History and Culture Collide

The sun decided to have a sleep in. Instead of our glorious blue sky and sparkle, we were greeted this morning by a thick, pea-souper of a sea fog. We couldn’t see the water, which was only across the street and everything was shrouded in white mist. There mightn’t have been any sun, but it still looked pretty cool. The white blanket, which the sun had decided to stay snuggled under, way longer than any acceptable sleep-in time, was eventually folded back and the snoozy sun put in a short appearance in the afternoon. So, no glorious sunny day, but we forgive that ol’ sun because it’s been a real trooper of late, so we’ll let it have a rest for a day.

We were still in the mood for some learnin’ so we hopped on the bikes again and pedalled off to the Beachhead Museum. This small museum is dedicated to the Battle of Anzio and Operation Shingle, and held a small collection of artefacts from the battles and the British and American forces involved.

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We were the only people there and the lady and gentleman overseeing the room, asked us if we would like to watch a film about the landings, which we did. It was interesting to see the footage of the landings and the lives of the soldiers fighting at Anzio, especially because we could compare the images to the Anzio we see today and we could connect some of the information, to what we had seen and experienced at the cemetery yesterday. At the end of the film, the lady returned and asked if we would like to see another. “It’s very interesting,” she said, “only ten minutes.” 

“Si, grazie,” we replied.

She started the DVD playing and the film was a series of still photographs, appearing as a slide show with music accompanying it. It was the music that seemed odd.

“Interesting choice of musical accompaniment,” I commented to Steve.

The images included soldiers digging trenches, or charging up the beach under fire, and the town of Anzio turned to rubble, but playing over the top of these images were Pink Floyd songs! Hmmm, I thought, I’m not seeing the connection between these pictures, the Battle of Anzio and Another Brick in the Wall!? The music was loud and song after song just seemed so incongruous to the images. Then…it all became clear at the end. We were shown images of Pink Floyd in concert in Rome and their bass player and songwriter, Roger Waters. His father fought and died in Anzio during Operation Shingle, as a member of the Royal Fusiliers. We then learnt that some of the songs on the album The Wall make reference to the battle. The song When the Tigers Broke Free, describes the battle and the death of Eric Waters. History and popular culture clicked together and was another moment of reflection on how lives are affected by war, both immediately and for families, into the future.

Lt. Eric Waters who died during the Battle of Anzio, with baby Roger, who would go on to be songwriter and bassist with Pink Floyd
Lt. Eric Waters who died during the Battle of Anzio, with baby Roger, who would go on to be songwriter and bassist with Pink Floyd

We continued strolling around the museum, reading and looking at the images and artefacts from the events that affected Anzio and Nettuno so deeply. Afterwards, we did some more riding around the town, tootling here and there, gathering some supplies and then heading back to our room, to begin preparations for our departure tomorrow. As we were riding around, we saw a cafe with a very interesting name. Fancy seeing this!

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Oh, we also learnt some more history…we learnt why there is a statute of Nero here, the one Steve took such a liking to yesterday and stole the pose. Nero was born in Anzio. So was Caligula. So Anzio can claim ownership to yet more significant moments in history. Although, given the reputation and actions of those two rulers of Rome, I don’t know how proud Anzio would be of those former Anzionians! Although, maybe they were nice little fellas when they were kiddies in Anzio, maybe it was just the big bad city of Rome that corrupted them, along with that smell of power. Maybe Anzio just shakes its head and thinks, ‘they were so adorable when they were little chaps running around in short togas. Whatever happened?’

Another day of learning and wheeling around on the bikes for another 17km of just pedalling here and there. Tomorrow we move on, using four wheels, sadly, as we begin our journey back to the UK, to beat our visa deadline.

In recognition of the history and events from the place we have been exploring and what we have learnt of Anzio’s history, I’ll sign off with the lyrics to Pink Floyd’s When the Tigers Broke Free, written by Roger Waters, describing the events of Operation Shingle, and his father as a casualty of war.

When the Tigers Broke Free

It was just before dawn
One miserable morning in black ‘forty four.
When the forward commander
Was told to sit tight
When he asked that his men be withdrawn.
And the Generals gave thanks
As the other ranks held back
The enemy tanks for a while.
And the Anzio bridgehead
Was held for the price
Of a few hundred ordinary lives.

And kind old King George
Sent Mother a note
When he heard that father was gone.
It was, I recall,
In the form of a scroll,
With gold leaf adorned,
And I found it one day
In a drawer of old photographs, hidden away.
And my eyes still grow damp to remember
His Majesty signed
With his own rubber stamp.

It was dark all around.
There was frost in the ground
When the tigers broke free.
And no one survived
From the Royal Fusiliers Company Z.
They were all left behind,
Most of them dead,
The rest of them dying.
And that’s how the High Command
Took my daddy from me.

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