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Alexander Henry

PhD student, Faculty of Arts

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Research Summary

My research focuses on Italian Prisoners of War (POWs) who were interned in the United Kingdom during the Second World War.

In the summer of 1940, Unternehmen Seelöwe failed. Britain did not, however, escape a mass-influx of enemy personnel during WWII. These men were not the irresistible victors of Axis propaganda, but POWs. The British captured over 500,000 Italians alone, many of whom were interned in the UK. Yet, their vast numbers notwithstanding, the imposition of so many of 'the enemy' on British society is rarely addressed. My PhD will seek to investigate the impact of this dramatic demographic transition.

My intention is to shed new light on British attitudes to the Italian POWs, and more broadly towards Italians as a whole. From Politicians and Generals, to 'ordinary' men, women and children, what was made of them? How far was the idea of the 'italiani brava gente' subscribed to? Did preconceptions about 'Italian-ness' become a self-fulfilling prophesy? Were positive views of the Italians a consequence of actual encounters or were they the legacy of a much earlier romanticism? In what ways did prior contact with Italy shape British attitudes to the POWs? How uniform were responses to the POWs? How far were these shaped by class, gender, age, religion, or location? How does the treatment of Italians compare with the other large 'foreign' arrivals of the wartime period in Britain? Did the Italians really assimilate so smoothly into British society? What is to be made of the frictions that came about as these two cultures chafed against one another? For example, what can we learn from responses to the then-notorious, but now largely-forgotten, 'Tilbrook Incident', where an Italian POW killed his working-party Guard? The question of POW treatment remains significant today. So too does the way in which those running POW camps relate to and engage with their captives. A detailed study of captured Italians will cast light not just on our understanding of WWII as a whole, but on a wider history of Anglo-Italian relations, and how historical memory shapes our attitudes, both in terms of the way in which earlier encounters influenced the British in their treatment of Italian POWs, and how Italian POWs have been remembered since 1945.

Past Research

''The Other British Battalion': British Nationalist Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War', MA Dissertation, The University of Nottingham (2014).

''All Roads Lead to Rome?': General Mark Clark and the Liberation of the Eternal City, 4 June 1944', BA Dissertation, The University of Nottingham (2013).

Department of History

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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