I was put on to this book by a newspaper op-ed article in which the writer recommended a few books as the "best books ever written on war." This was one of the recommended books. I wasn't familiar with Norman Lewis at that point but I took a chance on this one and ordered it from Amazon.
I'm glad I did. This is a fascinating book. Norman Lewis was serving with the British Army as a Field Security officer in Naples during 1944-45 and this book is his daily diary of his life at the time.
It details a side of warfare that often goes unreported; the civilians' stuggle to survive in a war zone. Among the highlights are:
-The pervasive black market. Lewis notes that about 1/3 of Allied supplies ended up on the black market, often with the corrupt connivance of high ranking members of the Allied command. (The Jon Voight character in the movie version of Catch-22 was obviously exagerated but it was also clearly based on historic facts.) At one point, says Lewis, one of every three Allied supply ships in Naples harbour was being totally pilfered by black marketeers. The problem became so serious that Lewis tells of having to obtain British medical supplies on the black market from local Italians at a time when the British Army was running desperately short of medical supplies for its own troops. He tells another story of going into an Italian pharmacy and finding a small boy soaking the British labels off jars and ampules of British Army medicines and replacing them with homemade Italian labels - and of electing to overlook this obvious black market activity because the pharmacist was a valuable informer.
-Italian women, and many children, resorting to prostitution simply to survive.
-law enforcement being taken over by the local Mafia, in true Mafia style. In one story, Lewis tells of Moroccan troops, serving in French colonial regiments, terrorizing local villagers by gang raping all the women, and many of the men, in small Italian villages around Naples. The local Mafia, says Lewis, approached the Allied command demanding that something be done about the Moroccans. When the Allied command did nothing, the local Mafia began luring Moroccan troops into villages, ambushing them, beheading them and burying them in local gardens.
Lewis also details many other military security problems he encountered. The one with the most potentially dire consequences was one in which copies of the Allied battle plans for the Anzio landings were stored in a Naples warehouse and somehow found their way into wide circulation amongst the local Naples population. So the Anzio landings were apparently well known in Naples before they took place.
In short, this is a fascinating book. An added advantage is that Lewis is a superb writer. He went on to become a leading travel writer; a number of his travels books are available on Amazon.