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Italy

During the First World War, the troops made an effort to mark Christmas, despite the obvious difficulties. Words, objects and images from Imperial War Museums’ collections and elsewhere reveal how the soldiers negotiated some space for family, sharing and festivity.

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Image of Inscription on a cell wall in the former Gestapo headquarters at 145 Via Tasso, Rome. Today it is the site of a resistance museum, the Museo Storico della Liberazione. © Roderick Bailey

Inscription on a cell wall in the former Gestapo headquarters at 145 Via Tasso, Rome. Today it is the site of a resistance museum, the Museo Storico della Liberazione. © Roderick Bailey

The Special Operations Executive was a secret British organization set up in 1940 to encourage resistance and carry out sabotage in enemy-occupied territory. As the seventh of SOE’s official historians, I have the task of researching and writing the history of SOE’s cloak-and-dagger work against Fascist Italy between 1940, when Mussolini declared war on Britain and France, and 1943, when Italy reached an armistice with the Allies.

It is a unique piece of work that is a privilege to undertake. The public image of SOE remains dominated by the exploits of its agents in Nazi-occupied France, but its reach was global, and opportunities to shed light on SOE activities in countries other than France are important. In the case of Mussolini’s Italy, the risks run by SOE agents who were prepared to resist the Fascists were immense. Italy was an enemy country, not an enemy-occupied one, and anti-Fascist Italians who volunteered to return as secret agents faced a traitor’s fate if caught. The courage of those Italians who were prepared to face the firing squads deserves recognition, and stands as an effective counter to enduring images of Italy’s fighting abilities.

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