards passage which cost the lives of so many serving in the armed forces of the British Empire. Cave tunneled through the top of the fort directly below site of previous picture. Fort required very little construction to be effective but that was in days before war planes. Similar forts had long existed for local tribal wars. Occupying Italian forces used them for guard against tribes displeased with their presence. View of the Cheren fort from summerhouse behind Hotel Imperiale, the only hotel in Cheren. Tennis court in foreground,swimming pool not visible behind the summerhouse. Cheren RR station of the Italian era. In late thirties station would hum with excitement as the weekend Litterina from Asmara arrived with smiling relatives and excited children. Littorina was still running in mid '50's along with freight only trains. On this day passenger cars held a few Italian men, a few adventuresome Americans and many Eritreans who if in business suits would be empty handed, if in native dress carrying grains or livestock. Camels on a street in Cheren. Very easily excited, they usually are tethered to prevent stampeding. Steve Noble's photo of friend's jeep under tree in a dry riverbed outside of Cheren in 1964. - -
Military cemetery at Cheren. Apparently over half the names are Indian and South African, all ages represented. A few fresh wreaths sent by English name mothers for their 17 to 21 year old sons. My remark in the guest book, ‘was it worth this?'. A not uncommon sentiment as I noticed other’s remarks. Area is deserted and forgotten. Whether the British assault would have carried into and damaged Asmara remains in conjecture since it stopped in Cheren when Italians realized East Africa was lost and wanted to surrender but Mussolini ordered a stop and hold action in order to delay the Allies from opening the Suez and the Red Sea. This delaying action gave a few weeks of free reign to Rommel and the war in the northeast Mediterranean. Once the pass was breached the Italians retreated rapidly to Asmara, then Massawa before their sea route to Italy could be cut off. They thoroughly 'decommissioned' the port of Massawa by sinking their own ships. Many workers 'left behind' were employed by U.S. contractor in re-opening the port.
The road through the pass which stymied the British so badly. Hillside rocks are marked by gunfire. Happy Valley on the other side of the pass which stopped the British advance for two months before their assaults. Up to this point British had advanced virtually unscathed from the Sudan. Circa 1955 living quarters of Happy Valley's inhabitants who scurried into hiding when I approached with camera.
From Asmara where the temperature was in the forties a hunting group of us drive all night,approximately 80 miles to this 'one pump' gas station at 6 a.m. where temperature was already in the nineties. Frequented by hunters, it was just outside of Agordat about 40 kilometres from Cheren.Water cans were manufactured in Germany,Italy, Britain and the U.S. My friends had purchased the vehicle from the French consul who had built it with a LaSalle frame, a lengthened jeep body, GMC, US Army '6 by' transmission, Model A rear axle and motor and a Land Rover front end.
Typical house in Agordat with fence to protect against hyenas and roving bandits. Note the 'tin can gate', a common WW2 leftover. Note also the boy peering at the familiar sight and sound of American hunters vehicles. 'Security' blockhouse allegedly the home of a local chief who apparently fears rivals. Outside Agordat our party was shooting at 'specks' in the field, assumed to be gazelle given their speed. They missed although our party included the 2nd and 3rd best ranked shooters according to gun club standings. George Rees and Gardner at rest stop for the ailing vehicle in the evening on our way back to Cheren. The hats are Eritrean Police Force.
In an October 1954 letter I mentioned a hunting trip aborted due to engine trouble. Barkley, George Rees, Ron Gardner and Ham were along on that one. The 'composite jeep/land rover' vehicle was owned by Barkley and Rees.
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