‘Finally the bombardment ceases but they cannot see what has happened, for the cloud hanging over Gemmano shows no signs of dispersing. Toni and Papa hug and grip each other as if to convince themselves that they, at least, are still alive.’
By David Will
Published by Thunderpoint Publishing
Toni is distracted as considerable firing starts up, with smoke rising from where Montefiore Conca must be. They look at each other and fall silent, listening to what they suppose is a British attack. After a time the firing stops and then, a little later, it recommences, although it appears to have moved west. The sun has risen indicating mid-morning, and Toni can’t bear it any more. He climbs out of their hollow and up the rise to look back to Gemmano. It looks like a toy from here. As Papa joins him there is a huge explosion on the hill near Villa.
‘Perhaps they’re aiming at those dugouts I saw,’ says Toni.
He is wrong. In fact it is a signal for the start of an enormous bombardment. The whistles overhead intensify and the explosions are so numerous that they almost merge into one noise. Toni and Papa hold onto the dogs so that they will not run in panic. Shell after shell crashes onto the hill, and then onto the village of Gemmano. Those that hit the ground hurl great chunks of earth and vegetation about the place, and from the village pieces of masonry large enough for them to see, shoot out and down the hillsides. Now aircraft come flying in from the east, over their heads, and when they get near Gemmano they swoop, their bombs crashing into the village. The pounding goes on and on and they can see clouds of smoke boiling up into the air and falling down the Ventena valley, presumably covering those dugouts with dust and rubble. Other monstrous shells whistle in from the coast and join the assault.
‘Oh God help us! They are firing from ships as well,’ cries Papa.
The smoke and dust cloud grows in size and density so that it becomes almost impossible to see Gemmano. The shelling intensifies and the planes swoop in and out of the cloud, or shoot low over the rooftops. The flashes of the explosions are out of synch with the sounds, giving the whole scene a surreal aspect. The planes begin to machine gun the ground around the village, chewing up the ground in trails of spurting dust that Toni can still make out in spite of the distance.
At a certain point Papa unwittingly releases Remo and sinks to the ground. Toni joins him and they don’t say anything for there is nothing to say. They just look at each other in horror and then Papa drops his head in his hands and weeps.
Finally the bombardment ceases but they cannot see what has happened, for the cloud hanging over Gemmano shows no signs of dispersing. Toni and Papa hug and grip each other as if to convince themselves that they, at least, are still alive. Papa mutters into Toni’s shoulder, ‘Our home, our home.’
They are unable to move. In the end it is Romolo who comes and nudges Papa’s elbow. He looks up and says with an effort,
‘Come, we must start back. We must find out who is alive.’
‘We have no food or water and the river is no good. It’s so nearly dry that the pools are stagnant. Come, let us check the town for a well and some food, and then we’ll go back.’
Throwing caution to the wind, for they cannot be sure if the last Germans have finally left, they hurry into the town. There is nobody around and they hunt through the streets and lanes. It takes some time before they come to a little piazza and in the open Toni glances back to see if the cloud has lifted off Gemmano. But the haze makes it hard to see.
Gemmano is published by Thunderpoint Publishing, priced £9.99