Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby
There is no scarcity of personal memoirs of World War II. Yet Eric Newby’s narrative of war, escape, love, and peasant farmers in Italy’s Apennine mountains in 1944 has lasted thirty or more years since its first publication in 1971. It keeps coming back in new editions because it speaks to the basic humanity we all share and because it documents in warm, readable prose the role of Italy’s partisan resistance fighters during the country’s liberation by the allied forces.
This book has special meaning to me and to Paola. One of her uncles was a resistance fighter and was executed by the Nazis during the liberation of Italy in 1943. At our headquarters on the farm outside Forli, Paola’s aunt and cousins still reminisce about the war years, telling stories of the resistance fighters and their fear of bombings and Nazi reprisals as the allies moved up the boot.
So any of you traveling to Italy on one of the following ExperiencePlus! bicycle tours will pedal through the same countryside where this story unfolds: Bike Across Italy (either Venice to Pisa or Pisa to Venice), Venice to Florence, and our Culinary Cycling Circus from Parma to Ravenna. Our Tuscany tours, too, including our Villas and Vineyards walking tour take place just to the south of the Apennines, where resistance fighters were also active.
Newby is British and was captured in Sicily in August 1942 while engaged in a covert operation to protect and prepare Malta for its role in the allied invasion of Italy. While in prison he broke his ankle and landed in an Italian prisoner hospital in the Po Valley near Parma.
It was during this hospitalization in the fall of 1943, as the allies advanced north through the countryside, that Newby experienced the real-life dramas that unfold in Love and War. The Italian government had collapsed, and the Germans were in disarray, when Newby and his fellow prisoners essentially walked out of their prison camp and into the arms of the Italian resistance fighters in the nearby mountains — the mountains of Parmesan cheese, prosciutto, pasta and red wine. His broken ankle required further hospitalization, so he landed in the maternity ward of a nearby civilian hospital. But he was quickly forced to leave this haven as the Germans regrouped and fell into line along the foothills of the Apennines for a last stance against the advancing allied armies.
The rest of Newby’s story describes his ordeals hiding in farmer’s attics, barns and caves as he eluded the Germans and was finally recaptured by a remnant of Italy’s fascist militia. During all of these struggles, he met his future wife, a Slovenian nurse volunteering in the hospitals near Parma, and hence, the "love" portion of the title.
Newby went on to become the Travel Editor of the Manchester Guardian and has published several anthologies and several books. Love and War in the Apennines remains one of his best.