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Divided Loyalties

Italians in Britain during the Second World War

Lucio Sponza

Historians have paid little attention to the fate of minorities at times of acute crises. This book addresses the case of two different types of Italians in Britain during the Second World War: the immigrants, who became 'enemy aliens' overnight, and the prisoners of war (POWs), who were brought to this country to compensate for the lack of manpower. The material life and the contrasting sentiments of both groups of Italians are studied against a background of changing government policies towards 'enemy aliens' and POWs. People with a weak sense of nationhood, the Italians' strongest loyalties are normally towards their own families and kin. A surrogate national sentiment was enhanced, in the case of immigrants by their condition of foreigners confined to the margin of society; in the case of the POWs, by their condition of men humiliated in defeat and captivity. Yet, in both instances ambiguity and dislocation of sentiments made the central issue of divided loyalties a complex and painful – albeit enriching – experience.
The book is mainly based on archival – mostly unused – sources; direct private testimonies, both written and oral, are also taken into account.
Contents: Towards the War (The background; The months of Italian neutrality) – Internment and Survival (The anti-Italian riots; 'Collar the Lot!'; Life in internment camps; Life outside the internment camps) – The Prisoners of War (The planning and early execution of the transfer of Italian POWs to Britain; The building up of a captive labour force; The status of the POWs after Italy's surrender; Italian POWs as an unrestricted labour force).