ROME

An account of the first day of Bert's leave in Rome, in pencil on 6 sheets of paper.

[Prior to employment in the insurance business he had been a stone mason and had an eye for architecture. Rome did not disappoint on that score. However, his parents were "Chapel" and both had been lay preachers in Rosedale Abbey on the North York moors, so it is fair to say that his upbringing had not best prepared him for what else he found in 20th century Rome.]

 

A few impressions of Rome and brief Diary 

I arrived in the Capitol of Italy at 9AM of the 9th May 1918. After a 24 hours journey in crowded trains felt ready for a clean up and something to eat. The station is fairly large but nothing out of the common. Of course the first item on the programme was to report to the R.T.O. Evidently English soldiers are far and few between here as we were the centre of attraction and could hear heated arguments as to our nationality French, American or Englese. The gorgeous uniforms of the porters, police and higher officials were most impressive. Brilliant colours, elaborate hats, clanking swords etc. Officers and men of several nations were strutting about vying I suppose to compete with the “Base” wallahs. Rather a good thing that the weather is kind here or I can see some elaborate uniforms going west. Still the seedy khaki drew greatest attention so of course we must stride about as though we had taken possession of the place.

We left the station to find the Soldiers Club. An Italian who could speak English and his friend who could not attached themselves to us as guides and soon began to push postcards, maps, photos, guides and heaven knows what else at us. Had I not severely choked him off in language more forcibly than polite he would have had my money to the last lire and I would have been able to set up a stationers shop on my own. He would find us rooms but they would be dear, so I gave him his final dose of verbiage and lost him using Italian freely.

His friend professed to be the guide and of course he lightened our pockets of due liras each. We found the wash house and after a shave clean up wash etc felt ready for business so we went upstairs to the Club room and had 2 boiled eggs bread and butter and two cups of tea each for L1.20 which is cheap. We then made for the A.M.P., who has a Bueno place in a Piazza full of fern trees, palms and fountains. After being fixed up there we hunted for dinner. We were constantly being pestered to death with English speaking Italians selling post cards and souvenirs of one sort or another. All the half maimed, blind and lazy appeared to be chasing us Englese, and strings of Italian which we couldn't understand and all the time with outstretched hands and the most down dog imploring look were drawing pennies and twopenny bits out of our pockets like lightening.

My first impression was that Rome looked fairly Modern. Great shops were just closing for their half day off. We dropped into an “Express Bar Cafe” to investigate and came out with fried nuts and figs to the value of 5 liras which were wrapped up and pushed onto us whether we wanted them or not. They were so anxious to pluck us that they forgot to charge us L2 for a bottle of beer. We wandered about like lost sheep and stumbled into a restaurant. Immediately the quiet of the place was broken by bags of orders to various waiters, skivvies etc. After a great polava I managed to get us a respectable dinner of Vegetable Soup. Fried vegetable which we thought at first sight was frogs, cheese bread and beer. This cost us L5 each and was a decent show.

We then strolled about and in our strolling viewed the Monuments, a Vittorio Emanuele II, which is a great piece of architecture. The golden figures and standards showing up the rare carvings of the building. It is a marvellous piece of work throughout. The next point of interest was the Piazza Colonna which contains an old Egyptian column surmounted by a bronze figure. We returned via the Fontana delle Naiadi to Piazza di Termini where cars stop and within 50 yards of our hotel, Hotel Rima.We had a wash clean up again and a sleep which lasted us until 7 pm. Where we again set forth in quest for rations and finding a slap up restaurant near the Monument to Emanuel II we had a good dinner once more. Soup, fish, greens, cheese, fruit. We were still the magnet for all eyes which became tiring.

As we returned we passed the monument of Garibaldi which is a handsome piece of sculpture and bronze. We decided to visit a cinema to pass away the evening and the display was more horrible than Madame Tussauds Chamber of Horrors. I was absolutely disgusted and pleased to get out of such a shocking show. We passed along the Nazionale and at the ernest solicitation of a door porter entered what proved to be after investigation one of the lowest type of Music Hall (spare the name), that it has been my lot to visit. As we were the only English Tommies present we received an ovation which was more than a little embarrassing. The place though small was packed with Italian soldiers and a few apparently decent civilians. We didn't stay there long and as I thought over the incidents of the day I came to the conclusion that Rome is, in the year of our Lord 1918 even as cruel and licentious as she was in the years of the Ceasars. And its people had the delights of murder, torture and it seems of blood spilling in its cinemas even as the ancients had in its Collessium. And its weakness for all things filthy (morally) even as their far off ancestors.

What a pity that a place of such great and wonderful records of earliest civilisation should have such a degraded type of setting. Show and Pride. Wipper Snapper officers in gorgeous uniforms and trappings with high boots and clanking swords. Priests, pious and otherwise (more otherwise). Matinees out for money no matter how procured, from Mosaics to White Slave trading. But – even then, I found a few, alas what a few, who to me appeared decent and in every case which I came in contact with they were people who had spent some of their life in dear old England.

Good old Blighty.