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Movietone at War: Eating in Italy February 1944

February 14th 1944 – cameraman Paul Wyand and soundman Martin Gray were still in the region of Cassino.  At the beginning of the month the advanced headquarters had moved up to Presenzano which was about a twenty-minute ride from the front line. Here they were based.  While on base, they would have slept in tented accommodation and eaten with the officers.  The army serviced their camera car and provided its fuel. They had to do their own sewing and ironing, if they could find an iron and an ironing board. While away from the base, they fed themselves from rations provided.  Often, they had to forage for food.

Paul Wyand wrote:

We set up our tent in an olive grove there and learned that we were to share it with Bob Donahue, of American Pathe, and Henry “Griff” Griffin, a still photographer of American Associated Press.  We lived together in the foulest conditions, yet, remarkably, never once did any of us quarrel with the others.  Always well stocked with jerry-cans of wine, our tent became a popular social centre.

The Abbey of Monte Cassino in ruins after bein...

The Abbey of Monte Cassino in ruins after being destroyed by Allied bombing, February 1944. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wyand and Gray spent the morning with their camera facing Cassino.  Nothing happened.  They had stopped alongside a ruined farmhouse which they decided would be their temporary accommodation. Paul was on top of his camera car.  He turned round and was surprised by what he saw on the ground below him.  Staring a him was a small boy that he thought was about nine years old. His name was Emilio and he told Paul that he was thirteen years of age.   Paul gave him some chocolate and a packet of iron rations. Iron rations included Corned Mutton, vitamized crackers, tea, jam, chocolate, chewing gum, salt, sugar, grapefruit juice and cigarettes.  Each packet was enough for eight men for a day.

Emilio told them that his home was in a cellar of a ruined farmhouse.  He lived on berries and roots and whatever he could scrounged from the troops, both German and Allied.
The following day, the crew returned to the farmhouse where they had met Emilio.  He then led them through the minefield to another farmhouse where he lived with his mother and two sisters.

Wyand and Gray decided to stay the night at their bombed-out farmhouse awaiting the artillery barrage against Cassino. The following morning they received a visitor.

Paul Wyand wrote:

An American captain appeared from over a ridge.  After we had introduced ourselves he asked “Do you like spaghetti ?”.  It was such an odd question, coming as it did in the middle of No Man’s Land, that we merely nodded.  “Then follow me”, he said, and we trooped after him down the ridge to a blitzed house.  Its kitchen had survived, and in it, with two G.Is looking on, an Italian was busily cooking the biggest dish of spaghetti I have ever seen.  The raggedly dressed civilian was Toni, the owner of the house.  He had worked in Detroit and spoke English, and after he had welcomed us, he went into the garden and dug up two bottles of wine he had buried there. Raw materials for the pasta had been supplied by the two G.Is.
Toni told me that his wife and family had gone off to shelter with relatives in the mountains, while he had stayed behind to look after his aged parents.  True peasants, they had refused to budge from their plot of land, war or no war.
We sat in a circle – three American soldiers, two war correspondents, Toni and Emilio and settled down to the strangest meal I have ever eaten.    

Paul was informed that the artillery barrage against Cassino would take place the following morning at 09.30.

© Terence Gallacher and, 2014.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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