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Rocchetta al Volturno's Museum: World War 2

Rocchetta al Volturno was in the front line in 1943-44, like all the uppermost villages of the Alto Volturno. The natural wall that is the Mainarde mountains was one part of the German defences pivoted on Monte Cassino, running from the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic seas. Seventy-five years have passed since the late autumn of 1943 when Allied troops reached the village. In those days Rocchetta was tightly wound around a ruined castle, overlooking the source of the Volturno and the Benedictine abbey of San Vincenzo al Volturno. After a post-war earthquake, the village moved from the crags to its present position. Once a little anonymous, the commune of Rocchetta Nuova has worked hard to bring new energy to the place. First and foremost is a museum dedicated to its wartime experiences.

The archaeology of American troops

The museum lies on the edge of the new village in a discrete building. Don’t be put off. It’s full of fascinating gems. After a room of modern uniforms of Italy’s martial services, the museum suddenly comes to life. The material remains of the different nations was fascinating: the modern American kit was light years ahead of the British soldier’s gear. I was unsettled, though, by the forest of German gravestones, consigned to a place beneath the cases. Where did they come from? Other sections were properly respectful. The ambulance services, a doctor and dentist take pride of place before you come face to face with the vicissitudes of Italian history between 1939 and 1945. The Duce speaks to you, and it’s unsettling. Photographs and newspapers capture the era and the volte-face in 1943. General De Gaulle is photographed visiting his colonial troops in nearby Colli al Volturno, and so began the bitter winter campaign that must have cost Rocchetta dear. Quite how it suffered is sadly not part of the exhibit.

German tomb stones

What you can see are the detritus of troops, their ammunition boxes, lorries and even an aeroplane. And most astonishing of all are the rooms dedicated to the machine guns of every nation involved in the conflict.

An American spotter plane

It’s hard to sum up this oft-discomforting experience. Packed rooms of objects remind me of 19th-century museums, but in this case the films and recordings bring the era to life. With little publicity and a lot of passion, this museum had 16,800 visitors last year, it’s director tells me proudly.

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