“Let’s Make a Movie:” The Allied Screening Commission (Italy) and the documentary Onore al Merito (To Whom Honor is Due), 1946

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

During World War II, over 100,000 Italians helped at least 10,000 Allied escapees and evaders, by providing material and financial assistance to them in their efforts in avoiding being seized by the Germans and Fascists, as well as their efforts to reach the Allied lines.  In late April 1944, in Bern, Switzerland, Ignazio Silone (pseudonym of Secondino Tranquilli), an Italian author and Socialist Party leader, talked to Allen Dulles, head of the Office of Strategic Services in Switzerland, about an idea for a movie about the Italian helpers.  Dulles cabled his bosses in London and Washington:

The following is for Washington: 475 [Silone] is wiring Harper Bros. in New York that he is readying a story as the foundation for a movie depicting the brotherhood existing between Americans and Italians as shown by the experiences of escaped Britishers and Americans who were both helped and hidden by northern Italian peasants. Because of the psychological value of such a movie as well as my wish to help 475, would appreciate it if Harpers could be discreetly contacted, on basis of 475’s direct wire, in an effort to discover, if the material can be delivered to them, whether they would be interested. [1]

The movie was never made.  But the idea for such a movie did not end.  Lt. Col. Hugo Graham De Burgh, O.B.E., the commanding officer of the Allied Screening Commission (Italy) and a former escapee himself, in early 1946, was interested in discussions taking place in Rome about the possibility of a movie being made about the Italian helpers, those they helped, and the work of the Commission.  In fact, he may have begun such discussions. He probably discussed the matter with Renzo Lucidi, an Italian film maker, who, with his wife Adrienne, was amongst the foremost helpers in Rome during the war, and after the liberation of Rome, worked for a year for the Allied Screening Commission (Italy).  In 1946, Lucidi was, as a film editor, working with producer John Stafford, on the British-Italian thriller film Teheran.

During the first week of March, De Burgh and British Embassy staff met with Stafford to discuss the idea for a movie.  De Burgh continued such discussions with several people.  Subsequently he discussed the movie idea with a Mr. Levy, who was the representative in Italy of the Paramount Film Corporation of America. Levy expressed a great interest in the subject of a film about the Italian helpers and suggested that the best way of carrying out what the Commission wanted was in the form of a documentary film which he said was much more likely “to go down with the required sections of the public” than an ordinary commercial film as suggested by Stafford.  De Burgh wrote the British Embassy about the discussions he had and requested it to let him know what that felt about the subject of a movie or documentary.[2]

Two months later Maj. William C. Simpson, with the Commission and another former escapee, talked to Vernon Jarratt, Films Officer in the Press Office at the British Embassy (and a technical advisor for the movie Teheran), on May 18. On May 21, Simpson wrote him that that he had written that day to their Department [M.I.9/19] of War Office asking it to recommend to Foreign Office Films Division the project of the short documentary film.  He added that he had also written a letter to the Embassy, asking that the Minister be requested to send a letter also requesting it.  In his memo to the Embassy, Simpson wrote that Jarratt was very keen to make a ten-minute documentary of the work of the Commission, and had written to London to that effect asking for permission to proceed. Simpson suggested to Jarratt that to ensure that permission was obtained as soon as possible, a brief letter from the Minister to the Films Division would “probably clinch the matter.” “We feel sure,” Simpson wrote, “that the Minister will agree in principle with the project, and perhaps you would ask him if he would be good enough to send a letter to this effect.[3] 

In his memo to M.I.9/19, Simpson wrote that for some time past various members of the staff of the British Embassy, Rome, had been considering the idea of making a short ten-minute documentary film of the work of the Commission.  He indicated that the recent Allied Screening Commission (Italy) ceremony in Rome on May 17, to reward Italian helpers, which had been filmed by various newsreel agencies and by Army Film and Photographic Unit, had convinced them of the desirability of proceeding as soon as possible with the film project.  Simpson noted that the Film Representative at the Press Office at the British Embassy had already written to London requesting permission to proceed with the film project, and to retain the services of William J. Dodds[4] in Rome for that purpose. It was most desirable however, he added, that in order to convince their London office that the Commission too was anxious to have the film made, that M.I.9/19 write to the Films Division, Central Office of Information and explain why the Commission wished it to proceed with the film.  At the same time, Simpson wrote, the Commission was requesting Sir Noel Charles (the British Minister in Rome) to recommend it also to them. Charles, Simpson added, was quite enthusiastic as a result of the Rome Ceremony.[5]

Apparently, sometime in late May or early June, all the permissions were given and the scope of the documentary film had been transformed from a ten-minute documentary about the work of the Commission, to what the Commission really wanted, a longer film about the Italian helpers and the subsequent work of the Commission in compensating and rewarding the helpers. According to De Burgh’s Personal Assistant (and future wife), then Junior Commander Lucy Addey, Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, the film was designed to show, first, the work of the partisans and other helpers who risked so much for Allied escapers, and secondly, to show the work of the Allied Screening Commission (Italy), in seeking out, thanking and trying to recompense those who had given freely of their property, and other assistance. [6] 

 De Burgh assigned Lt. George Supervia, Intelligence Corps, to the task of assisting the film makers, Jarratt and Dodds.  On June 19, Supervia met with Jarratt and Dodds to discuss the film which had by this time been given the working title “To Whom Honour’s Due.”  Because of Dodds’ impending return to England, it was decided that the filming would start at once.  Apart from other technical arrangements it was suggested that Supervia would procure the following necessary items: German uniforms to include 2 officers, 2 NCO’s, 5 Other Ranks’, as well as pair of field glasses, two schmeisser machine guns, two automatics, rifles and bayonets, and ten helmets.   He was also expected to acquire a German staff car-possibly a Volkswagen (with no British markings on it).  Jarratt and Dodds also wanted the use of Supervia’s jeep with “Allied Screening Commission” painted below windscreen, and, if possible, a British Driver.  They also suggested one photogenic Officer (suggested was Squadron Leader E.A.A Gardner, Royal Air Force) to play the role of a Major or Captain (but must wear Army insignia).  Jarratt and Dodds told Supervia the German staff car would be required for two days, arriving Tuesday June 25.  They requested that the photogenic officer arrive on June 28 and stay until July 2.  They also requested Supervia’s full-time services from June 23 till July 3.[7]  Orders were issued on June 21 for Supervia to go to Aquila for the period June 23-July 3, 1946, to assist in making the film in that area.[8]  During June 21 and the following days the logistics were confirmed and Supervia was able to obtain most of the necessary items and arrangements were made for their return. [9] 

camarda italy

The film, which was a joint Commission-Embassy venture, was shot in two parts, first at the village of Camarda (some 80 miles northeast of Rome and ten miles northeast of Aquila) at the end of June and beginning of July, and then in Rome later in July.   The story of the film, according to Lucy De Burgh, was woven around one family who sheltered a prisoner, but were betrayed by a Fascist spy from their own village and thereby lost one of their members, shot by order of the Germans. The story was traced from the beginning when the escapee, after his plane was shot down, was wandering, ragged and hungry, through the countryside, sought by the German occupation troops and Fascist police. He was taken in by the peasants, given food and drink, and lived with them for a time, until he went on his way to pass the Allied lines and join the Eighth Army in the south. The film ended with the mother, father and daughter visiting the cemetery, to lay a few flowers on the grave of their son who as much as any front-line soldier lost his life in the cause of freedom.[10] Officers and other personnel of the Commission took part in the filming, as well as contadini from the Aquila area, who were trained to play Italian parts, “which,” according to Lucy De Burgh, “they did with great skill and naturalness.” She observed that “Italians are born actors, it seems, and completely lacking in self-consciousness or awkwardness.”[11]  When the British Embassy Film Unit visited Camarda, to shoot the outdoor scenes, at the end of July, a promise was made that the people of this little village would be the first to see the finished result.[12]

Filming of the second part of the film was undertaken during July.  Shots depicting the work of the Allied Screening Commission (Italy) were taken of personnel in the various offices of the Commission by representatives of the British Embassy. One of these shots showed Maj. Emanuel F. Schifano, Air Corps, the U.S. Representative with the Commission, and another showed De Burgh interviewing an investigating officer reporting back from a trip.[13]

The 25-minute film, formally titled Onore al Merito (To Whom Honor is Due), was completed during the late summer of 1946.  It was produced in both English and Italian versions and Dr. Tomassetti specially wrote a musical score to accompany it. To keep the promise of showing the film first in Camarda, on Sunday, November 3, complete projecting apparatus, a wireless recording van, and other official cars, with Allied Screening Commission (Italy) officers (some who would appear in the film), made their way to the village square.  The whole village of Camarda, and other contadini from villages nearby turned out to see the film.  A short speech introduced the film and explained its object, thanking also the population of Camarda for their cooperation.[14]

Movie_001

Memo re: Report on the Showing of the Film “To Whom Honour is Due” at Camarda (L’Aquila), NAID 25777725; RG 331

One of the Commission officers reported the reaction at the beginning of the film could hardly be described as moving, but the appearance, on the screen, of the various characters known to “these simple people,” gave rise to much amusement and excitement. As the subject changed to the indoor scenes of Allied Screening Commission (Italy) and of the Rome Ceremony, the interest became intense and a few distinct sobs could be heard with the final shot in the Cemetery as the “Last Post” was played.[15]  Lucy De Burgh, who was not present for the first showing, wrote that she heard it was a great success with the local population, and that the Italian amateur actors in particular greatly relished seeing themselves on the screen. For some of them it was even their first film show.[16]

The film was officially and privately shown in Rome in January 1947, along with another documentary L’Italia Vivra that showed the long and hard work of reconstruction.  It was also produced by Jarratt and directed by Dodds.  There were three performances held at the theater of the Palazzo Altempa, for which rather elaborate invitation cards were issued in English and Italian; one performance was for the members of the Italian government and official persons, members of the Diplomatic Corps and representatives of the Vatican; the second was for members of the Allied Army of Occupation; and the third for the Allied and Italian Press.  Elaborate parties were held by the British Embassy in conjunction with each showing.[17]

Lucy De Burgh wrote that at the first showing, on January 10, her chief thrill was having the honor of meeting Ignazio Silone, “author of the famous anti-Fascist novel, The Seed Beneath the Snow.”[18] Silone, as will be recalled, was the person that had suggested the film to Allen Dulles in Bern in 1944.

The newspaper Il Popolo on January 11, reported that the previous day, before a select audience of Italian politicians and diplomats, the British Embassy gave a film show. The newspaper stated that one of the two films shown, Onore al Merito, “showed the heroic sacrifices made by the Italians in order to assist and protect British soldiers during the German occupation…These films will be shown in Italy and England, and will revive and register that some good will, truly natural and heartfelt, between our two Nations, which war did not diminish, but on the contrary became deeper and more personal. This is a generous gesture by Britain, which is worth far more than any Peace Treaty clause, as it signifies the will between two people, to fraternize and collaborate.”[19]

According to news accounts, at the January 13 and 14 showings of the films, the audience warmed and cheered them.[20]  After the January 13 showings, the Osservatore Romano reported that the two documentary films made by the British Embassy, had been shown on the initiative of Michael Stewart, Secretary of the Embassy, and Lt. Col. H. G. De Burgh, commanding the Allied Screening Commission (Italy).  Both the documentary films, the newspaper reported, had been produced by Vernon Jarratt, Films Office, British Embassy Press Section, Rome, and directed by William J. Dodds. The newspaper observed that Onore al Merito was dedicated to those Italians who, in spite of risk of losing their life, did all in their power to save the Anglo-American soldiers from captivity; and the film was meant as an act of public recognition.  It added that “in consideration of the fact that there are more than 80,000 claims which are being assessed [by the Commission], and that more than 30,000 Allied escapers and evaders have been generously and disinterestedly assisted by our poor but brave peasants, one cannot help thinking that this Documentary Film should have been shown some months ago, i.e., before the Paris Conference took the decisions which have been recently confirmed in New York.”  With respect to the Allied Screening Commission (Italy) the newspaper observed “we have to admire, value and take as an example the zeal with which the persons concerned are working in order to give the well-deserved rewards.” [21]

Major Peter Hewitt on January 17, wrote Michael Stewart at the British Embassy, that De Burgh, before his departure for the North the previous day, had requested him to write and congratulate Stewart on the excellent staff work and showing of the two pictures on January 10, 13, and 14. Hewitt added that De Burgh was delighted to see such large numbers of guests including many influential ones, at each of the shows and that he would also be glad if Stewart would convey his congratulations to Jarratt and Dodds for two very excellent pictures.[22]

Lucy De Burgh observed “for a production almost entirely by amateurs it was a great achievement and a further example of the fruits of harmonious co-operation between the British and Italians.”[23]

Colonel De Burgh, in his final report to the Deputy Director of Military Intelligence, on August 1, 1947, reported Onore al Merito was very well received wherever it was shown in Italy and “suggested that it would be a very good thing if it could be shown in this country.”[24]  Whether it was shown in Great Britain is not known to this writer.  I suspect that it was not.  But in any event, the National Archives of the United States, which has custody of the records of the Allied Screening Commission (Italy), does not have a copy of the film, nor does the National Archives of the United Kingdom.  Perhaps a reader knows where a copy might reside.  My guess is that it will be in Italy.


[1] Cable, No. 586-87, Bern, Switzerland to London for Info to Director, Secretariat, Magruder, Scriber, ETO, NATO, SI, X-2, April 28, 1944, Folder 1824, Washington Registry Office Radio & Cable Files, 1941-1945 (NAID 6250685), Records of the Office of Strategic Services, Record Group 226.

[2] Memo, H. G. De Burgh, Lt. Col., Commanding, Allied Screening Commission (Italy) to H. d’A. L. Hopkinson, British Embassy, Rome, March 7, 1946, File 5-9 Press Clippings & Radio Announcements Etc., General Correspondence, 1944-1947 (NAID 25777725), Allied Screening Commission (Italy), Records of the Allied Screening Commission (Italy) and Prisoner of War Claims Screening Commission, Records of Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331.

[3] Memo, W. C. Simpson, Maj., Allied Screening Commission (Italy) to C. V. Jarratt, Films Officer, British Embassy, Rome, Subject: Documentary Film of the Work of Allied Screening Commission (Italy), May 21, 1946, File 5-6 Embassy and Consulate (Rome), General Correspondence, 1944-1947 (NAID 25777725), RG 331; Memo, W. C. Simpson, Maj., Allied Screening Commission (Italy) to Aubrey Halford, British Embassy, Rome, Subject: Documentary Film of the Work of Allied Screening Commission, Italy, May 21, 1946, ibid.

[4] Dodds was a well-known camera operator, having worked on the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein and the 1944 The Mummy’s Curse.  He would go on to be the camera operator for Harvey in 1950.

[5] Memo, W. C. Simpson, Maj., for Lt. Col., GS, Allied Screening Commission (Italy) to M.I.9/19, Subject: Documentary Film of Work of Allied Screening Commission (Italy), May 21, 1946, File 2-7 M.I.9 War Office 1 Jan 46-31 May 46, General Correspondence, 1944-1947 (NAID 25777725), RG 331.

[6] Lucy De Burgh, My Italian Adventures: An English Girl at War 1943-47 (The Mill, Brimscombe Port Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History press, 2013), p. 393.

[7] Report on First Interview Ref: A.S.C. Film, G. A. Supervia, Lt., Allied Screening Commission (Italy), June 20, 1946, File: ASC 3-10 ASC Film, Subject File Maintained by Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Graham De Burgh (NAID 66539827), Allied Screening Commission (Italy)/Prisoner of War Claims Commission, Records of the Allied Screening Commission (Italy) and Prisoner of War Claims Screening Commission, Records of Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331.

[8] Movement Order No. 59, June 21, 1946, File 1020H Movement Orders Register, General Correspondence, 1944-1947 (NAID 25777725), RG 331.

[9] Memo, G. A. Supervia, Lt., Allied Screening Commission (Italy); seen and approved by J. Aiken, Maj. To O.C. Troops, Rimini, Subject: German Equipment for Film by British Embassy Film Unit, June 21, 1946, File: ASC 3-10 ASC Film, Subject File Maintained by Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Graham De Burgh (NAID 66539827), RG 331; Message, Rome Area Allied Screening Commission (Italy) to O.C. Troops Rimini from Lt. G. A. Supervia, June 20, 1946, ibid.; Message, 1 SEP Centre (CM) to Rome Area Allied Screening Commission for Lt. G.A. Supervia, n.d., ca. June 24, 1946, ibid.

[10] De Burgh, My Italian Adventures: An English Girl at War 1943-47, p. 393.

[11] De Burgh, My Italian Adventures: An English Girl at War 1943-47, p. 393.

[12] Memo, [   ] Allied Screening Commission to Officer Commanding, Allied Screening Commission (Italy), Rome, Subject: Report on the showing of the Film “To Whom Honour is Due,” at Camarda (L’Aquila), n.d., File 4-5 Intelligence-Misc., General Correspondence, 1944-1947 (NAID 25777725), RG 331.

[13] Memo, Emanuel F. Schifano, Maj., Air Corps, U.S. Representative, Allied Screening Commission (Italy) to Office of the Military Attaché, U.S. Embassy, Subject: Activities Report No. 39 for the Month Ending 31 July 1946, August 28 1946, File: Reports, Allied Screening Commission Progress, 1946-1947, Liquidation Records, 1944-1948 (NAID 6412696), Military Liquidation Agency, Records of Mediterranean Theater of Operations, United States Army, RG 492; De Burgh, My Italian Adventures: An English Girl at War 1943-47, p. 393.

[14] Memo, T. M. Colchiski, Maj., C.A.C., American Representative ASC(I), Headquarters Allied Screening Commission (Italy) thru Deputy Chief Claims Officer to Theater Judge Advocate, Subject: Film Showing of “To Whom Honor is Due,” November 7, 1946, File: Colchiski-General, Correspondence of the American Representative, Entry UD 1020C, Allied Screening Commission (Italy)/Prisoner of War Claims Screening Commission, Records of the Allied Screening Commission (Italy) and Prisoner of War Claims Screening Commission, Records of Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331; Memo, [   ] Allied Screening Commission to Officer Commanding, Allied Screening Commission (Italy), Rome, Subject: Report on the showing of the Film “To Whom Honour is Due,” at Camarda (L’Aquila), n.d., File 4-5 Intelligence-Misc., General Correspondence, 1944-1947 (NAID 25777725), RG 331. It was actually shown first at Cinema “Rex” L’Aquila at 230pm. ibid.

[15] Memo, [   ] Allied Screening Commission to Officer Commanding, Allied Screening Commission (Italy), Rome, Subject: Report on the showing of the Film “To Whom Honour is Due,” at Camarda (L’Aquila), n.d., File 4-5 Intelligence-Misc., General Correspondence, 1944-1947 (NAID 25777725), RG 331.

[16] De Burgh, My Italian Adventures: An English Girl at War 1943-47, p. 394.

[17] De Burgh, My Italian Adventures: An English Girl at War 1943-47, p. 394; Letter, Michael Stewart, British Embassy, Rome to Lt. Col. H. G. De Burgh, O.B.E., M.C., Allied Screening Commission, Rome, January 21, 1947, File 5-6 Embassy and Consulate (Rome), General Correspondence, 1944-1947 (NAID 25777725), RG 331; H. G. De Burgh, Lt. Col., Final Report for D.D.M.I., August 1, 1947, p. 10, Allied Screening Commission (Italy) Final Report for DDMI October 1945-March 1947, File WO 208/3397, National Archives of the United Kingdom.

[18] De Burgh, My Italian Adventures: An English Girl at War 1943-47, p. 394.

[19] Translation from article appearing in Il Popolo dated January 11, 1947, File 5-9 Press Clippings & Radio Announcements Etc., General Correspondence, 1944-1947 (NAID 25777725), RG 331.

[20] Translation from article appearing in The Messaggero, “The British films Dedicated to Our Country,” January 14, 1947, File 5-9 Press Clippings & Radio Announcements Etc., General Correspondence, 1944-1947 (NAID 25777725), RG 331; Translation from article appearing in the Espresso, “British Documentaries at Altemps Palace,” January 15, 1947, ibid.

[21] Translation, “Interesting British Documentary Films,” Osservatore Romano, January 15, 1947, File 5-9 Press Clippings & Radio Announcements Etc., General Correspondence, 1944-1947 (NAID 25777725), RG 331.

[22] Memo, P. A. Hewitt, Maj., Foresters, for Lt. Col. GS, Allied Screening Commission (Italy) to Michael Stewart, British Embassy, Rome, January 17, 1947, File 5-6 Embassy and Consulate (Rome), General Correspondence, 1944-1947 (NAID 25777725), RG 331.

[23] De Burgh, My Italian Adventures: An English Girl at War 1943-47, p. 395.

[24] H. G. De Burgh, Lt. Col., Final Report for D.D.M.I., August 1, 1947, p. 10, Allied Screening Commission (Italy) Final Report for DDMI October 1945-March 1947, File WO 208/3397, National Archives of the United Kingdom.

This entry was posted in Archives II, History, Military Records, World War II and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s