Today on the blog, Bloomsbury author Claudia Baldoli (Newcastle University, UK) talks to us about the origins of her recently-published book, co-edited with Brendan Fleming, A British Fascist in the Second World War: The Italian War Diary of James Strachey Barnes, 1943-45. The book presents the edited diary of the British fascist Italophile, James Strachey Barnes. Previously unpublished, the diary is a significant source for all students of the Second World War and the history of European and British fascism.
This book first took shape some eight years ago, when Professor David Bradshaw (Worcester College Oxford) received a typescript section of the Second World War diary of James Strachey Barnes from Barnes’s daughter-in-law, Lena, then resident in Stockholm. During the research for my book on Exporting Fascism: Italian Fascists and Britain’s Italians in the 1930s, I had come across Barnes as a Catholic British Fascist who supported Mussolini’s regime and identified with Italian culture. For this reason, I came into contact with Prof Bradshaw, who passed those pages on to Brendan Fleming (University of Buckingham) and me. Although they constituted only an extract of the diary, it was clear that the text must be of great interest as historical document, and we decided to dig in the archives in search of more evidence. It was therefore very exciting to find the whole handwritten diary, covering the years 1943-1945, in the Archivio Centrale dello Stato in Rome.
As well as the diary, the archives hold a considerable quantity of Barnes’s personal papers: four large files of documents, which include more of his unpublished works (including a diary of 1913 and the third volume of his autobiographical account), a photographic album and correspondence, both private and public. To complete our research, we consulted the files of the Italian Ministry of Popular Culture (also in the Archivio Centrale dello Stato), where Barnes was employed to broadcast programmes aimed at a British audience; the correspondence between Barnes and the Italian Fascist intellectual (and professor of Italian at UCL) Camillo Pellizzi held at the Fondazione Ugo Spirito in Rome; and the files of the War Office at the National Archives in Kew, which contain papers from the Allied Commission Headquarters in Rome as well as Intelligence material relating to Barnes’s work in Italy as a pro-Axis collaborator during the war. As a result, we have been able to provide an accurate transcription and a historical context for this extraordinary source, which illuminates both the day-to-day activities and the state of mind of a British citizen who supported Italian Fascism during the final years of its decline.
Born in Simla in India in 1890, James Strachey Barnes was the son of a British civil servant there. The death of his mother, when Barnes was only two years old, changed the course of his life. James and his sister Mary were sent to Italy, where their mother’s parents lived. They were brought up by their upper-class English grandparents, who had retired to Tuscany, and educated in an Italian environment until they were sent away to boarding school in England. Mary remained in England, where she married the lawyer John Hutchinson and became a writer and member of the Bloomsbury group; but James returned to Italy, choosing it as his own country. His father, who had remained in India after the death of his wife, and from whom James had been separated as a young child, was a stranger to him; he objected so strongly to the idea of James taking Italian citizenship that the latter applied for it only after his father’s death in 1940. By then, Barnes had become a well-known Fascist writer and propagandist.
Written in the midst of the dramatic events of the Italian campaign, the diary covers two years in which Barnes lived in Italy as a ‘traitor’, moving between Rome and northern Italy. Like the British Fascist William Joyce in Germany, known by the nickname ‘Lord Haw Haw’, Barnes too was involved in propaganda activity directed at the country of which he was formally a citizen.
The diary reveals how events in Italy gradually brought about the collapse of his ideological hopes, and how those events affected his ideas about Fascism, Italy, civilization and religion. It tells, through the eyes of an anti-Semitic, Catholic British Fascist, much about Italian society under the strain of war and Allied bombing, and about the behaviour and actions of different Fascist leaders and ordinary Italians alike between the fall of Mussolini’s regime in July 1943 and the end of the war in Italy in April 1945. It also prompts reflections on the shifting relationship of British Fascists and sympathizers towards both German Nazism and Italian Fascism. Although Barnes was not a profound intellectual, his meditations on religion and nationality have a notable documentary value for the study of such a crucial moment in European history.
A British Fascist in the Second World War, published in September 2014 in the UK and November 2014 in the US, is available to purchase via the Bloomsbury website.