Heroes Return Blog – Stories from Second World War veterans’ trips

Aftermath to the war in Italy

In 1944 ex-Royal Artillery man Bill Parr, then 18, from St Helens, Lancashire was posted to Eboli, near Naples, for the final onslaught against German forces in Italy

Just as Bill Parr was about to see action in the field, the European war came to an end.

“I was pleased that it was over but I felt disappointed that I had not had the chance to do anything.

“When I was 15 and in the Home Guard, I used to pray that the war would not finish until I got there.”

Deployed to collect armaments and ammunition in the wake of the Allied army, Bill travelled through war-torn Italy where he witnessed the terrible legacy of the German occupation.

“As we moved up towards Milan we came to a place with a long avenue of trees. Hanging from each one were the bodies of Italian partisans executed by the Germans. In the village they told us that the partisans had been in jail for blowing up enemy communication lines.

The Germans had told the partisans they would be released but when they came out of the prison and started back to their villages the Germans then re-captured them and hanged them as a reprisal for the damage they had caused.

“A bit later we saw a young woman being dragged out of a building by a group of men. They were beating her and she was screaming. We felt awful, but we didn’t know what to do. Our commanding officer told us not to do anything and just to get on with our job of collecting guns.

We found out later that the girl had been collaborating with the Germans.” When Bill eventually reached Milan he also witnessed the bodies of Benito Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci strung upside down from the roof of a petrol station. “Their faces looked battered and his girlfriend had a rope tied to her skirt to stop it falling over her face.”

However, despite the terrible things he had witnessed, Bill found personal spiritual comfort from one special meeting.

“When we got to Rome a group of us went to the Vatican and were invited to an audience with Pope Pius XII. It was a great experience, I even asked him to bless some rosary beads and a crucifix, which I brought home for my mum.” Now aged 84, Bill used his Heroes Return 2 grant to return to Italy, and in particular to visit the monastery and the Polish Cemetery at Monte Cassino.

He says, “When we went through Cassino after the battle, there was hardly a brick standing. I went back to see what it all looks like now.”

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