Cassino, May 19, 2004
I joined Wolf and his family for the German memorial service high in the mountains behind Snake’s Head Ridge. Later we saw the spot where a large number of British tanks had been destroyed. They had all trundled up the mountain one behind the other along an old mule track – and had, it seemed, been taken out one by one too. Whoever had thought up that idea had clearly not been a mastermind of military strategy.
Afterwards, I finally bid the Kumbergs farewell and headed up to Rome. True to his word, Stephen Hastings has arranged to see his former Partisan friends while I am over in Italy and so I am flying from Rome to Milan and then driving to Piacenza. This time I caught my flight without a hitch, picked up the car in Milan and found my way to the hotel. Stephen and his girlfriend, Caroline, were already there, as was his cousin – also Stephen Hastings, and who lives in Milan – and Giovanni Insom, the son of his right-hand man in Italy, Giorgio Insom. Stephen was a on sparkling form, clearly both happy and excited to be back. Soon after, two former partisans and old colleagues of Stephen’s, Muro and Bruno, turned up. We all headed out in the main piazza where fifty-nine years before they had held their victory parades at the end of the war. Muro had been in the Italian Army before the armistice in September 1943, but had then simply walked back home to Piacenza. A few months later he joined the Partisans, but I asked him what it was that had made him make the decision to rejoin the fight, but on the side of the Allies. â€˜When you see German troops on the corner of your home town and you watch them breaking down doors and arresting people you realise you have to do something,’ he told me. It made me think about Iraq. No wonder American troops are having such a hard time with the local populations.
Dinner at the hotel where everyone drunk too much and Stephen, Muro and Bruno began singing old Partisan songs. Stephen was clearly in his element.