Naples – Front Line Problem City

In March 1944 my uncle John Alldridge visited Naples a few months after it had been liberated and produced this report for the Manchester Evening News. – Jerry F


War brought disease and desolation in full measure to the Neapolitans – typhus, the destruction and spoliation of beautiful buildings, and not least the deliberate pollution by the Germans, before they abandoned the city, of its water supplies. Difficulties caused by the ruination of the reservoirs led to the all-too-familiar sight of queues for water. As can he seen here some Neapolitans had to resort to scooping water at the mouth of the main sewer, the only alternative to death from thirst.

Jerry F, Going Postal
Neapolitans resort to scooping water at the mouth of the main sewer.
Neapolitans at the sewer,
Reach plc
Licence CC BY-SA 2.0


They used to call it the City of Song. It was so gay, so picturesque, so everything that a tourist’s picture-postcard ought to be. There was a bay that nature must have created in a mood of exquisite inspiration. There was the only active volcano in Europe to turn the night sky into a picture of awful terror.

There were palm trees and quaint little cafes where you got the most marvellous food, my dear. And all day and all night there were hurdy-gurdys and guitars and love scenes played out on balconies. Of course there were noisome alleys where gaunt beggars picked furtively from overflowing dustbins. (But the best regulated tours never took you down the thousand dark alleys of Mussolini’s Italy.)

Forgotten Luxuries

They still sing in Naples. Every errand boy is still a would-be Caruso – the mechanic’s son who was born here and lies embalmed in full evening dress in the Campo Santo Cemetery. The barrel-organs, turned by ragged women with wizened babies clutching like tiny monkeys, still play “Funiculi Funicula” – and “Santa Lucia”. But the singing is quieter now, more forced. The barrel-organs have to park in side streets, for great, roaring lorries and tank convoys have the right of way on the narrow streets.

The streets are as crowded as ever. And the shops display high-priced luxuries that we have almost forgotten in Britain. But here again there is a change. Five years ago at this season the streets would be filled with tourists stretching their legs after a cramped three days from Southampton.

Instead there is every conceivable uniform in the Via Roma. There are French and British and Americans. Italian officers as dressy us ever, and swaggering to the last. Trim American WACS. Our own ATS and ENSA girls. Toc H. And Church of Scotland. American Red Cross. NAAFI and Post Exchange and Foyer du Soldat. And only 90 minutes’ truck-ride away is the front …

First Freed City

Sometimes a convoy of ambulances comes down as the tanks go up. And there is all hell let loose in the Via Roma as military police, yelling in four languages, try to sort things out.

Then it is that you realise that Naples is something more than just another Algiers or Cairo. For Naples, in truth, is a front-line city. It is more, perhaps, even more than that. It is the first freed city of Occupied Europe. Behind that façade of hectic, gimcrack gaiety a tremendous experiment is being worked out. The future of Europe will be affected by its results.

Come with me to the Town Hall. It stands in a quiet dusty square behind the shrill caterwauling of the Via Roma. Over the huge double gate the flag of Italy dangles limply between the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes, like a first offender between two stern but kindly policemen. A huge Carabiniere, in cocked hat and frock coat, stands guard, trying hard to look impressive.

Inside everything is dusty and dirty and drab beyond description. The courtyard is crowded. The staircase, filthy with orange peel and torn newspaper, is crowded. Every landing and hallway and lobby is crowded. It looks like an English fairground just before the gates close. Except that the Italians have not the easy good-natured tolerance of an English crowd. They have had to endure more, far more. Life has been almost a primitive struggle for survival, and even now they fight and shout and elbow and jostle. There is a voluble arm-lashing battle being fought out on every step.

Here is a parish priest, stout, unshaven, dusty, clutching his big umbrella as if it were some mystic staff of office. There, a haggard-eyed mother with a string of tired whimpering children. There is a young dandy smoking endless cigarettes, fighting off an old woman in a black shawl. There, a discharged ex-soldier, still wearing his ragged uniform, argues with a painted lady of the town.

Each of them has come here to have a problem solved. Perhaps the parish priest. wants permission to rebuild his battered church. The mother, maybe, needs permission to visit her sick husband in Bari. The young dandy would like the gracious signors Inglesi to sanction the opening of his none-too-clean little cafe to British troops. The lady of they town has a complaint to make against the long-suffering military police.

Thankless Task

Twelve months ago not one of them would have dared to set foot inside that sacred building. But the rumour has gone round that the Inglesi and Americanos are kind, perhaps a little soft.

Upstairs, in poky little offices where the plaster peels from the bomb-splintered ceilings, middle-aged gentlemen in American and British uniforms try hard to sort out the sheep from the goats. It Is an exhausting, thankless job they are doing.

Many unkind things have been said about A.M.G.O.T. or A.M.G. or A.C.C, or whatever title this shy anonymous body of men and women currently hides itself under. But its staff have a tremendous problem before them. They are all of them experts in their own line, be it economics or transport or labour. But they are used to dealing with less excitable citizens. They are handicapped by having to deal with people who have a strange language, a different outlook on life and different standards.

I have seen them at work. I know how hard, how conscientiously they work. I talked to one of them the other night. He wore the brass hat and red tabs of a full colonel. But in civil life he is one of the biggest employers of labour in Scotland.


“We sit there, we and the Americans,” he groaned exasperated, “trying to foresee the Italian point of view to this or that situation. The fact of the matter is the Italians have no point of view.”

And that is so very true. The Italians we have so far met have no point of view. They are abject in defeat. They will make no effort to help themselves. They are cynical, utterly disillusioned. Here and there a few public-spirited men try to co-operate.

Naples now has its first free newspaper in 20 years, Risorgimento. Only last week an exhibition of work by anti-Fascist artists was opened. But there are all too few of them. They are a pitiful drop in an ocean of apathy.

Twenty years of Fascist rule seem to have robbed these Italians of independence. But they say the Italians of the north are very different.

The octopus-like embrace of the Black Market threatens to throttle the life out of Italy. AMGOT imposes a reasonable price control. Potatoes, it says, shall not be sold for more than seven lire the kilo. My landlady had to pay 48 lire in the open market.

Food Distribution

AMGOT puts all cafes and restaurants out of bounds to troops so that there shall be a fair distribution of food for civilians. So dirty little touts try to lure British soldiers into their homes – “You lika nice bifstek. yes?” AMGOT forbids farm produce to be smuggled into the city for sale at exorbitant prices. So the farmers persuade pretty girls to cadge lifts into the city in Army lorries. They carry innocent-looking suitcases – which are stuffed with food. Only the other week a British officer discovered a secret hoard of olive oil stored away under the altar of a private chapel

Yes, this Military Government has a hard furrow to plough. Its staff spend long hours at their desks, wrangling with smooth-tongued interpreters. Sometimes they slip out for an afternoon at the San Carlo Opera where they doze through “Tosca” or “Traviata”. But they are back before the seven o’clock curfew to prepare endless agenda for interminable conferences. I have a feeling they will crack the nut wide open one day. They are that kind of men . . . But, maybe, they will have to change their tactics first

Meanwhile lorries roll on up the Via Roma. And every day the war is drawing an inch, a yard, a mile farther away. The back door is opening wider.

Notes (courtesy of Wikipedia)

A.M.G.O.T., later A.M.G. – Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories was the form of military rule administered by Allied forces during and after World War II within European territories they occupied.

A.C.C. – A system set up by the Allies afetr the War to manage their control of the defeated countries through Allied Commissions, often referred to as Allied Control Commissions (ACC), consisting of representatives of the major Allies.

Toc H – an international Christian movement. The name is an abbreviation for Talbot House, “Toc” signifying the letter T in the signal spelling alphabet used by the British Army in World War I.

Foyer du Soldat – The Home of the Soldier, an army institution for retired soldiers.

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Jerry F 2022