I have just finished reading “War in Val d’Orcia by Iris Origo. The book was first published in 1947 so I am only 76 years behind the times. In 1947 I was either in the last two terms of the second form at school or possibly, after September, in the third form, so perhaps I might be allowed to excuse myself for not knowing about, or reading the book before now. And I would not have read it now were it not to have been mentioned in the “Church Times” in a short article by readers and contributors about books they has read recently which had impressed them for some reason, and I think it was Graham James, a former Bishop of Norwich, who spoke very well of it and sent me off on another one of my trips to abebooks.co.uk
Briefly, Iris Origo nee Cutter, born in England, married Antonio Origo in Italy in 1924 and they bought La Foce, settled there , and farmed and improved it. By 1944 the Allies were advancing northwards up the Italian mainland and the Origos had refugee children and others dependent upon them. The book is a diary from 30th January 1943 to 5th July 1944 by which time the Germans had left the area and the Allied Military Government had taken over. So in these few months they dealt and lived continuously with the German Army coming and going, pro-Fascist Italians, anti-Fascist Italians, who were themselves not a united body, partisans, escaped Allied prisoners of war trying to get south to join up with the advancing Allied Forces, and the great mass of Italian Peasantry simply trying to live and survive with little food and war all around them. She wrote when she could and his what she wrote. She had no particular theme, just a first hand record of what happened around them and the latest news (if any) and rumours of which there were plenty.
I found it all quite “unputdownable” and got so drawn in to the situation that sometimes I just had to stop reading and have a change of occupation. The tension stayed with me at night and I could not stop the situations I had just read about seeming to be very real and actually involving me as though I was there. We hear a lot about various war time events such as D Day, the Blitz, the Holocaust and so forth, but the situation in Italy gets relatively little mention and when it does it is that of the Allied Forces. The story here is that of the people who were also there, lived through it all, but did not get filmed or written about for audiences at home. As a record and illustration of what life is like in and for a civilian population in a war zone it is up there in the first rank, and for those people wondering what life is like in the Russian occupied areas of the Ukraine, a valuable insight.