Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews  

(This is the seventh in a series of oral history narratives about WW2 in southern Italy. This is another item from Fred Hellman of Glen Cove, New York. Also, see this link for another item from Fred, as well as parts 4, 6 & 8, below)

Entries for WW 2 oral history
1 2

entry April 2007               
flag/vesuvius album cover)

Fred writes:

I just finished the book The Day of Battle by Rick Atkinson on the Sicilian-Italian WW2 campaign. It reminded me of an interesting occurrence of mine in Esperia [ed. note: a town in the Italian province of Frosinone between Naples and Rome] in 1944 when a buddy of mine and I were approached by a young girl who told us her mother was being held prisoner by a French officer and would we see what we could do to help. Our field artillery battery was attached at that time to General Juin's French Expeditionary Force which had Moroccan Goumiers [*note 1 below] for the dangerous work as infantrymen. They were awesome and colorful with their striped blankets, horses and daily wine portions. But in May of 1944 after finally breaking out of Cassino, they became feral, wild, criminal and were committing rape, murder, burglary and their officers did little about it until large protests by Americans forced General Juin to intercede. A number of them were hanged, imprisoned and deported and the general of my 13th Brigade was quoted by Rick Atkinson as protesting their crimes.
Tony Ribes, age 20, and I, age 20, went with the young girl to a house and she led us to the second floor where a Goumier soldier with a rifle was standing in front of a door to the alleged room where the mother was supposedly inside. In fractured high school French we asked him to open the door, and the Goumier, raising his rifle in the horizontal position, told us to scram (Allez! Vite!) We protested loudly until a French lieutenant came out from another room and and in even stronger terms repeated the Goumier's order to scram. As I recall he also threatened us with force. I remember telling him that the uniform he was wearing and the gun he carried were supplied by the United States and we were not going to leave without satisfaction.

We did sensibly retreat from the building and with the young lady went to the American Military Governor of Esperia in a nearby building and were allowed to tell our tale to a Major who promised to look into the situation and would we please come back next day for his findings. Next day, two idealistic kids from NYC returned and were told that indeed the woman was being held against her wishes for the pleasure of the French lieutenant and that the lieutenant was severely punished and "thank you boys, you two did a great job." Of course, Tony and I never did learn of the details of the punishment, but it satisfied our noble intentions. Atkinson reveals the extent of the deprivations caused by these Goumiers. The movie Two Women
[*note 2 below] was based on these incidents, I suppose. I have not seen the film.
And of further interest to my family, I often tell them of the spaghetti meal Tony and I prepared on Lake Albano with Caruso Spaghetti and Del Monte canned tomato sauce my parents sent to  me from NY. Tony, being of Italian parents, knew enough to go to the nearest village to buy onions (cipolle as he called them). So here in the land of pasta, we cooked American spaghetti and American tomato sauce in Italian water inside our American helmets while the Germans were retreating north and probably on the other side of Lake Albano.

note 1: Fred did some research and included this information: "Goumier is a term used for Moroccan soldiers, who served in auxiliary units attached to the French Army, between 1908 and 1956. The term was also occasionally used to designate native soldiers in the French army of the French Sudan and Upper Volta during the colonial era. The word originated in the Maghrebi Arabic word qum (яс), which means 'stand up'. Later a goum was a unit of 200 soldiers. Three or four goums made up a tabor. An engine or groupe was composed of three tabors. Each goum was a mix of different tribes. Initially they were recruited predominantly from the Chaouia regions of Sidi Boubaker, Ouled Said, Settat, Kasbeth Ben Ahmed, Dar Bouazza, and Sidi Slimane."

note 2: The reference is to the 1960 film directed by Vittorio de Sica, starring Sophia Loren. Two Women is the English title. The original Italian title is La Ciociara, which means "The woman from Ciociaria," an area between Naples and Rome along the main Allied invasion route in WWII and an area in which civilian women were particularly subject to the savage behavior of Moroccan troops in the French army. The film was adapted from Alberto Moravia's 1958 book, la Ciociara. There is a seperate entry here on the area and incidents that he refers to.

(Photo credits:  I have been unable to trace credit/copyright information for the record album graphic of the stylized Mt. Vesuvius/US flag. If anyone has accurate information, I would be happy to list the appropriate credit.)

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