The Maltese journalist expelled by Mussolini, twice

He used his pen, sometimes very corrosively, to share Nationalist Party leader Enrico Mizzi’s italianità ideals.

Giovanni Giglio was a Maltese journalist active in the first half of the twentieth century. He loved Italy but had the distinction of being expelled from that country by Benito Mussolini – twice.

Giovanni, who was born in 1891, was the son of Alfonso Giglio and Silvia Dainotto. His father was a noted poet who had translated into Italian such English masters as Shakespeare, Tennyson, Shakespeare and Keats. Alfonso’s father, Ferdinando, and his brother Giuseppe were active in literary circles. Ferdinando had authored L’Assedio di Malta.

Giovanni’s brother Sandro (1900-79) was a baritone who performed at the Metropolitan Opera House of New York and as a Hollywood actor took part with Burt Lancaster and Anna Magnani in The Rose Tatoo (1955).

The Giglio family came to Malta from Italy during the time of the Knights. One ancestor of the family, Luigi, was a doctor and mathematician, who had planned the reform of the calendar later activated by Pope Gregory XVI.  With such an Italian DNA, it is hardly surprising that Giovanni Giglio was a friend of Nationalist Party leader Enrico Mizzi since childhood. He used his pen, sometimes very corrosively, to share Mizzi’s italianitá ideals. In fact, his name appeared with the documents presented by the prosecution in the Court Martial of Enrico Mizzi of 1917.

Giglio moved to Sicily in 1908, where his father had previously served as the British vice-Consul in Licata. He was known as an implacable revolutionary through his association with the Serrartiano section of the Socialist Party in Palermo. He contributed regularly to the Rinascita Socialista as well to l’Ora of Palermo, which was founded by the Florio family, the renowned family of entrepreneurs.

Giovanni Giglio

1919 was a year of great designs and reckless audacity. For Europe it was Woodrow Wilson and the Peace Conference in Versailles. For Italy, two persons were to shape its history; Benito Mussolini, who had founded the first Fascio dei combattimenti, and Don Luigi Sturzo, founder of the forerunner of Christian democracy. In that same year, Giovanni Giglio settled in Rome, where history was being made. Within a few days of his arrival, he was recruited by the future British Labour Prime Minister James Ramsay MacDonald as Rome correspondent for the socialist paper Daily Herald.  

One of his first important assignments was covering the Socialist Party congress in Livorno in 1921, in which the party split, expelling the Leninists who went on to form the Italian Communist Party.  He was there again at the time that history repeated itself in 1947, when the socialists following Giuseppe Saragat split from the party in Palazzo Barberini and formed the Social Democratic Party.  

For Giglio, 28th October, 1922 was like any other day, only that he moved house from Via della Croce to Via Margutta. For Mussolini, who had just led the famous March on Rome which toppled the Italian government, it was much more than a move from an office in Piazza Santo Sepolcro in Milano, where he edited the Popolo d’Italia,to Palazzo Chigi in Rome,  seat of Prime Minister.

Giglio was a man of courage. He did not have to wait for Mussolini’s change of official residence to have a taste of what fascism stood for. After a fascist mob destroyed the printing press of their newspaper Avanti in 1920, the socialists used the facilities of the Democratic l’Epoca. Giglio happened to be on the premises when the fascists came for a repeat performance bestowed on the Avanti in which two of the assailants died. Tension was very high while the police were either unable or unwilling to control the crowd.  In spite of the difficulty of getting out safely, Giglio managed to reach the Chamber of Deputies where he reported what happened to his friend, the Socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti.

For five years Giglio was able to work in Rome without too much hindrance, regularly sending his despatches to London. However, on 30th March, 1924 he was expelled from Italy ‘on grounds of carrying out a slanderous propaganda against the Government and against the dignity and prestige of Italy’.  The real reason behind Mussolini’s mind was the fact that the British Labour Party had planned to send two of its MP’s as observers during that year’s general election, which Matteotti would later denounce very courageously as fraudulent.

Giglio was unable to cover the first Italian general election to be held after the March on Rome scheduled for April 1924, and the abduction of Matteotti on 30th May and his assassination 11 days later. Cesare Rossi, a former Mussolini henchman, stood for him. He contributed five articles to the Daily Herald, exposing the full story behind Matteotti’s murder. Another courageous editor who did the same thing was the editor of Sturzo’s Il Popolo, Giuseppe Donati, who spent the last months of his life in Malta.

One of Giovanni Giglio’s news reports

So, Giovanni Giglio spent the next six years roaming around Chiasso, Geneva, Lugano, London, Paris, Brussels and Nice. During this period he still covered the affairs of Italy but it was not the same as being on the spot during the rampages of the squadristi or the murder of Giacomo Matteotti. During the years he accumulated numerous illustrious acquaintances such as Giovanni Amendola, Leonida Bissolati, Umberto Calosso, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Giuseppe Di Vittorio, Giacomo Matteotti, Sandro Pertini, Pietro Nenni, Giuseppe Saragat, Claudio Treves, and Filippo Turati.  With the exception of D’Annunzio, all were in the front line in the struggle against fascism.

However, the fascist regime thought it would be easier to control Giglio and his array of contacts in Italy rather than outside its borders. While attending the Naval Conference in London in 1930, Italy’s Foreign Minister Dino Grandi invited Giglio for a chat at the Claridge and encouraged him to return to Rome. He assured him that the regime would not interfere in what he reported to his paper. But this did not last long.

The relatively stable period of Anglo-Italian relations since the fascists seized power was soon to evaporate with the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935. The six months of the war which Giglio covered was the most trying period of the 17 years he spent in Italy.  In 1934, while going to the office of the Foreign Press Association, he was held up and beaten by the squadristi, but managed to defend himself. He protested with the Foreign Minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, who apologised for the incident. Giglio was the only foreign press correspondent in Rome who was not afraid to be seen entering the Ethiopian Embassy He was aware that he was constantly being followed. He knew he could be arrested, expelled again or, at worst, treated like a spy. If he sat down in a café, so would the agents of the OVRA, the secret police. They were keeping watch day and night. Agents provocateur were employed to entrap him and make him liable to be incriminated. Even the concierge of the block of flats where he lived took note of every visitor. His maidservant was compelled to watch and report his household. All members of his family were spied upon. His calls were intercepted and duly recorded.

Telephoning his daily news despatches to London became difficult as the line was disrupted with noise to make communication difficult. So when, on 8th April, 1936 Giglio was asked by two plain-clothes policemen to follow them, this came as no surprise to him. He was taken to the police station where an officer read to him an expulsion order.  Through the intercession of the British Ambassador he was allowed a few days of grace to settle domestic affairs.  As soon as he finalised these matters, he informed the Aliens Department of his departure together with all members of the family. He was quite baffled when they told him that he had another two more days. After all he had been through in the past months, Giglio’s first reaction there was thinking that there must be some reason behind the regime’s sudden generosity.

Italian excitement over the imminent entry by Marshal Pietro Badoglio, the commander of Italian forces in Ethiopia, into the capital Addis Ababa was mounting. Within a month Mussolini would announce his empire and promote General Graziani, known by the Libyans as the butcher of Fezzan or by the fascists as the Pacificatore della Libia, as Marshal.

Giglio was clearly undesirable. Rather then focusing on the Italian achievements in the war, he gave his reports a defeatist tone. One of the fascist myths propagated ad nauseam was the maximum homage of the Italians by donating their wedding rings, following the example of Queen Elena. Giglio let it out to the world that this was a big deception. How he estimated that only two per cent of the donors gave their original wedding was another matter. 

One of Giglio’s despatches which annoyed the regime was the one which asserted that the Italians were highly disgruntled with the Ethiopian war, contrary to the official propaganda.  Giglio’s writing throughout the years was critical not only of Mussolini but also of the country of which he was a subject, Britain. As a member of the Labour Party, he found fault with the policy of successive Conservative governments at a time when the traditional Anglo-Italian friendship was waning. He was particularly critical of the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Austin Chamberlain, who sometimes shaped policy to please his friend Mussolini.

It did not take much for Giglio to understand what was behind the regime’s mind. He was a British subject. His son, Ferruccio, was going to celebrate his twenty-second birthday within a day. Under the circumstances, according to Italian law the young man would have to become an Italian citizen and thereby likely to be drafted in the Army. So Giglio refused the offer and was out of Italy in less than twenty-four hours.  Ferrucio was, of course, very grateful for his father’s courage.

The departure from Italy brought Ferruccio the opportunity to complete his architecture studies in Brussels. He became active in Italian antifascist circles and was one of the only Italians recorded as having participated in the Allied landing of Normandy on 6th June, 1944.

Once more, Giovanni had to wander around Europe. Eventually he left mainland Europe with his family during the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940. He continued working for the Daily Herald in London. Giglio became involved in the re-establishment of the London branch of the Italian Socialist Party. During the war, London was the hub of Italian exiles, which were called fuorusciti. Essentially, this name implied that they had been expelled by the police without full formalities. Voluntary exile was the preferred option for many. Most of them became associated with BBC broadcasts made famous by Colonel Harold Stevens, nicknamed Colonello Buonasera.

Two of the more popular native speakers were Ruggiero Orlando of the ‘Qui Nuova York, vi parla Ruggiero Orlando’ fameand Umberto Calosso, who was well known to the British because he had worked as a Master of Italian at St Edward’s College in Malta between 1931 and 1940. However, Giglio crossed swords with Calosso and had him expelled from the socialist group in London. The leadership of the Italian socialists was in disarray at the time of the liberation of Rome in June 1944. So Giglio sent a letter to Giuseppe Saragat via his comrade from Puglia, Eugenio Laricchiuta asking him to review his appointment. While in London, Giglio worked with fellow socialists from other countries. He worked in liaison with Camille Huysmans, future Prime Minister of Belgium, whom he helped reconstitute the Socialist International. 

In 1946, Giovanni resigned from the staff of the Daily Herald to return to Italy with his family. He joined Il Paese, which later became Il Paese Sera.

Giovanni Giglio died in 1955 aged 64 years.

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Dr Anthony DeGiovanni
Dr Anthony DeGiovanni
1 month ago

Extreemly interesting and well researched article on this rarely mention co-nationsl chapeau Giorgio Peresso!