RETURN TO CAMPOMARINO/BIFERNO - SIXTY YEARS ON.
I’m afraid that now you have to hear my latest news. Cynthia and I had booked to stay in Sorrento at the Hotel Vesuvio for two weeks in early June 2003. In a recent letter to Giuseppe I had mentioned this fact - and then it all started to happen! By return I had a letter from Giuseppe to say that as we were in Italy, no way could we go back without visiting Campomarino. We had to visit as his and the City’s guests - Giuseppe can be very persistent and persuasive.
Giuseppe and his friend Giovanni, who spoke English and was to be one of our interpreters, drove from Campomarino and picked Cynthia and I up from our hotel on Friday the 13th June. We drove over the Apennine mountains and were deposited at our hotel~ which, incidentally, had been built on the site of one of our old Marauder aircraft dispersals.
We were taken to Giuseppe’s and Margherita’s for dinner which is an apartment in the centre of Campomarino. They had other guests, a ground engineer who serviced the Italian Baltimores, a retired General who was a pilot on one of the I.C.B.A.F. Italian Squadrons. Plus another interpreter, Paola, who was a Canadian Italian so there were no communication problems. A dinner for ten was enjoyed followed, at 1230, by a walk around Campomarino, unbeknown to us there was a St Anthony’s Fiesta so all streets were strung with lights, a stage and singing in the square and, of course, crowds of people enjoying themselves. You will remember the church, this was beautiful, lit up inside and out. I remembered the main street and the church but that was about all. Giuseppe pointed out many railings and gates that had been made from the surplus PSP.
I must say that from the moment that we met Giuseppe, his family and his friends we were made to feel completely at home - as if we had known them for years. Back to our hotel at 145am.
Saturday morning, the 14th, we were picked up at 9 30 and were given the grand tour of the 1944/45 sites. First was the runway. Naturally all the PSP has gone and has been replaced with sun beds, umbrellas, chairs etc and, at the back, a line of restaurants, shops, play areas and all the paraphernalia of a busy tourist resort mostly used by Italians. Tourism is now one of Campomarino’s major industries. The centre of the runway has almost completely gone where the sea has eroded it so there is now a graceful curve over the whole 2KM. This would have made it difficult for a take off!
The map of the airfield on page 306 of Pete’s journal was very accurate, with the exception of the railway station, which should have been in the centre above the “Marshy Area” on the sketch. Peter Kennedy and Pete Hatcher were complemented on their excellent memories.
We were then taken to see all the domestic sites of 25 SAAF, the two I.C.B.A.F. Italian Squadrons, I don’t remember the 13 RHAF site and, of course, our old site which was the only one still not developed. The only thing still there is the 12 foot square concrete building which is on one or two of the pictures in the journal. If you remember, the football pitch and the cinema were close by and houses are now built on the spot where we used to stand and look down at the Biferno flowing out to Termili and the sea.
The road from the village to the airfield which, in ‘45, was the only one to the airfield and beach, was barricaded off due to damage caused by the recent earthquake. A new wider road has now been constructed to replace the narrow twisty road that we remember.
We finished at 1230 and after a visit to our hotel for “freshening up” it was straight to a very smart restaurant in Campomarino for lunch where our group was joined by the Mayor. We finished at 4 30 so we had half an hour to return to the hotel to shower and change into a suit for Giuseppe’s Presentation at 5 pm.
We made it by 5 20- it was around 30° plus C.
I must talk now on Giuseppe’s Presentation.
Giuseppe has been researching the history of the five airfields built around Campomarino from 1943 by the Allies. He has used local civic and military sources, the local older people who remember, people from all over the world, American, Canadians, Australians, South Africans, NZAF, British, etc who actually flew from these airfields. People like Pete and our Association members. From all these people Giuseppe obtained authentic and accurate details. All this knowledge he was now going to present to the people of Campomarino and hopes that it will become part of their history of Mouse and that it will be taught in their schools.
Giuseppe was making his Presentation with the help of all the latest technology. The screen was about 12 feet square and Giovanni, his friend and assistant, controlled the programme from a very complicated key board whilst Giuseppe did the narrative bit. During the three hour Presentation, at appropriate points, Paola telephoned six people in various countries via a telephone link and, as they all spoke English, she interpreted to Italian for the audience, all this was heard over the loud speakers. Unfortunately, Paola was unable to make contact with three other bods - one who was our own Jim Dunlop who is in constant contact with Giuseppe.
The Mayor and Margherita introduced the Presentation to the 150 people present and at appropriate times the Italian pilot and engineer made their verbal contribution for the I.C.B.A.F. Sqns and I on behalf of the 39 Sqn Association. (1 found out about having to speak the day that I was picked up) Paola interpreted and I hope that I did the Squadron justice.
As we were an hour late in starting I was also got nobbled to do an interview for the local TV station. What a life - but someone has to do it!
Overall, it was a fantastic three hours, professionally carried out, of the history of the Campomarino Airfields - much appreciated by all who were there.
At this point in the proceedings, with the knowledge and consent of our committee and on your behalf; I presented Giuseppe with a painting of a Marauder, this, of course, was one painted by Roly. We did this in appreciation of all the co-operation and work that (3iuseppe had done on behalf of our Squadron and our Association. He was deeply touched and thanked us all. Giuseppe can be justly proud of what he has achieved in his young years and he says that he still has a lot more work to do before he has completed his dream. The one sadness was that Pete Hatcher was not there; with his background and knowledge he would have made an invaluable contribution.
At 9 30 we were all driven to a Vinery-Restaurant about 20 miles away at Larino (anyone remember it?) There would be about thirty of us, the “gang” plus local dignitaries. At 1030pm we commenced dinner with the last loaded platter coming at 1245 am. Conversation flowed thick and fast - names often mentioned were the two Wallers, Rex and Chris, Pete Hatcher, Jim Dunlop and Roly Bell. Roly contributed a two page questionnaire (78 Questions) for Giuseppe for which he was extremely grateful - a lot of which has been used in the overall history.
We eventually arrived back at our hotel at 1 3Oam, did our packing as we were being picked up for our return journey to Sorrento at 7 30 am (It was originally 5 30 so as to avoid the Sunday crowded roads into the Sorrento Peninsular) I believe Giuseppe eventually wished he had stuck to his guns to start at 5 30 as we were in queues for two and a half hours. Do you remember the 2 KM tunnel from Naples to Sorrento ? we were in that for 1 1/2 hours ! The whole journey took 5 hours instead of three. Giuseppe eventually arrived at Campomarino at 5 pm. What a star.
These three days were three of the most enjoyable and interesting that Cynthia and I have spent for many a year. We were looked after magnificently as if we were royalty, we were members of their family. For this we thank Giuseppe and Margherita sincerely.
I have rambled on and on at great length and if it bored you then I apologizes BUT I felt that you should know what is happening, particularly those who were at Campomarino - it may bring back pleasant memories and remind you of some of the good times that you had in 1944/45. For the wives and relatives it will give an insight into a part of your loved ones lives which you can only get by word of mouth. 1 say sincerely that I was proud to represent 39 Squadron Marauder Association at the presentation by -Giuseppe Marini in Campomarino.
Frank Swan. A member of Eddie Coe’s crew now our Association Secretary.
View Site Map