A Visit to Campania

Report on the talk given on May 25th by Jill Jones.

Jill’s Father, William (Bill) Beechey was born (1920) and bred in Princes Risborough where his mother ran a successful drapery shop, initially in what is now the Chip Shop in the Market Square and secondly in the premises now occupied by Wainwrights.  With the advent of World War Two he joined the Territorials and soon transferred to the Coldstream Guards training as a signaller.  It was his war experiences in Italy that formed the fascinating, respectful and often moving account given by Jill, his daughter.

With the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards he arrived in the Naples region in November 1943.  By this date the German army had been driven northwards and had established their defensive Gustav Line and their strategic stronghold at Monte Cassino. 

Based on numerous letters sent to his elder sister and later some postcards to his wife, plus research into the Battalion’s war record, Jill was able to give a vivid account of the grim conditions in the mountainous region of Campania and the regiment’s attempt to capture the German’s outpost on Monte Camino (2388metres).  The harsh winter conditions were illustrated by original campaign photos.  Army clothing and supplies were often inadequate and frostbite was a continuing problem as were any adequate sleeping conditions.  These ranged from sheds, bombed cottage ruins, convents and churches and just occasionally a surviving Italian household where the luxury of a bath might have been possible.

Obviously, for military security letters home from overseas forces could not report on any details that might give information to the Germans.  What Bill’s letters did provide was a remarkable account of his free time, enjoying ice creams and other Italian food in Naples (although he was not that taken with the wine then available!), going to the San Carlo Opera Company of Naples when performing in Caserta and seeing many of the established Italian operas (in itself a remarkable opportunity in a war torn region so soon after its liberation).

Bill suffered from a kidney stone brought on by the severe conditions and lack of water. He was operated on and after convalescing was sent for office duties in the Royal Palace of Caserta (built by the Bourbon Kings from 1752 and modelled on Versailles).  The Palace had been taken over by the Allied Forces as their operational headquarters.  For Bill to be billeted there must have seemed like untold luxury after the grim conditions he had been experiencing.  In December 1945 Bill got leave to be married to Miss Edna Stone at Princes Risborough Church.  Some six months later he finally returned home to settle with Edna in Summerleys Road.  This was to become Jill’s childhood home.

Jill and Richard had very recently returned from a holiday in the Campania.  With photographs taken during their trip we were able to bridge the 70 year gap in the scenery and locations experienced by the Allied Forces and this alone provided a very direct link to the war years experienced by Jill’s Father.