It was 1910 and the sun did not set on the British Empire which stretched around the globe. It’s navy was held to be the most powerful in the world and it’s most powerful battleship was the HMS Dreadnought; the first of the Dreadnoughts, a new class of battleship that was considered very revolutionary design and at the cutting edge of military technology.
However it’s reputation and that of the proud British Navy took a torpedo in the bows when it was targeted by a group of pacifist intellectuals.
On the 10th of February, the trap was sprung. A telegram was sent to the Commander of HMS Dreadnought, purportedly from a very senior official of the Foreign Office. He was informed that the Prince of Abyssinia and his entourage wished to be given a tour of the Royal Navy’s best ship and that he was to accord them every courtesy.
The Commander duly received the party with much pomp and circumstance. The royal party was greeted by an honour guard with the band playing the anthem of Zanzibar (near enough as they did not have the music for the Abyssinian anthem) and shown round the ship by the Commander himself. As they were shown all the amazing features of the ship, the royals gave appreciative exclamations of “Bunga Bunga” during their 40 minute tour.
However, the royal Abyssinians really consisted of 6 friends which included Virginia Woolf and her brother, Adrian Stephen. They had darkened their skins with makeup and wore flowing robes and turbans. Virginia Woolf even sported a luxurious beard.
The next day, the leader of the group sent the story complete with photos of the Royal party on the ship to the newspapers and before long the Royal Navy became the laughing stock of the nation. People were saluting sailors with the cry of “Bunga bunga”! The Royal Navy was deeply embarrassed and more so because of the pacifist views of the group.
The Navy decided not to prosecute the hoaxers for fear of further adverse publicity and attention. And so, this has become one of the most well known hoax and one that was extremely successful in its objective of sticking its tongue out at the military and imperialistic establishments.
And so we salute this merry band of anarchists on this April Fool’s Day.
(Warning: Do not attempt this yourself. These days you will probably be snatched by a security team and sent to Guantanamo.)