Saturday, August 04, 2007

Calling those who served in Italy during WW2

So the BBC WW2 Board has closed! Despite the short warning it did seem rather abrupt, just as I was about to respond to this question, posted by MMCAndrew (U8964448) three weeks ago:

Actually, as Ron has pointed out to me, the BBC Noticeboard is still open, but I'll let this stand.

I am currently writing an essay on the relationships between the Italian people and allied soldiers during 1943-1945. Can anyone help me?

In my experience, many Allied soldiers who served in the bitter fighting in Italy understandably had little knowledge of what Italian civilians experienced in WW2 or of the civil war which raged in the North.

I first met Allied soldiers in April 1945 just before Mussolini was strung up in Milan - soldiers of the Imperial Light Horse and Kimberley Regiment of the 6th South African Armoured Division. I recall that my immediate impression was that they were all immensely rich and had food in abundance every single day. I also remember the intense relief and growing confidence that I would survive to the next day - although I lost two of my close friends to typhus in the first few months of 'peace'.

There is only one book which captures all this, recently published, and which more than answers the question regarding relationships between the Italian people and Allied soldiers during 1943-1945. It is the magisterial and accurate The Fall of Mussolini - Italy, the Italians, and the Second World War by Philip Morgan, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Hull (Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-19-280247-7).

Philip Morgan's account illuminates both the causes and the consequences of the fall of Mussolini on 25 July 1943. From the cover: [He] shows how Italians of all classes coped with the extraordinary pressures of wartime living, both on the military and home fronts ... He goes on to examine how the Italian people responded to the invasion and occupation of their country by both Nazi-German and Anglo-American forces - and how crucial this period was in shaping Italy's post-war sense of nationhood and transition to democracy.

Hitler was incandescent with fury at the Italian 'betrayal', and as a direct consequence the German occupation in the North was extremely vicious, largely entrusted to Waffen-SS units, brutalised in Russia fighting Russian partisans, and to Cossack units allied to the Germans. The only comparable Nazi occupied country was Poland, added to which there was incessant Allied bombing and fighter strafing of anything that moved. There was constant hunger and the constant threat, if you were over 14, of being rounded up, crammed into a cattle truck, and sent to slave-labour in Germany, I twice scraped out of situations like that by the skin of my teeth - and heaven help you if you just happened to be an Italian Jew!

But even Italians often forget that the South suffered too, as Morgan says ... it is salutary to remember, also, that German troops retreating through southern Italy in September and October 1943 killed over 1,500 people in a violently brief occupation. Most of the victims were civilians resisting the Germans' retreat and their forcible ejection of them from their homes, as in Cassino, or people killed in reprisal for such resistance, or [the collapsed Italian army's] military stragglers.

And the formidable German defensive lines, such as the Gustav Line and the Gothic Line? The earthworks were largely built by civilian forced labour.

As for the Allies, as Footslogger says: That is not to say that troops from the British, US, Canadian, New Zealand and Indian armies were all gentlemen, but on the whole we had felt a great deal of sympathy for the horrors the average Italian civilian had to put up mainly, the elderly, the women and children as most of the able bodied men had been taken by the Germans to do forced labour, and we treated them accordingly.

My own memory is confined to South Africans only - they were warm and friendly and behaved well.

9 Comments:

Blogger Tomcann said...

If I can add to Peter's excellent account of just a fraction of his experiences and knowledge of those times in Italy.

The 6th South African Division took over from the 1st Canadian and British 25th and 21st Tank Brigades at Agnani just to the SE of Rome in early June '44 after the battles of the Liri valley.

They then went past Rome towards the Lago Trasimeno - Orvieto - Perugia - Siena and Florence and gave an excellent account of themselves which is not too well known.

Saturday, 04 August, 2007  
Anonymous doncarter19@ gmail.com. said...

Hi Peter
I must say right away that I am new to this site and it is only with your help that I have arrived here anyway. It was as a soldier myself that served in the 78th Division in Italy during the campaign there that I was prompted to comment on your article with reference to the way allied troops acted or reacted to the civilian population from the end of the Sicilian campaign the first civilian I got close to was a young girl of about ten years of age that had cut her knee badly
falling down from a kerb in Messina while we were waiting to go over to Reggio di Calabria so
I got off the vehicle I was sitting in picked her up washed her knee from my water bottle and bandaged her leg with my field dre ssing of course she was crying so
as there was not another soul around and I couldn't speak or understand a word of Italian I
held her hand and gesticulated as to where she might live she pointed in a direction so after telling a friend of mine that I would only be able to walk perhaps
two streets away in case the trucks moved off I took her home to be greeted with her father who hugged me and tried to give me as much vino that I could carry which
after shaking my hand I declined and as you are aware the division went up the Adriatic side of Italy
Termoli Foggia Bari and eventualy
we were to cross over to the Liri valley but going over the Appenines (Ron in one of his postings has referred to this time when he was snowed in for about a month and was billited with an Italian priests family we were'nt so lucky) we were only snowed in for abouut two weeks and sheltered in a church hall in a village called Montagano provincia di Campobasso where after driving a bren carrier all day I had a pounding head ache so I said to all the rest of the lads you go and find out where they have set up a cook house and I will sit on the steps and relax till you all get back then I'll go to get some food as I sat down a young girl named Maria sat the side of me and said fredo and as I couldnt understand she went away and came back with a bottle of wine I think she was about thirteen and as I
was a bit reluctant to taste it wondering where she had got it she semmed to get a bit aggitated as some of the men started to come back from getting their food she took my hand and gently pulled me to follow her she took me to a small house in a street called Via Sylvano where I was introduced to her little sister Anna older sister Helena brother Antonio
and Momma. Maria came to the church hall every night and after walking me to their house would brush the snow from my great coat
sit me by the fire and just gaze at me they told me that the father was an Italian army officer and was a prisoner of war in India I was asked to go to dinner with them they were marvelous people and when we eventually left they all stood in the square crying as they waved to us Momma gave me a photograph of the father and on the back it read Signora Emelia
Sconziano. Via Sylvano. Montagano.
Provicia di Campobasso I was never involved with any other civillians
after that till the end of the campaign but nicer people one could never have met I hope this does'nt sound to mushy but I told it exactly how it was the pity of it is I never did go back after the war as I promised I would but we had one hell of a time waiting for us in a week or two after we left and I will not elaborate on that even my own family have never been told about that

niccar

Saturday, 04 August, 2007  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Niccar -
your tale well told, and your next foray after Campobasso was at MonteCassino with the New Zealanders and 4th Indian - sounds like the 36th Brigade, with footslogger - they were or seemed to be - everywhere.
My only contact with the civil population was when I had gone back to the Rieti Training depot after hospital and two ten year old boys took our dirty laundry away every day for their Mother's to wash - without fail we got everything back in order which cost a couple of cigarettes - but we were spick and span at all times !

And with a man such as RSM Mahony - you didn't dare be anything else !

Saturday, 04 August, 2007  
Blogger Ron Goldstein said...

Niccar

Welcome aboard Niccar!

Lovely story !

What with Footslogger, myself and now you, we have three 78 Div men aboard.... now they will have to watch themselves !!!

Cheers

Ron

Sunday, 05 August, 2007  
Blogger niccar said...

Hi Ron Tom And Co thanks for the welcome on board this is the third time of trying to comment on this thread so after my first successful attempt I must be doing something wrong but I will persevere although its rather annoying to see an error and lose everything in the way of typing at which I am pretty damn useless but here goes for the third time and two hours wasted. Tom was right as usual by saying what was in store for us when we left Campobasso but the brigade was the 38th Irish still we were all in the same boat anyway I envy the knowledge that the gang of four has and the way they bring the past alive for the younger generation with their expertise and Ron keeping a diary
what a great source of referance
although I must admit to an affinity with Ron as we both come from the same roots ie the east end of London in my case Stepney and both having big families although it ends there as I could not or perhaps would not want to know what day time or month it was from the time the troopship left Greenock till the time I came home on Liap but still as the old saying goes when ignorance is bliss its folly to be wise so after that piece of c**p in case I lose this again I'll say regardsto all

niccar

Sunday, 05 August, 2007  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Good grief - as well as the 49th popgunshooters - the fire brigade - now we have the Mad Micks to contend with - not only that but we had the North Irish Donkey wallopers as well../.
welcome Niccar - we look forward to your experiences with the Mad Micks

Monday, 06 August, 2007  
Blogger Ron Goldstein said...

Niccar

As you can see, your last posting made it so you must be doing something right !

May I offer a small tip to you with regard to losing data and having to start again?

If you intend to post ANYTHING longer than a single paragraph first write it and save it as a WORD document,

Save the contents of the WORD doc to memory and then PASTE it into the "Leave your comment" box.
then, if you have failed to make your BLOG posting correctly, you have the original text to try again.

I realise I may be teaching you how to suck eggs but I know the pain of losing half an hours work so please excuse the lesson :)

Ron

Monday, 06 August, 2007  
Blogger Peter G said...

Niccar

Welcome to the blog. I too enjoyed your story, the first of many I hope.

Regarding the difficulty you have experienced. if it is something not covered in the FAQ please let me know and I'll see if I can do something about it.

I notice that the username in your first comment above is your full email address. You have since sorted this out and niccar appears correctly in your second comment. However, if you wish to remove your email address from your story, then 'bin' it after first copying it as Ron suggested, then paste it in afresh and it will appear without the email address. It will of course appear as a new comment after those praising your story, but that can't be helped and is a minor matter.

I'm sure you'll soon get the hang of the way Google does things, but if you need help don't hesitate to ask.

Monday, 06 August, 2007  
Blogger Frank mee said...

Peter,
Twos up on the book when it comes out "err" I will not have to pay for it or will I??
Welcome niccar, nice to have another slant on the Italy campaign. Tom and Ron have been my Tutors up to now with Peter as the in house member.
Like a lot of people here at the time there was only one war front and that was Normandy, how little we knew.

Wednesday, 08 August, 2007  

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