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Movietone at War: Seventy years on

15th March 1944 – On this day the Second Battle of Cassino opened.  The town of Cassino was on a mountain to the east of the Monastery which had already been flattened.  Paul Wyand and Martin Gray were determined to get to the front to get a good view of the assault.  In the car they carried their American tent colleagues plus a third who had joined them for the ride.  He was Sherman “Monty” Montrose of United Press.

As they left the main highway to take a back road, they were stopped by an American colonel.  He said that that road was under continual German observation and that they had been firing at any movement they saw on it.

Paul explained that if they were to take pictures of the battle they had no choice but to follow the road into the hills.  The colonel pointed out that if they found an uninterrupted view of the town, then they, in turn, would be in full view of the Germans.

The gallant pressmen drove on and found their ideal observation and filming point.

They found a spot between two haystacks where there was a tree.   The tree provided visual cover.   Paul took a saw from the car’s tool box and almost sawed through the trunk of the tree.   He set up his camera behind the tree and when the bombing started, he pushed the tree over and now had uninterrupted viewing of the scene.

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J26131, Italien, Monte C...

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J26131, Italien, Monte Cassino, Zerstörungen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Paul Wyand wrote:

“The American bombers were punctual to the second, and the waves came in at fifteen-minute intervals until the early afternoon.   Cassino received an infinitely more severe pounding than the monastery, and the blast rolled up to us in waves powerful enough to shake the camera on its tripod and tighten my ribs.
 
When the bombing had ended an artillery barrage began, and by three o’clock Cassino was a flattened heap of rubble.  We packed our cameras into the car and were about to drive off when we were spotted by the Germans in the Liri Valley, to the left of Cassino.  Fortunately their first two shots failed to explode, giving us time to rush from the car and hltr as best we could behind the haystacks.  The range was constant and our protection so flimsy as to be non-existent, yet, by some miracle, none of the shells fell near enough to give any of us a scratch.
 
The Germans kept us pinned down for half an hour, and as soon as the firing stopped we bundled back into the car and drove like the devil to Presenzano where a Mosquito was waiting to fly our material to England.”

Not only was this the normal way to get the rushes back to England, it was also the means, in reverse, of getting replacement rawstock.

Paul Wyand noted, at this time:

“Repairs to equipment, and to the car, depended to a great extent upon improvisation, and in this my early training as a mechanic proved to be of untold value.  No R.E.M.E. (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) unit ever refused help, and in the absence of gin or beer I often said thank-you by supplying a few feet of 35mm film for newly acquired Leicas.”

21st March 1944 – Paul Wyand left his tent at Presenzano and looked toward Naples.   The sky was darkened by ugly rolling clouds of heavy smoke.  He guessed that the city had been bombed during the night.  At 9 a.m. with Martin Gray he drove toward the city.  They approached the outskirts of San Sebastiano where the discovered that the palls of smoke were not caused by bombing. Vesuvius had erupted, the volcano’s most violent eruption since 1905. They saw a wall of lava, twelve feet high, creeping through the town.

Paul Wyand by Henry Carr

Paul Wyand by Henry Carr

Paul Wyand wrote:

“The town was filled with a great, throbbing heat, and I filmed scenes that could have come from a grotesque science-fiction nightmare; the hot grey wave of smoking slag, three yards high, advancing through every possible aperture;  people rushing from houses with a few pathetic possessions into trucks and carts; men and women, clutching religious effigies, praying at the edge of the burning, moving wall, edging back inches at a time as the grey lava crept irresistibly towards their knees…

…I thought how ironic it was that these men, women and children who, with their homes and treasures, had escaped the ravages of war, should now be threatened and destroyed by a sudden belch of angry fury from the stomach of the earth.”

© Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com, 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 terencegallacher.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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