As I’ve travelled roughly north from Naples to Rome and then Rimini, via a number of smaller towns and cities I’ve noticed there always seems to be something happening in Italy. If it’s not the Republic Day celebrations in Rome, then there’s the Pope giving an open-air mass in Genova or the pheasant and strawberry festival in Fano.
I wondered why. Is it that the large semi-official posters make events easy to discover? No, I realised as I watched the weather forecast on TV. Bright red suns ran across the length of Italy like the Scorcio! sketch on the Fast Show. It is guaranteed good weather between April and October.
It is this guarantee of good weather that enabled the Italian front to change so rapidly over the middle months of 1944. The mud that had vehicles and my uncle bogged down in Benevento over winter dries quickly. Defensive lines were broken, and Rome was liberated.
By the end of that summer my great uncle had travelled hundreds of miles from Rome to Forli, repairing tracks and stations in a number of towns. Following in his footsteps I find the whole thing exhausting, and I’m not doing any of the manual labour he was enduring. So he probably deserved his time at the beach as much as anyone. Crossing the Apennines via Assisi, his unit reached the Adriatic’s beach resorts.
The Adriatic has always sounded cold to me. Far from it. The beach umbrellas say different, as do the smiles and tan lines of his unit in a photograph on the beach. Staying at a sea-front hotel as he seems to have done (there weren’t a whole lot of tourists after all) I suppose is a good a gig as it gets in a war.
But then things could change as quickly as the floodwaters of the rivers my great uncle was bridging. He ended up in a hospital for six days, with a non-combat injury. That’s all I’ve been able to find out. While in his sickbed there was a second incident to his unit, on which I have been able to discover a little more.
My uncle’s supervising Lance Corporal (one up from private or sapper) went on a reconnaissance mission and never came back. His body wasn’t found for another two days, riddled with automatic gun fire. He is now buried in Ancona’s Commonwealth War Cemetery, just a short distance away from the beaches and holidaying tourists.
It is not a very pleasant thought to end on, but then war isn’t very pleasant. I get the feeling that the celebrations that erupted at the end of the war in Italy, then Europe and finally Japan were more out of a sense of relief than anything. ‘Thank god that’s over’ people everywhere were thinking, ‘my family our finally safe’.