Post WW2 poverty in Italy

Discussion in 'Postwar' started by TriciaF, Aug 23, 2017.

  1. TriciaF

    TriciaF Junior Member

    There was an influx of Italian immigrants to France and the UK just post - WW2. and for several years afterwards.
    My parents in NE England had Italian neighbours. They started the first ice-cream business in our town and did very well. I believe many settled in Glasgow.
    The Italians also opened restaurants all over the UK, leading to the popularity of pizzas these days. I think in southern France they became agricultural workers.
    In the late '50s I became friendly with a large group of young Italians when I did a summer vacation job in a London mental hospital. (They worked there, without a word of english!)
    I've often wondered why the situation was so bad in Italy postwar? I suppose it was the same all over Europe - people were still starving.
    CL1 and Chris C like this.
  2. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    Not sure, Tricia - it is a period I would like to know more about.

    But I was reading about some villages in Normandy which were almost completely destroyed and it was not for years before they were rebuilt. The same may have been true in Italy as well if they were in the location of the fighting.

    Here we go: winters of the two following years were among the worst in living memory. Villages with 80+% of the buildings destroyed. No electricity or phones, food rationing, little employment. Prefab huts donated by Swedes in August 46. Reconstruction 1950-1954.

    Can anyone comment on whether the situation was actually the same in parts of rural Italy?
  3. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member


    Modern Italy as we know it is a post-war achievement. Prior to the war, it was a very poor and backward, predominantly agricultural country - the further south you pushed, the greater this was evident. In the 1921 census, the country spoke 97 different dialects and 31% of the population was illiterate.

    The cost of the war and the damage wrecked by the conflict when the Allies landed at Salerno in Sep 43 just added to their problems. So much so that the Allies had to provide massive food aid from the moment they opened Naples port.

    To give you an idea of the scale of the poverty, there were 96,000 prostitutes in Naples in 1944. With no alternative work, most had absolutely no other way of raising an income.

    The country had a very strong Communist Party after the war and so the Americans were very keen to include Italy in the Marshall Plan. That massive financial support produced the boom in the 50s and 60s.

    You need to see 'Christ stopped at Eboli' to get a feel for the scale of the poverty in the hinterlands of the south of Italy.


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  4. TriciaF

    TriciaF Junior Member

    Thanks for the replies. I was talking to some Italians in England last week, who had been there for ?60 years and it revived my interest.
    Can anyone recommend a book about the social history of Italy in the 20C? Including post WW2?
    We learned about European history, including Italy, for A level. From pre French Rev. up to WW1, but I can't remember much about it except for Garibaldi, a hero who 'unified' Italy.
    Post WW2 was too new at the time to have been recorded much.
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2017
  5. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

  6. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    As ever, comedy coveys a kernel of truth. The folllowing is adapted from a contemporary Tommy Trinder gag:

    Context: Naples in '44 was a hive of sin and vice, entirely given over to the black market and the myriad ways in which the Allied liberators could be parted from their money, equipment and virtue.


    A youthful British officer hops off a launch arriving in Naples harbour and moves briskly along the quayside, glancing from side to side. He is under strict instructions to report to the harbour master. Almost at once he is accosted by a furtive-looking local.

    (Cue exaggerated Italian accent)

    "You looking for fun in the city, yes?"

    The officer strides on, the local at his arm continues solicitously:

    "I get you pretty girl - you come with me - anything you want."

    The young officer halts and turns.

    "I want the harbour master."

    The local, eyes rolling, taken aback by British peccadilloes:

    "The harbour master? very difficult... you come with me... I try my best..."
  7. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD
    This shows that migration from Italy to UK was long-term.

    "Italian immigration to Britain began as early as the 18th century; most of the people who made the move to Britain were political refugees.
    It is estimated that about 4,000 Italians came to Britain in the years between 1821 and 1851.
    By the time of the 1871 census that figure had risen to 5,063 – by 1911 it was up to an amazing 20,389.

    By the end of the 19th century approximately 1,000 Italians had come to Wales, most of them working as seamen out of ports like Cardiff and Newport or in related industries such as ships chandlers or as dockers."

    as well as after the war what with its internment, repatriation, etc

    "In the years after the war there was a renewed burst of Italian immigration. Now they came to plug the gaps in British industry. They worked in industries such as mining, tin plating and in agriculture. Of course, they continued to run cafes, establishments that were in as much demand then as they had been in the pre-war days."
  8. TriciaF

    TriciaF Junior Member

    Good info., thanks. I specially like the link about Clerkenwell.
    Another post WW2 connection was Italian POWs who married local girls and stayed on.
    I didn't realise they had been coming for so long. So not just poverty at home that drove them out.
  9. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    I spent some some three years in Italy during WW2 and the country was so badly impoverished that I truly wondered if it would ever survive.
    I have been back many times and am still amazed at it's recovery.
    Chris C likes this.
  10. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    Quali furono i danni della Seconda Guerra in Italia - Alessia Niccolucci
    For details about just how much damage was sustained in Italy and where, you can consult the above website - unfortunately it is in Italian, but if the information is put into Google Translate or a similar programme something useful should emerge.

    However, there's nothing about the reconstruction. A pity.

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  11. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    I've now found this which I've translated from the Italian:

    Italy also benefited from American aid in the process of post-fascist political and economic reconstruction. The funds allocated by the ERP (European Reconstruction Programme) made it possible to balance the state budget and provide monetary stability as well as giving a boost to industrial production; these were the key strategies in the 1950s behind Italy's so-called "economic miracle" , that is, in bringing about what can be described as the extraordinary development of the Italian economy with growth rates among the highest in the world (second only to Federal Germany.

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  12. TriciaF

    TriciaF Junior Member

    Vitellino - thanks for the links. The first one is really shocking ( I understand Italian un poco). How a country could recover from that is a miracle.
  13. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    From ice cream men to 'enemy aliens'

    on 10 June 1940 Benito Mussolini declared war on Britain.

    Shortly afterwards, all Italian immigrant men over the age of 16 were declared "enemy aliens" and rounded up for internment.

    Under Regulation 18b of the Emergency Powers Bill the arrest was permitted of any person, irrespective of nationality, who might be a security risk in time of war.

    The catch-all nature of the law meant few Italian families were untouched.

    Suddenly people who had been at the heart of their community, often in ice cream or fish and chip shops, were heading to camps on the Isle of Man or further afield.
    slightly off track again From ice cream men to 'enemy aliens' - BBC News
  14. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    And a few of them stayed on in the I.O.M. after the war, married Manx girls and are buried in the cemetery at Onchan (I'm part Manx..)

    As to the air raids and other war damage in Italy, to keep things in perspective, the CWGC's 54 Italian cemeteries contain the graves of 48,281 servicemen and women killed on active service or as prisoners of war, and I understand that the American casualties were around 17,000.

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  15. TriciaF

    TriciaF Junior Member

    As far as I remember the group of Italians I met were real charmers - lively and romantic. ;)
  16. toki2

    toki2 Junior Member

    I know a few families from Glasgow and the West of Scotland whose fathers were taken away to the Isle of Man yet their sons were fighting in the British forces. The women were left to run the chip shops and cafes and were often attacked by local hoodlums but generally the community protected them. Some families were members of Mosley's British Union of Fascists and prewar sent their children to Italian summer camps. I know a woman whose grandfather had a huge Blackshirt turnout at his funeral in the 30's although the family had emigrated in the 1880's. The British government had to play safe as they were unsure of their loyalties.
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  17. Mr Jinks

    Mr Jinks Bit of a Cad

    Here`s something to tie the Italian,NE, Icecream ,internment and poverty together under the WW2 banner...

    Dennis Donnini was born in Easington, County Durham in 1925. During World War II he was a fusilier in the 4/5th Battalion, The Royal Scots Fusiliers.
    The son of Alfredo and Catherine Donnini, his Italian father had settled in England in 1899 and moved in 1915 to Easington Colliery, where he became an ice cream vendor and proprietor of a billiards saloon.
    During the war, Donnini’s two older brothers, Alfred and Lewis Dino, (Rank Driver - Service No:T/242466 - Age:37 - Regiment/Service:Royal Army Service Corps - Son of Alfred and Catherine Donnini; husband of Ethel Adelaide Donnini, of Easington Colliery) served in the British Army, with Louis dying in May 1944 while serving as a driver in the Royal Army Service Corps.His two older sisters, Corrina and Silvia, enlisted in the Auxiliary Territorial Service.
    Their father, being an Italian national, was interned for much of the war as an “enemy alien”.

    It was reputed that he remained detained until being released at the behest of King George VI, whom he met after he was granted leave to receive his son’s posthumous Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace.
    On January 18, 1945, during Operation Blackcock, Fusilier Dennis Donnini’s platoon was ordered to attack the small village of Stein in Selfkant Germany, close to the Dutch border.

    They came under heavy fire from a house and he was hit in the head. After recovering consciousness he charged 30 yards down the open road and hurled a grenade through the nearest window. As the enemy fled he gave chase with the survivors of his platoon.
    He was wounded a second time, but continued firing his Bren gun until he was killed after the grenade he was carrying was hit by a bullet and exploded. His gallantry had enabled his comrades to overcome twice their own number of the enemy.
    At 19 he was the youngest soldier in World War II to be awarded the VC and is buried at the Commonwealth Cemetery in Sittard, Holland.

  18. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    Regarding the personality traits of the Italians, perhaps the lively romantic charmers were those who emigrated. They certainly weren't in charge of Allied prisoners in the Western Desert.

    Talk to anyone who had been taken prisoner in North Africa - or rather, read their memoirs as now there are very few of them left - about the Italian servicemen whose job it was to guard the men in transit camps awaiting shipment to permanent camps in Italy. Vindicitive is a word I seem to have come across fairly often.

    And before anyone accuses me of being anti-Italian, I've lived in Italy permanently for 20 years and am happily married to a retired marshal in the Italian Air Force.

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  19. Mr Jinks

    Mr Jinks Bit of a Cad

    Just sent a quick email off to Verrieres and received this photo in return. Dennis Donnini`s brothers grave at Easington Cemetery
    Rank Driver
    Service No:T/242466
    Regiment/Service:Royal Army Service Corps
    Son of Alfred and Catherine Donnini; husband of Ethel Adelaide Donnini, of Easington Colliery

    donnini dino.jpg
    Photograph c/o Jim

    Elder brother 4275815 Fusilier Alfred Donnini served with the 9th Northumberland Fusiliers captured in 1940


    Last edited: Aug 28, 2017
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  20. TriciaF

    TriciaF Junior Member

    What a brave young man - not much more than a boy. Italians seem to have integrated better than many other nationalities. Same in France.
    Vitellino - I guess I must have been lucky to meet such a friendly group. I nearly married one of them! But I know many Italians became Fascists.

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