Barry Collett

Arnaldo Belardinelli was born in Foligno and came to Malta in 1926, where he married an Irish-Maltese woman, fathered two children, and established himself as an active member of the Italian community. In 1933 he set up a shirt factory at Birkirkara, an enterprise which was regarded as a feather in the cap for local Italians. Belardinelli was a fervent follower of Mussolini, and when he came to Malta, he strongly supported the Nationalist Party. After it won the elections of 1932, this party formed a Government (though it was shortly to be dismissed when the Constitution was suspended by the Governor in November 1933), and Belardinelli may have received some Government assistance in setting up his business. The Governor, General Sir David Camp-bell, informed the Colonial Office that the factory had been officially opened with a certain amount of eclat, in the presence of the Minister of Works, the Italian Consul-General and several other prominent Maltese Italians.[1]

On Christmas Day 1934, Belardinelli packed and prepared to leave his home to go to the docks to board the SS Garibaldi, bound for Tripoli, in Libya. But as his family were seated at the table for a final meal, there was a knock, plain-clothes police entered, and he was arrested and taken away for questioning.[2] He was found to be carrying a report on the state of Malta's defences [p.242] together with a letter addressed to Commander Durante of the Italian Sea-plane Service, formerly the company's manager at Malta, but now stationed at Tripoli in Libya. Belardinelli was interrogated for two days, made a statement, and was then charged under Ordinance 3 of the Official Secrets Ordinances of 1923. On 1 January 1935, a preliminary hearing granted the Crown request for subsequent court proceedings to be held in camera.[3] The day before, 31 December 1934, the Governor had telegraphed brief details of the episode and sent copies of the papers to the Colonial Office and the Foreign Office.[4]

The Foreign Office was not pleased to receive the news, for the trial of an Italian citizen on such a charge, in camera, had considerable pro da potential to harm Anglo-Italian relations at this crucial time. The situation was that at the end of 1934 the British Government was faced with a rapid and aggressive resurgence of German strength after Hitler had become Chancellor in January 1933: Britain was alarmed by the strength of Germany, and by its absence from the League of Nations, at a time when its own comparatively low level of armaments was faced simultaneously by this German threat in Europe and by Japan in the Far East.[5]

Both Sir John Simon, the Foreign Secretary and Sir Robert Vansittart, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office were therefore anxious that France and Britain should combine with Italy to form an alliance that would contain Germany.[6] At the end of 1934 there was a very real hope that this could be done. Mussolini felt that German intentions towards Austria were a threat to Italy. The Italians gave financial support to Austrian independence [p.243] movements and exerted considerable influence on Austrian government policies, and when Dolfuss was murdered by Nazis in July 1934 Italy moved troops up to the border, and made overtures towards an agreement with the French.

Consequently, at Whitehall there were strong hopes that Italy would join Britain in an alliance against Germany. In December 1934 Sir John Simon arranged practical Anglo-Italian co-operation during the Saar plebiscite, and on 8-9 January 1935 wrote in his diary that recent bonds between France and Italy were "a good preparation for a wider European understanding", which "operates as a warning to Hitler".[7] Thus at this time the British Government was hopeful of an alliance or at least co-operation with Italy against Germany. Nevertheless the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office were worried; they did not trust Mussolini - whose Mediterranean and Ethiopian ambitions were now apparent - and negotiations with Italy could yet be thrown off balance by a revival of the strong sentiments of Anglophobia which had been so evident in the Italian press in 1933 (or even by Italophobia fostered in Britain by the British press.[8] The possibility of this happening was particularly strong in Malta where there was a direct political and cultural interface between Italy and Britain; Rome was giving strong support to the Nationalist Party's policy of encouraging the development of Italian culture and Maltese links with Italy. Thus, in the first week of January 1935, the last thing that the Foreign Office wanted to happen was a trial in Malta of an Italian citizen that might provoke or upset the Italian Government.

On the other hand, the Colonial Office was not at all displeased with the news of Belardinelli's arrest. It was faced by a difficult situation in Malta. After Strickland's colourful period as Prime Minister at the head of the Anglo-Maltese Constitutional Party, the constitution had been suspended in 1930, and then restored in 1932.[9] It was a time when Italian interest in Malta [p.244] was strong. The Maltese themselves were generally indifferent to m and Italian nationalism, but Rome used cultural associations, and to some extent the Church, for pro da purposes. In 1932 the British had encouraged the use of the Maltese language as an alternative to Italian in schools and law courts. This provoked a strong reaction in Italy: Maltese was criticized for being a "non-language", Malta was described as an Italian island, and the Italian Foreign Office employed secret funds in an effort to influence elections.[10] When the Nationalist Party had been elected to Government after the restoration of the constitution in 1932, it had embarked upon a vigorous programme of Italianization. The Minister of Education, Dr Mizzi, set up good schools and special classes in the Italian language, and had subsidized literature, lectures, and prizes to do with Italian culture.[11] There was also encouragement for Italian businesses, and this may have been the case with Belardinelli's shirt factory.

The language question in particular roused strong feelings, but the Governor was very reluctant to confront directly the cultural policies and programme of the Nationalist Government lest Rome be antagonized. However, when the Government spent over its budget, the Colonial Office suspended the Constitution again, in November 1933. There was very strong protest from both the dismissed Government and from Strickland, who felt that he should have been invited back.[12] Both sides used their various newspapers to fulmi-[p.245]-nate, not against the Governor (who was protected by law) but against his deputy, Harry Luke.[13] For the next year the protests remained strong, especially from the Nationalists who derived indirect support from a newspaper campaign carried out on the Italian mainland against the British authorities in Malta. There were also those who, being strongly pro-Italian, carried out other forms of protest, including spying, in preparation for what they saw as the imminent and inevitable liberation of Malta by the armed forces of Mussolini.

The Governor, General Sir David Campbell, was a forceful but not particularly diplomatic man, and at the time was seriously unwell.[14] He and the Colonial Office were increasingly irritated by the pro-Italian activity which they felt was making the island difficult to govern. Campbell therefore pursued a policy of aggressive surveillance, mainly of the intelligentsia. Professors, teachers, journalists, clergy, were all watched, and pressure was put on the commercial sector - Belardinelli complained of difficulties at his shirt factory, which he described as the Government putting "spokes in the wheel". There were other examples of Campbell's pressure on Maltese Italians which kept them on the defensive. The arrest and prosecution of an Italian suspected of spying was well within Campbell's policy of keeping up that pressure. Thus there was set the scene for contention between the Colonial Office, struggling with Italian pro da and subversion, and the Foreign Office, trying to build an alliance with Italy.

In Valletta, the police did not rate Belardinelli very highly as a spy. A dispatch to the Foreign Office commented that "Signor Belardinelli appears [p.246] to be something of an amateur", and that his report to Durante did not "contain any information of real value or secrecy, a good deal of it consisting of matters of common knowledge".[15] It included general comments about work on the coastal fortifications, the use of aircraft and anti-aircraft guns, the arrival of new ships (including an Australian cruiser), the installation of "photographic machine guns" in aircraft, the mysterious deaths of two Japanese ex-naval officers, and a few comments about morale and, ironically, local indifference to politics.

There were, however, three more significant items; the first was a reference to his having sent to Durante in August 1933 "specifications of the fortifications", together with a detailed plan; the second was the statement that should there arise a serious and urgent need, he "would not hesitate to inform the [Italian] Consul, naturally without too much talk".[16] In his covering dispatch the Governor commented drily that the Consul "no doubt will take care not to be implicated in this matter".[17] The third item was that whereas Belardinelli said that he "acted as a spy on my own initiative for the love of my country", his letter made it clear that Durante was a professional, spying for the Italian secret service, for money, knowing exactly what he wanted (the number, type, and placing of new planes, the position, number, and calibre of anti-aircraft guns, the position of ports, the number, type, and tonnage of submarines) and on one occasion, in May 1934, visiting Malta to accompany Belardinelli on visits to airfields and to look at a ship.[18]

Thus Belardinelli's espionage report pointed as much to the involvement of others as to his own culpability. He had done little damage to the British defence of Malta, but he had to be prosecuted as a part of Campbell's vigorous campaign. He was held for eleven weeks before he came to trial on 12 March 1935. For the British Government and the Foreign Office, those eleven weeks were crucial weeks in European diplomacy.[19] From late in 1934 Mussolini began to be ambivalent about the British-French alliance, and to move towards an understanding with Hitler. His intentions in Ethiopia were now quite clear: he moved forces into the region, and in January 1935 formally asked Britain [p.247] for a statement of its interests in the matter.[20] It was a situation complicated by the fact that the British Mediterranean fleet was not ready for war, by the Labour Opposition's determination to oppose the Service estimates at every stage, and (as it turned out), by the valet of the British ambassador in Rome being a spy who fed vital documents to the Italians in advance of negotiations.[21]

On 1 February urgent talks between the French and the British began in London, but the situation was rapidly becoming worse.[22] The Germans were preparing their unilateral assertion of their right to a large peace-time army and conscription. There was considerable pressure on the Government to prepare for war. The White Paper of 4 March 1935 warned that "Britain could no longer rely on international political machinery for security", and that there were "serious deficiencies in defences" but any moves towards re-armament were fraught with political difficulties.[23] When, on 18 March, the German Government made its announcement, formally and ostentatiously disregarding the Treaty of Versailles, that it was to have peace-time conscription and an army of 36 divisions, Simon realized that there was nothing to stop similar [p.248] action now being taken to build up the German air force, and that Britain's situation was therefore becoming extremely precarious.[24] Shortly after, in a private letter, Simon wrote that he thought Hitler was more dangerous than Mussolini, and that the "natural consequence of present-day German policy may be terrible beyond conception". More than ever, the Foreign Secretary, and the Foreign Office, wanted to woo the Italians.

In the midst of this developing crisis, on 13 March 1935, Belardinelli came to trial and was sentenced to three years' imprisonment with hard labour.[25] Immediately, there were signs of a renewed campaign in the Italian press against British rule in Malta, and this began to worry some officials within the Foreign Office.[26] One night, less than two weeks after Belardinelli's trial, Vansittart approached Sir John Maffey, the Permanent Under Secretary of State for the Colonies at a dinner they were both attending.[27] In the course of their conversation, Vansittart emphasized the need for good relations between Britain and Italy, and then, according to Maffey, "touched on the question of Malta, and said what a pity it was that in pursuing our policy there we [the Colonial Office] were continually coming up against Italian susceptibilities".

A few days later, on 28 March, Maffey wrote a long letter to Vansittart, informing him that the Colonial Office was not disposed to alter its policy in Malta.[28] He gave two sets of reasons for his position: the first was what he called "the case for further reforms in the interest of the Maltese themselves", amongst which the most urgent reform was "the language question", that is, the [p.249] increased use of Maltese in education and official procedures. The second set of reasons he gave were:

the considerable number of incidents staged (or at least allowed to occur) by the Italian Government during the last year or so, which were clearly calculated to offend against our own susceptibilities. I suggested that the pro-Italian pro da which is carried on in Malta, with the connivance of the Italian Government is particularly prejudicial to good relations between the two countries.

Maffey then gave several examples of pro da and spying - including the case of "Belardinelli, who has just been convicted" - for which Rome was responsible. He ended his letter by urging the Foreign Office itself to ameliorate the situation:

I raised the question whether the Foreign Office might not help by inviting the Italians to modify their attitude in the matter ... so long as these Italian activities are allowed to continue, we are bound to encounter further difficulties. I very much hope that you may find some opportunity to put the matter to the ambassador in this light.

When Vansittart received this letter, he circulated it amongst the Foreign Office mandarins for comments, and for assistance in drafting his reply to Maffey. The first comment was a critical but even-handed assessment of the letter from the Colonial Office: on the one hand, the situation in Malta was the result of the Governor's "military mentality", and his "exaggerated tendencies"

towards a pin-prick anti-Italian policy in Malta likely to produce undesirable repercussions in Rome, at a period when we particularly do not want to spoil the Anglo-Italian ship for a ha'p'orth of Maltese tar.

On the other hand, "the fact remains that Italian pro da has been distressingly on the increase in Malta as elsewhere", and therefore it might be useful if the Under Secretary were to speak to the Italian ambassador, Signor Grandi, about these and other examples of anti-British pro da and activity in Malta.[29]

This memorandum was then annotated on 1 April by another official, who argued that speaking to the ambassador would achieve little, for Signor Grandi "always waters things down and sends misleading reports to Rome". It would be better to speak directly to Mussolini, who will understand the difficulties [p.250] that Italian activities in Malta create for the Foreign Office and for Anglo-Italian relations and will also understand the need for "not compromising essential collaboration in Europe for the sake of a secondary interest like Malta". At Mussolini's "personal and express order", the troubles will "cease forth-with".[30]

The proposal, to make a direct approach to the Italian ambassador or even to Mussolini himself, caused a flurry within the Foreign Office. On 4 April, E.H. Carr, who was soon to resign and take up a post in Wales as an academic historian, wrote a lengthy memorandum. His comments were a forerunner of his later academic argument that solutions must be the product not of aspirations but of analysis, and that the threat of Japan in the Far East meant that Britain must reduce tension in Europe by coming to terms with Italy, who was to be recognized as a Mediterranean power.[31] Carr was an historian whose argument moved easily from the general to the particular: in the case of Malta, grand strategy meant that the Foreign Office should recognize that Britain did not have "any serious case at all" in complaining about Malta. The examples cited, said Carr, were really rather trivial - in fact the Italians had not done "anything prejudicial to our interests in Malta". He went on to pour scorn on the way in which Maffey's letter had employed the term agent provocateur, which, wrote Carr, "merely shows that the Colonial Office do [sic] not know what that term means". Finally, he pointed out that the employment of spies was nothing more than routine behaviour by all Governments. All in all, said Carr, these were not topics on which one could seriously protest to a head of State:

[p.251] My conclusion is that ... there is nothing here that we could possibly take up with the Italian Government, and that unless they do something much worse, or we get far more tangible evidence of their nefarious activities, we had much better let well alone.

Two other officials agreed with Carr's general analysis, but pointed to the "cumulative effect" of the incidents in Malta. Since the Colonial Office request could not be ignored altogether, it was suggested that the Foreign Office should make an approach to Rome "on the most general lines and based upon the highest political considerations", admitting that "during the last two years we have undoubtedly given provocation to the Italian Government", and acknowledging that Mussolini has been kind enough to intervene to ensure that "there has been surprisingly little anti-British agitation about Malta in the last year".[32] Vansittart replied to Maffey on 27 April 1935.[33] He proposed to do as the Colonial Office wished. He would speak to the Italian ambassador in very general terms "about the desirability of getting rid of all points of friction between Italy and Malta", and emphasizing the "desirability of co-operation between the two Powers in political matters of far greater moment to Italy". He said that he would do his best with Signor Grandi, and urged Maffey:

not to forget the very sincere effort that the Italian Government have made to prevent this question becoming a bone of contention between us, and to urge that the Governor of Malta should aim for the present at the consolidation of those results which have already been achieved rather than launch a new attack, the reaction to which it might be beyond our powers to control.

Vansittart spoke to Grandi, and Grandi spoke to Mussolini, and Rome spoke to various people involved in Maltese affairs, and pro-Italian agitation concerning Malta diminished. But even as Vansittart replied to Maffey the situation was being overtaken by events. On 14 April the Franco-Anglo-Italian conference had concluded at Stresa, at which, for reasons not clear, the British team led by the Prime Minister kept silent on the question of Ethiopia: Mussolini had interpreted this silence as consent and had pushed along his planned invasion, thus bringing Italy into conflict with the League of Nations and in particular with Britain.[34] On 27 May, the British Foreign Secretary [p.252] wrote in his personal diary that using an "immense force" "Mussolini's policy of aggression and adventure against Abyssinia goes on".[35]

Very soon there was no longer any point in attempting to foster Anglo-Italian relations, and the debate between the Colonial Office and the Foreign Office over Belardinelli, and over what was happening in Malta no longer had any point. The Governor's abrasive policy and the Belardinelli affair were no longer a potential threat to British foreign policy.[36] By mid-1935, the story had moved on, and there had begun an entirely new chapter in the relationship between the Maltese, the British, and the Italians.

[1] PRO, FO 371/19535, 89. Belardinelli's daughter, Liliana, now lives in Australia. During an interview, she told me that her father exported silk shirts to Germany and that the factory was a commercial success until his arrest.

[2] PRO, FO, 371/19535, 88. The official report says that Belardinelli was intercepted "in the act of carrying [the papers] on board". However, his daughter clearly recalls police officers coming to the house as they were havin al, and her father being taken away. I have accepted the latter version. Also see Police News, which gives his address as 260 Fleur de Lys, Birkirkara.

[3] The court agreed, "upon seeing the nature of the charge brought forward against the accused, that public access to the details would be prejudicial to the national safety"; The Midday News, 12 Jan. 1935. This newspaper was critical of any form of Government control of the press, and in April 1935 the Court of Appeal upheld the conviction of its journalist, Joseph Scorey, for breach of the regulations concerning the press. The matter was discussed in the House of Lords; H.L. Debates, ser. 5, vol. 98, 1252-6.

[4] The Governor's secret telegram (no.73) was sent on 27 Dec. 1934. The other papers are to be found in PRO, PO 371/19535, 88-9 (Campbell's covering letter to the Colonial Office), 90-92 (Belardinelli's letter to Durante), 93-98 (Belardinelli's report to Durante on fortifications etc.), 99-100 (Belardinelli's statement to the police).

[5] J.A. Simon, Retrospect (London, 1952), 200-203; D.N.B. 1951-60, 893; R.G. Vansittart, The Mist Procession (London, 1958), 519.

[6] Anthony Eden said of Vansittart that he was "determined to keep the rest of Europe in line against Germany, and would pay almost any price to do so"; A. Eden, Facing the Dictators (London, 1962), 242. Also see I. Colvin, Vansittart in Office (London, 1965), 57; also "Vansittart, Robert Gilbert", D.N.B. 1951-60, 1005-6, and Mist Procession, chs. 24-25, especially 495 where Vansittart has given his own compelling account of the situation during 1934 and 1935.

[7] BL, MS Simon 7, diary entries for 9 Dec. 1934 and 8 Jan. 1935. Also see MS 80 ff. 57, 63 and MS 81 f. 8, where his observation of 5 March 1935 that Mussolini was now "more anti-German than anybody" was excessively optimistic.

[8] D. Mack Smith, "Anti-British pro da in t Italy", Inghilterra e Italia nel '900, Atti del Convegno di Bagni di Lucca (Florence, 1972), 87-117, especially 87-89. Also, by the same author, Mussolini's Roman Empire (London, 1976), 89- 90. D. Waley, British Public Opinion and the Abyssinian War, 1935-6 (London, 1975). See also Winston Churchill, The Second World War, is The Gathering Storm, (5th. ed. London, 1955), 149-50.

[9] The events of 1933 are discussed by H. Luke, Cities and Men, 3 vols. (London, 1953-6), iii, 68-9; also in his Malta, (2nd ed. London, 1960), 130-38. For the Colonial Office view, Cunliffe-Lister, I Remember (London, 1948), 90; on p. 65 there is a general account of Cunliffe-Lister's colonial policies; also see J.A. Cross, Lord Swinton (Oxford, 1982), 110-19.

[10] Mack Smith, Mussolini's Roman Empire, 89-90; also see E. Monroe, The Mediterranean in Politics, (2nd. ed. Oxford, 1939), 43-48.

[11] ILL. Debates, ser. 5, vol. 90, 194-8, 218; vol. 94, 81; vol.95, 77; vol.98, 946. IL C. Debates, ser. 5, vol. 281, 31-2; vol. 292, 655-6. Also, Times [London] 2 Nov., 1933. Some indirect cultural retaliation against Nationalist policies is described in Monroe, Mediterranean Politics, 43-6.

[12] The Times of Malta (2 Jan. 1935) used the Belardinelli hearing to attack the declaration of emergency, which it described as "the indefinite with-holding of all Civic Rights, from the loyal Maltese inhabitants of this Fortress". The paper also attacked the privilege accorded Belardinelli of having his hearings and trial conducted in Italian - which may not be understood by interested "English and Maltese taxpayers".
The vigorous and pugnacious style of Strickland is well illustrated by the debate on the topic in the Lords. He joined the Labour benches to move a vote of censure against the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in the course of which he vehemently opposed the appointment of Governor-in-Council, calling it an "illegal government", and accusing Campbell of ruling as one who followed "the doctrine of making no mistakes and having been right everywhere", who saw subversion and "dangerous thinking" in the most harmless views, and who put improper pressure on the Colonial Office to accede to his style of government. Strickland insisted that legally he should have been recalled to the office of the Prime Minister, and that the rule of a military Governor would provide ammunition for the pro-Italian party, and drive Conservatives into becoming ts; he was supported by Lord Strabogli. See ILL. Debates, ser. 5, vol. 90, 194-8.

[13] Later Sir Harry Luke (1884-1969), and Lieutenant-Governor of Malta from 1930 to 1938. He possessed a strong cultural affinity with Malta, and enjoyed the close confidence of Maffey, the Permanent Under Secretary, who had similar sentiments about colonial administration. Luke's autobiography is Cities and Men; also see D.N.B. 1961-70, 682. 218; vol. 94, 81; vol. 95, 77-110; vol. 98, 946,1252-6. Also see D.N. B. 1931-40, pp. 838-9. For other aspects of the Maltese crisis, see H.C. Debates, ser. 5, vol. 281, 31-2; vol. 292, 655-6; Tunes, [London], 2 and 3 Nov. 1933.

[14] In 1935, Luke took over the administration of the island, though Sir David Campbell remained Governor until 1936. Lord Strickland, who admired Luke for his Maltese sympathies, urged the house of Lords that Luke be allowed to act unfettered by Campbell: see H.L. Debates, ser. 5, vol. 98, 1256. Luke's own account of his work especially his working relationship with Admiral Sir William Fisher, is in Cities and Men, iii, 85-6. There was a series of criticisms of the Government, arising out of Strickland's long-standing antagonism towards Campbell: H.L. Debates, ser. 5, vol. 94,186-200; vol. 95, 77-110, 86-99; vol. 98,1252-56. For Strickland's assessment of the change of strategic policy and the improvement of Malta's defences after July 1935, see vol. 99, 130-45. The episode led the Government to defend the Colonial Office vigorously: H.C. Debates, ser. 5, vol. 304, 2131-2.

[15] PRO, FO 371/19535, 86, 88.

[16] Ibid., 93, 98.

[17] Ibid. , 86, 89.

[18] Ibid., 99-100.

[19] Colvin, Vansittart in Office, 66-7. There is a lucid summary, of events and how they affected Britain in F. Hardie, The Abyssinian Crisis (London, 1974), ch.12 "The Great Powers (December 1934 to August 1935)".

[20] On 6 March 1935, the Foreign Office took note of Anglo-Italian tension and proposed an inter-departmental committee chaired by Sir John Maffey. The "Maffey report" was issued on 18 June 1935 and is printed, together with some associated papers, in Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919-1939, eds. W.N. Medlicott, D. Dakin, M.E. Lambert, 2nd ser. vol.14 (London, 1976), 180-83, 778-83. It reported that Britain had "no essential strategic interest in Abyssinia". See C.J. Lowe and F. Marzari, Italian Foreign Policy, 1870-1940 (London, 1975), 269-71.

[21] The British Mediterranean fleet was not ready for war, and Lord Chatfield, the First Sea Lord, the following August warned the Foreign Office of the need to delay any conflict. Admiral Fisher, the naval Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean, wanted all possible reinforcements in order to prepare for war, but Chatfield refused; he declined also to make Malta a base for defence, considering it too vulnerable to air attack, and in any case preferring (correctly, as it turned out) to use resources in cutting off Italian communication lines at both ends of the Mediterranean, especially to Ethiopia.
The ambassador, whose valet was an Italian spy, was Sir Eric Drummond, formerly Secretary General of the League of Nations. In 1933 he took up the post in Rome, where he enjoyed good relations with both Mussolini and the Foreign Minister; see D.N.B. 1951-60, 314-16; Vansittart, Mist Procession, 516, where Drummond is described as being "rather naive". Also see Colvin, Vansivart in Office, 58-60.

[22] See the White Paper, Command 4798; also BL MS Simon 7, diary entry for 5 Feb. 1935.

[23] Command 4287: this document had been drafted principally by Sir Maurice Hankey, Secretary of both Cabinet and the Defence Requirements Committee. The stronger language of the original draft was modified in Cabinet before the paper was published, but even so its implications led to an outcry from the Labour and Liberal parties; D. Marquand, Ramsay McDonald (London, 1977), 770-73. Hankey's pressure, behind the scenes and through the D.R.C., is well described by S. Roskill, Hanky, Man of Secrets, 3 vols. (London, 1974), iii, ch. 4.

[24] BL MS Simon 7, diary entry for 18 March 1935. For the British note of protest to Britain, the same day, see Command 4848. The private letter, to Dr Berry of the Congregational Union of England and Wales, is in MS Simon 82, 38-40; also see 48-57 for similar observations jotted down whilst returning from Geneva to London.

[25] PRO, FO 371/19535, 196.

[26] On 2 April 1935, Sir Eric Drummond sent Sir John Simon an account of recent Italian press criticism of British policy in Malta; PRO, FO 371/19535, 198-99.

[27] PRO, FO 371/19535, 184. Maffey (1877-1969) had long experience in colonial affairs, especially on the North-West frontier and, from 1926, in the Sudan, where he soon became aware of Italian plans to occupy Ethiopia. He was very much a "field man", and his views were marked by a strong appreciation of the cultural integrity of the regions in which he worked. He became Permanent Under Secretary at the Colonial Office in 1933; see D.N.B. 1961-70, 713-15. Maffey of the Colonial Office seems to have had a more realistic appraisal of Mussolini's intentions than did Vansittart of the Foreign Office, for the latter believed that the invasion of Ethiopia had been decided only late in 1933, "long - perhaps eighteen months - before Stresa"; Mist Procession, p. 521.

[28] PRO, FO 371/19535, 184-89.

[29] Ibid., 179r-180v. Count Dino Grandi was the Italian ambassador to London from 1932 to 1939. He was on close terms with Vansittart; Colvin, Vansittart in Office, 71-4.

[30] Ibid., 181v-182v.

[31] E.H. Carr, Great Britain as a Mediterranean Power (Nottingham, 1937), esp. 8-11, 23-5; id., International Relations between the two World Wars (1919-1939) (London, 1947); id., The Twenty Years' Crisis 1919-1939 (London, 1948), 6-7. In his pamphlet of 1937 Carr asserted that Britain must retain and increase her "acknowledged" "effective power", and that this could only be done by confronting Japan: this, in turn, could be done only if tension were reduced in Europe by coming to terms with Italy, who must be recognized as a Mediterranean power - unless it were done by settling with Germany so that supremacy could then be asserted in the Mediterranean against Italy; 8-11, 23-5. Carr's later views on utopian views during the years of crisis are worth repeating here: he called them "highly imaginative solutions", but unrelated to existing facts. "The solution propounded ... had no logical connection with the conditions which created the problem. Once more, it was the product not of analysis, but of aspiration", The Twenty Years' Crisis, 6-7. Also see Samuel Hoare, Nine Troubled Years (London, 1954), 152-3, for a lucid summary of the situation two months later, in June 1935, when Vansittart briefed Hoare as he became Foreign Secretary.

[32] PRO, FO 371/19535, 182v-183v.

[33] Ibid., 190r-193r: these folios comprised the final draft of the letter. Vansittart approved it with the comment "A good draft".

[34] Colvin, Vansittart in Office, 59-61, especially the eye witness account of R. Wigram; Vansittart, Mist Procession, 516-21; Marquand Ramsay McDonald, 770-74, in which the problems and vacillations of the British government are neatly summarized. Marquand points out that Vansittart's "memoirs are somewhat coy" about the silence on the Ethiopian question at Stresa. Also see Simon, Retrospect, 202-4, and BL MS Simon 7, diary entries for 11 to 14 April 1935.

[35] Ibid. , MS Simon 7, 27 May 1935. For details F. Hardie, TheAbyssinian Crisis, (London, 1975), ch.12, "The Great Powers (December 1934 to August 1935)".


[36] During 1935-36 there was another, more serious spy case, that of the unfortunate lawyer, Dr Niccolo Delia, for whom espionage was tangled with romantic passion. This time the Italian Consul was clearly implicated. The authorities expelled some Italians, closed some Italian schools and the Istituto di Cultura; see PRO, FO 371/19535, 200-202, also Monroe, Mediterranean in Politics. I am much indebted to Professor V.G. Griffiths of the Medical School of the University of Malta for discussions and information on this case.
Arnaldo Belardinelli was released in 1936 under the coronation amnesty of that year. He returned to Italy, and later held a post in the Italian customs service in Libya. Towards the end of the war he became involved in the Republic of SalÚ and was later condemned to death in absentia. However he remained at large, and in 1945 was running a shady fuel business in Rome. He died of cancer in 1947.
His daughter Liliana is now writing her recollections of childhood and events in Malta, Libya, and Italy, particularly the period during the war when she and her mother, a British subject, moved up the peninsula, behind the lines of the retreating Germans. These memoirs have been set down, in English, in detail, vividly, and with great precision, and it is to be hoped that they will be published.