My Dearest Olive,
I am writing this letter in a town (Rionero) which in normal times would probably be considered a beauty spot but which has been very badly damaged, although that does not of course alter the beauty of the surrounding countryside. All around us are mountains and everywhere the ground is covered with snow. It is a glorious and majestic sight and difficult to associate with war. It is very cold but the air is very exhilarating? The Company Commander went forward on a preliminary recce, as we were taking over a position from another regiment (2 Lancs Fusiliers) and I had two days sitting on top of a hill in a small hut completely cut off from the world as we were snow bound. The Company, that my own Company was taking over from, was marooned up there for an entire 24 hours and I spent the time with them and have seldom been so bored and fed up. There was a complete lack of any organisation and no discipline. The more I see of other people’s regiments, the more I like my own. I was very glad when at last my Company arrived to take their place and it was amazing how quickly we got things changed and improved conditions. There is no doubt, even though I say it myself, that ‘B’ Coy really is an excellent Company with a very good spirit.
Our role at present time is a fairly static one. We sit facing the Germans but there is a river in between us and it is a ‘front’ in which very little is happening which is quite pleasant for a change. Occasionally, they send over a few shells and occasionally we do the same but provided we keep a minimum of movement during the day, there is very little damage and we have managed to make ourselves fairly comfortable.
There is an English woman living in this town who married an Italian about 20 years ago. She is rather well educated and is pleasant to talk to and has two nice little daughters aged 9 and 6. They speak quite good English. When Italy declared war, she was interned but released 3 months later. The Germans only came to this town comparatively recently and every day they used to line up all the young men in the town and drive them off in trucks for various manual jobs. When they evacuated the town, they blew up most of the buildings and took a number of the young men with them and they have not been seen or heard of since. Prior to this, they drove most of the civilians out of the town and this woman with her two girls and some friends lived in a small hut on a mountain for about 5 weeks. Her husband was caught in the attack of Naples and she has not heard of him since, and there is no civilian hospital service. She tells me that there were not many Fascists around here: most of them professed to support Fascism to live in peace and quietness and most were very apathetic and sceptical about the war even when it appeared to be going well for the Axis. She used to regularly listen to the BBC. Actually, the Italians here are very friendly and helpful and one usually finds that when they have been in close contact with the Germans. She says that despite all the propaganda, the Italians have never liked the Germans but there was some very bitter propaganda against Great Britain before the war which misled a lot of people although they have always had very friendly feelings towards USA. It is amazing how many Italians have been to America. They seem to go there for a certain number of years, make some money, come back and buy a few houses and live on the rent.
The news from Russia gets better and better. It is great to think they are almost on the old Polish border. Apart from a rather painful sore on my left foot, I am quite well. It is amazing how the sores keep developing, and it must be something lacking in the diet. At times, it makes walking an uncomfortable business.
Hope you and Valerie are very well, darling, and not feeling the cold. I am longing to be with you again.
All my love and kisses.