Barletta, Adriatic coast of Italy
My Dearest Olive,
I am now able to tell you that we are in Italy. We arrived at a certain port (1 RIF disembarked in Taranto on 25 September) and found conditions not at all good in the town. Practically all the shops were empty of stock and the food and water situation appeared fairly acute. We camped outside the town for a couple of days and then moved forward. I was fortunate in journeying by road with the CO (the war diaries of 1 RIF say the battalion set off for Barletta on the Adriatic coast on 28/29 September, mainly by train).
We had a stop for about three hours in a very pleasant town. The streets were full of people, the shops were doing a busy trade, and, except for a few people in uniform, one would never have dreamt of a war. The two COs went off together and Frankie Lyness, who is IO of the London Irish, and I wandered around together. We had several ice creams and very delicious they tasted and had quite a good lunch. I bought two pairs of silk stockings – at least I hope they are, and the girl assured me they were, but language difficulties did not help the sale. Also, I had the problem of what size you took.
Apparently stockings are rationed here because the girl asked for coupons and as we obviously had none, an Italian obligingly stepped forward and gave us his coupons, which seemed a particularly generous action. I am forwarding them under separate cover. You had better send me a list of things you would like and when the opportunity arises, I will see what I can buy. Let me have sizes and colours for such things as gloves.
All the Italians in this town seemed most friendly and obliging. The women appear a much better type than the men – some of the girls were very pretty and very well dressed and were obviously quite modern misses. I thought several times how much I wished you were there with me, darling. We were very sorry to depart from a town, which with a few alterations might well have been a good class English seaside resort. It took us away for a few hours from the discomforts of our normal existence.
Other Italian towns we have passed are very dirty and the stench is appalling. The sanitation seems to be of the most primitive kind and most of the people look very dirty. They continue to be most friendly and, whenever one stops in a car, you can be assured of having swarms of people around you in a minute. The children are quite attractive but many are suffering from sores. The streets are rather narrow and winding and the people, judging by the way in which they cross, appear unused to much traffic. The main roads are very good.
At present, our main trouble is mosquitoes which are very bad around here and are most vicious. Immediately the sun starts to set, they come out and keep up a series of determined attacks. During the day, the flies are as bad as ever and the heat is still intense although it is a trifle cooler in the evening.
Remember little Hill, the good looking youngster who asked you for a dance and talked about my route march prowess. He was with this battalion but has been sent home minus an arm. Also, Teague, the very small lad who used to fetch my kit when I was orderly officer in Omagh, has been sent home stone deaf. The romance and glory of war seems singularly lacking out here.
I hope the dogs are well and active and not causing too much trouble. I miss you all terribly and it will be marvellous to you again.
All my love, precious – to you and Valerie.
Your adoring husband
Editor’s note: 1 RIF stayed in the Barletta area until 5 October when it was sent by sea to Termoli.