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Central Italy - Leaves and Christmas spent far from home - The Eternal City

by RichardCory

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John Cory
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30 October 2005

My father John Cory’s story from his memoir “A Span of Years” as left to the family, edited by Richard Cory.

In the middle of December I went on short leave to Florence, staying in a grand villa overlooking the town. The high spots were a grand piano in the villa, a visit to the cathedral and a seat in the opera house to ‘Manon’.

Towards Christmas the whole regiment went on rest, moving back to Perugia, billeted in the Station hotel. My room was on the 6th Floor and I had to stuff up one of the windows, the glass of which had not been replaced. There was central heating on the ground floor but not upstairs. According to Army Headquarters it was a period for re-training so we did a few computations, a guard and even a short survey observation scheme in a park, so that a record could go back to keep headquarters happy. The majority of our time was spent in canteens, film shows and I managed two orchestral concerts. We did, of course, visit a few bars but nobody seemed able to get the Christmas spirit.

Christmas Eve started with a regimental concert at the Mulacci theatre, comprising a band, imported Italian artists and sing-song, finishing up with free drinks at the bar.

Getting back to the Hotel there was a meal and after that the free bar was open for the rest of the evening and well into the night. I with a few pals finished up at 3.30am. and we had truly drowned our sorrows.

Sleeping all next morning I managed with the aid of a few aspirins to getup for Christmas dinner. This was a remarkable affair, held in the banqueting hall complete with white tablecloths, place settings and names, decorations, a menu and waiter service.

The combined cooks put on a splendid feast of roast turkey, chicken, pork, a variety of vegetables, Christmas pudding and mince pies. There was, of course, plenty of wine. We finished up with coffee, cognac, fruit, nuts and crackers.

A free Christmas tea followed some hours later at the Toc H Club and the day ended with a film show at the Cinema Lilli.

Three days later ‘Don’ troop was up and away over mountains and through treacherous passes to a village by the name of Esanataglia, the route being via Angeli, Foligono, Novera, Fabriano, and Matelica. Our billet was in a school run by nuns.

The locals were preparing for their festive celebrations and this commenced with the killing of the pigs. The slaughterhouse was in the middle of the village and from all around the peasants brought in their pigs. The actual killing was rather crude. The unfortunate animal was brought down and sat upon. Its throat was cut and a bowl was held to catch the blood. Its noise set up a frenzied chorus from the pigs awaiting their turn outside. The peasants believed in sharing, and for dinner on New Years Day we had roast pork.

By custom the peasants gave half of each pig to the ‘Padroni’ — landlord — and a third of the grain they produced.

Joss and I found a farmhouse about a mile from the village and we were able to warm ourselves by the huge log fire. We spent New Years Eve with the peasant farmer, his wife and two children and we got back to the billet at 2.00am in the morning.

Weather permitting, the snow by this time was over 2 feet deep. A visit in the evening became a regular thing. Our hosts had plenty of wine and insisted on giving us meals, such as meat with macaroni, fried eggs, roast pigeon, and roast pork with rosemary. We also got our clothes washed. Once again, these people would not take any money.

On the 16th January I went on 9 days leave to Rome. The journey took 15 hours by train, in carriages without heat or light, only relieved by a meal halt, half way. The billet was the naval academy, converted into a rest centre. It was just like a Butlins holiday camp, with every facility, even with the ‘Wakey — Wakey’ coming over the tannoy in the morning. Actually the concept and conversion was the brainchild of Butlin, who was a Major in the 8th. Army at the time. Another popular place was the Alexander Club, with canteens, bars and various forms of amusements. It was a converted large departmental store, about the size of Harrods.

Our party of five booked for the opera. We had a box and saw ‘La Boheme’.

The high spot was the visit to Vatican City and an audience with the Pope, in a party of fifty. I found it a most beautiful place. We walked into St. Peters square and then into the cathedral, in small parties with guides. Going into the Sistine Chapel we admired the wonderful roof painting by Leonardo de Vinci. Every new Pope is chosen in secret in this chapel, behind locked doors. On agreement the voting papers are burnt in a stove, the smoke comes out of a chimney in the square for all to see. We wandered through the art gallery and the museum, both with priceless treasures collected over many centuries, including gifts from past kings and princes.

Gathering in a large reception room we saw the Swiss guards, resplendent in their colourful uniforms and armed with lances. They lined up in two columns. The large doors opened wide and Pope Paul entered, borne on a litter. Mounting the Dias, he spoke to us for about ten minutes, starting with a welcome and ending with a blessing.

In the evening we had another bash at the opera, this time seeing ‘La Traviata’.

The rest of the time we spent seeing the sights, the Palatz Venezia where Mussollini used to give his speeches from the balcony, the Coloseum, the Forum, the Royal Place and the gardens.

The leave being over we left Rome Central at 1.00pm and this time the journey only took 10 hours to Jessi.

Re: Letters Letters home were censored and we could not say where we were. Doris and I had a code which we used. I could pinpoint my location. I used different forms of endearment in my letters home to Doris, which indicated certain letters in the text.

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