The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Food Aid from Ethiopia

Author - Anne Parsons

At the beginning of 2013 the UK again experienced bad weather, including snow and floods, but thankfully the situation did not compare at all to that seen sixty years ago.

On the night of 31 January and the morning of 1 February in 1953, the east coasts of England and Scotland suffered devastating flooding from the North Sea. In England 307 people died, and another 19 lost their lives in Scotland. Thirty thousand people were evacuated with twenty four thousand homes being seriously damaged.

Tin of Coffee - A gift from the Emperor of Ethiopia
Tin of Coffee - A gift from the Emperor of Ethiopia
Photo © Anne Parsons

An unusual memento of these floods was sold on 18 January 2012 by the auction house of Golding, Young and Mawer in their Lincoln sale room. Lot 345 was described as: "An unopened tin of coffee, a gift from His Majesty the Emperor of Ethiopia to Her Majesty the Queen in aid of the East Coast floods relief fund, 31st January 1953, 10.5cm high." It sold for £22.

The auction had already taken place by the time I saw the catalogue online, but a few months later, another, different, coffee tin appeared on eBay. I couldn't resist buying it. Although damp stained and a little battered, this tin is also unopened. A very faint aroma of coffee can still be detected.

Yet another tin of coffee is on display at the Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth and a photo can be found on Mark Sargeant's Blog.

Memoirs of people who witnessed the floods have been published and some make special note of food parcels, including coffee donations from Ethiopia.

Mrs M. Yates writes on The Newham Story website of the floods in Canning Town, London: "Spoilt food (still rationed) and belongings had to be thrown away and crockery well washed, lashings of disinfectant water used to clean floors and walls to remove the smell of mud. Some months later we appreciated the kind thoughts which prompted people to send gifts such as a bottle of Samos wine, dried fruit from Greece, a tin of coffee from Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, a flood parcel from America."

Similarly, Malcolm Redwood, recalling the flooding in Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, says on his blog: "Months later the whole primary school was lined up in the playground and each child received a dole of coffee and currants. The currants were from California, and the coffee from the Emperor Haile Selassie."

I have not yet been able to find out how many tins of coffee were sent from Ethiopia, but if readers have any further information concerning this unusual and generous gift I would be delighted to hear from them.

First Published in News File Spring 2013

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