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The Italians and the BBC

by mizfreckles

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People in story: 
natalie holding
Location of story: 
Sicily and Italy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
09 July 2005

Hello to all British veterans and their families. I am a teacher and student researching in the area of BBC and propaganda in Italy during the second world war. My own ancestors did not serve in Italy and so they cannot help me with my research.
I am looking for any kind of information about the BBC in Itlay. By this I mean for those of you who participated in operation Husky or who came afterwards, if you noticed any graffiti on walls in Sicily or Italy mentionning Colonel Stevens or any other broadcasters I would love to know. If you know or observed any Italians who listened to the BBC and their reactions...I have read in books that Italians prefered to listen to the BBC than to their own national radio: but is this true?
I'd also like to know how you were welcomed by the Italians: as friends? as enemies? How did they react to you? Could you listen to the BBC whilst you were in Italy?

If you can help me with any information concerning the BBC in Italy and its influence or the general relationship of Italians and the British I'd be really grateful. I am counting on people like you who have lived through extraordinary periods of time for personal accounts as as we all know we cannot always believe what we read in books!
Thank you in advance

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Message 1 - The Italians and the BBC

Posted on: 12 July 2005 by Ron Goldstein

Dear Natalie

With reference to how we were greeted by Italian civilians I would say it was tempered by the period in question.
In Sicily the Italians were still our enemy and relations between British troops and civilians were fraught with natural suspicion.
After we had landed on the Mainland in September 1943 and when the Italians had declared a separate surrender, relations between the Italians and the British troops improved. Peter G could give a much more lucid description of those times.

See my story:


where I quote my diary and use the word "Liberatore !"




Message 2 - The Italians and the BBC

Posted on: 14 July 2005 by mizfreckles

Thanks Ron for your precious information! I am so glad to have a reply from you. The whole position of Italy was an awkward one throughout the war and by reading the books on the British landing in Sicily, it sounds as though you were greeted by the Italians as heros!
I don't suppose you know if the Italians listened to the BBC "Radio Londra"? In Asa Briggs "History of Broadcasting" it is mentionned that the Italians preferred to listen to the BBC than their own national radios. True or British propaganda???

I have tried to contact Peter but I have no reply as of yet. It is true that his story is a fascinating one as is yours. I feel that my generation is very lucky to still have people who lived through the war to be able to ask questions to.
I thank you once again for your help.


Message 3 - The Italians and the BBC

Posted on: 14 July 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Natalie

I am not aware that you have tried to contact me, my Personal Page is here U521078.

What is the purpose of your research? Is it for a book or a university dissertation? If the latter, you may be able to gain access from your university to the University of Bradford Library here links When there, leave 'author' in the first window and in the second enter 'Ghiringhelli' then click on 'Go'. Then select Ghiringhelli, Peter. This will take you to a synopsis of my MA dissertation on Italian Fascism. This will not cover your subject but will give you a good grounding in what Italian fascism was and how it arose. Your university library should be able to borrow it for you.

There was a bitter struggle in Italy from 1919 to 1922, when the fascists took over. Only Italians now know of the bitter struggle almost amounting to civil war, which was to be replayed in all its fury in 1944. To give you an idea, here is a short excerpt from Chapter 8 of my dissertation:

"On 21 July [1921] some 500 fascists, led by Amerigo Dumini and Dino Perrone Compagni, arrived mainly by train at Sarzana having converged from Florence, Pisa, Lucca, and Viareggio. They were bent on freeing Renato Ricci and nine other fascists from Carrara who were under arrest for a number of outrages committed in Lunigiana. They also demanded that a captain of the carabinieri be handed over to them, whom they accused of having struck Ricci. The police, however, although greatly outnumbered, held firm and when the fascists refused to disperse opened fire killing a number of them and putting them to flight. Most managed to get back on the train and leave, but those who did not were hunted down first by the enraged townspeople and then in the surrounding countryside by the peasants, where some were caught and hung and others dispatched with billhooks and pitchforks. In all, eighteen fascists were killed and a number wounded.
Sarzana made a tremendous impact nationally. First, it showed that the fascists’ claim that they were the upholders of law and order was a sham; second, it demonstrated that where the state forces were prepared to act, they were more than a match for the squadristi; third, it demonstrated that the newly formed arditi del popolo were a determined and capable fighting force.
The most worrying feature for Mussolini was that the Sarzana incident had not directly involved the PSI; although aided by the arditi del popolo it was ordinary citizens and peasants who had routed the fascists, the very people he was trying to win over."

This is but one incident out of hundreds picked at random; others were far worse involving machine guns and hand granades in pitched battles. It is against that background that you have to view and understand the Italian conscripted army in 1940. There was always a simmering rage against Italian fascist leaders and a reluctance to fight; completely misunderstood by many military historians.

As for listening to foreign broadcasts the penalties were harsh. Article 340 of war emergency restrictions imposed a penalty of six months incarceration and a fine of 10,000 lire (the exchange rate was then 70 lire to the pound). On 5 January 1942 this was increased to three years in prison and 40,000 lire fine. Since it was quite impossible to raise 40,000 lire, in most cases, it meant that the three year sentence stretched indefinitely. To be fair, these draconian measures were seldom implemented and people ignored them. There was also Radio Vaticana which could be listened to and, during 1944 many clandestine Partisan stations.

My own experience of Italian radio is very limited. I lived in a small village and the only radio that I can remember was in the Dopolavoro club, the fascist Working Men's club in every village. I used to listen in to that in 1944 in Musadino, where the building lay empty but the electricity hadn't been cut off. It was on so low I had to sit with my ear resting on the speaker.

For more detailed information, see Phillip Cannistraro's excellent article "The Radio in Fascist Italy" in the "Journal of European Studies" Issue 2, 1972.

If you read Italian, I also recommend "La radio italiana nel periodo fascista" by Franco Monteleone (Marsilio, 1976)



Message 4 - The Italians and the BBC

Posted on: 17 July 2005 by mizfreckles

thanks peter for your precious infomation. I shall look into all that you recommended asap. I am indeed writing a thesis on British propaganda in italy during WW2. I am intrested in the claims of the BBC regarding their broadcasts to Italy. In documents dated immediately after the war it is said that many Italians prefered to listen to the BBC and trusted the information and the news broadcast on Radio Londra. I tried to contact you via email, since I noticed that you had left your email address in one of your messages, but you obviously didn't receive it. I read your story and found it fascinating. Your experience is precious.
You didn't say whether the radio programmes you listened to were British or Italian.
thank you for your precious advice


Message 5 - The Italians and the BBC

Posted on: 17 July 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Hi Miz Freckles

You ask "whether the radio programmes you listened to were British or Italian" - guess :)

You were encouraged to listen to Italian news broadcasts. I read about 'Partisan' clandestine radio stations later, I never heard one or knew of them, nor did I ever hear of Colonel Stevens. 'Radio Londra' was broadcast in Italian, of course, but I never heard that either. The very few broadcasts I listened to in late 1944 and early 1945 were the BBC Foreign Service in English, probably relayed from southern Italy, and meant for Allied troops. Such cities as Naples and Rome were Allied leave centres by then.



Message 6 - The Italians and the BBC

Posted on: 17 July 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

I have just racked my brains (don't laugh) and I do recollect two transmissions I heard of Radio Londra in 1944, they were always preceded by the opening notes of Beethoven's 5th symphony, di di di daa, Morse code . . . - for V, V for Victory, Vittoria in Italian.

I deliberately blotted that out of my mind, and didn't mention it, because the BBC now say that they stopped using that call sign in 1942 and I concluded that I was imagining things. But I have now found an Italian website links which gives the lie to that. If you can't read Italian still go to the site and click on the wireless set, you will hear an actual broadcast of 1944, preceded by the di di di daa call sign. I see also that the broadcaster was Colonel Harold Stevens (nicknamed Colonello Buonasera), but I didn't know that at the time. The 'special messages' being broadcast are short coded signals for the Partisans.

The examples given are:

Felice non è felice: Felix isn't happy
è cessata la pioggia: The rain has stopped
La mia barba è bionda: My beard is blonde
La mucca non da latte: The cow isn't yielding milk
Giacomone bacia Maometto: Big Jacob kisses Maometto
Le scarpe mi stanno strette: My shoes are too tight.
Il pappagallo è rosso: The parrot is red.
L'aquila vola: The eagle is flying.



Message 7 - The Italians and the BBC

Posted on: 21 July 2005 by mizfreckles

Thank you! You really do have an amazing memory!
I did learn Italian at school and I live in France (the two languages have some similarities, although "false friends" are also widespread) and I can understand most things although if there is a twist or if the language is too complicated (Italian grammar!!!) then I don't always get the meaning... but thank you so much for the site. I shall visit it immediately!



Message 8 - The Italians and the BBC

Posted on: 21 July 2005 by mizfreckles

Thanks also for translating the mini sentences for partisans. I hope I don't sound too ignorant, but do you know what they "really" mean? Are they personal messages? or military messages???

I think that this website is such a wonderful idea! I see you are a "collaborator" :-) Where did the initiative come from?


ps: how did you manage to do a smily???


Message 9 - The Italians and the BBC

Posted on: 21 July 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper


You ask me what the short messages really meant, most meant nothing at all. In ten sentences at most two would by important, the rest pure misleading garbage. They mainly related to prearranged air drops of arms and supplies, or were the go ahead for specific requested sabotage.

These messages were surrounded by secrecy and were usually sent by the War Office by dispatch rider to the BBC only minutes before they were broadcast; the broadcaster had no idea what they meant but they had to be transmitted accurately as lives depended on them.



Message 10 - The Italians and the BBC

Posted on: 22 July 2005 by mizfreckles

thanks Peter,

you are such a help!

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