It is taken from a part completed memoir I’ve written of my dad’s early childhood before the Second World War, including his travelling adventures to the Far East, Middle East, Pacific region, Caribbean and Africa. This is a short nostalgic paragraph about him lamenting the loss of the forests that he used to play in plus a poem about the same subject using the words peace and tear.
Before the Second World war children used to play in extensive woodland. This treasured land is now an estate of houses, which encroach upon the sloping fields leading further and further into the now diminishing wood. Yes, land is at a premium, and builders build property upon every spare inch of space – forget about the Thousand Acre Wood, it’s more like postage stamp wood.
I think Eeyore would have this to say: ‘Here today and gone tomorrow.’
The once wooded area has now become a permanent car park for the nearby primary school, built well after the war.
Today, there is just one sorry playground, a tiny place for local children to play in among the houses. It sits like a sad apology to the past.
In my childhood, I remember a veritable playground of fields, marshy land, and hedgerows, where children dawdled for hours playing cowboys and Indians and Doctors and Nurses. One of my favourite childhood pastimes was to construct a pretend shelter with my pals. A local woman would inspect the shelter and play along with our game with a serious air.
Nowadays, children play with manufactured games, watch TV, engage in computer activities, and twiddle with their mobile phones, oh how the world has changed!
This freedom meant that during the war years we would play in strange places, some of which weren’t at all safe. The concept of health and safety didn’t exist! Nowadays children can’t even get a work experience placement without going through a minefield of paperwork, which is a sorry state of affairs if you ask me.
Children enjoyed the simple pleasures of life, such as collecting cigarette and royal navy cards. Though, some weren’t so innocent, one lad with the same name as me took great pleasure in bullying his parents and the poor unfortunate cat. He would set the cat’s tail alight. His parents appeared terrified of him. He behaved like a vandal before vandalism become popular. This bully never bothered me, on the contrary, he encouraged me to stay around. I concluded that he enjoyed an audience for his daily wickedness! I would play with many boys, but none so infamous as Gavin Vernon who stole the stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey on Christmas day 1950!
The Italian Chapel is a story of forbidden love, lifelong friendships torn apart, despair and hope, set against the backdrop of the creation of a symbol that is known around the world. Amidst strikes, conflicts and untold hardships, the Italian prisoners of war sent to a tiny Orkney island during World War Two create a monument to the human spirit’s ability to lift itself above great adversity. One artist falls in love with a local Orkney woman and leaves a token of his love in the chapel. It is still there today and, until now, no-one has ever known its true meaning.
The review below is my honest opinion and has been in no way altered by my receiving a free copy.
This is a beautifully inspiring book, which just oozes charm and wonder. A big heart for this one. This fictional story based on true life events is set amidst the chaos and heartache of the Second World War. Italian prisoners of war are transported to the tiny Orkney island of Lamb Holm in January 1942. There they work together against the odds and the Scottish elements, to build the Churchill Barriers at Scapa Flow and a lasting monument to peace, and reconciliation. When Padre Giacomo arrives at the camp the spirits of the men begin to improve bolstered by his spiritual presence. The camp is awash with skilled men, no more so than Domenico Chiocchetti, a talented artist, and a sculpter. Domenico suggests building a chapel in the camp, constructing it out of two Nissan huts joined together. He can’t begin to do this without the British camp commanders go ahead, but they agree. The building of the chapel draws the men together in a shared vision to create, rather than to destroy. The results are spectacular, transforming the two original Nissan huts beyond recognition. The characters in The Italian Chapel, breathe, you can almost hear the chatter and the camaraderie of these Italians, far from home, freezing in the Scottish weather, dedicated to a shared task to build a Chapel, a place of peace, a safe haven away from the horrors of war. The story is absorbing, uplifting, at times sad, but ultimately happy and triumphant. The relationships that developed between the Italians and the local people, and the respect that grew between them is an amazing testament to the power of human spirit, and selflessness in the face of adversity. The Chapel still stands as a true monument to hope, for generations to come.
I found this novel so hard to rate. I just loved it so much! All the characters are portrayed beautifully, the dialogue, scene and setting are superb, but perhaps the romance between Giuseppe and Fiona could have been developed a little bit more. This is not surprising if you read the Author’s Note at the end of the novel. At times I felt that I wanted more time with these two characters, so that is why I am giving The Italian Chapel 4.5 stars instead of 5. I would highly recommend this beautiful novel to readers who enjoy historical fiction, romance, and anyone who would like to read an uplifting story, that just grabs your attention from the very start.
The author’s epilogue helps to clarify fact from fiction. The final quote of the epilogue reads: “The chapel remains, fragile and immortal, a symbol of peace and hope from people long gone for those yet to come.” Though if you want the true story look no further than Philip Paris’s non-fiction book, Orkney’s Italian Chapel: The True Story of anIcon, also available and published by Black & White, www.blackandwhitepublishing.com.
In dedication to the artist Domenico Chiocchetti who painted most of the interior of the Chapel, I will be awarding Philip Paris’s novel: 4.5 Paint brushes!
I would highly recommend this to readers of Historical Fiction, and romance.
Background information about the Chapel:
The Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm in Orkney, Scotland, was built by Italian prisoners of war . 550 Italian prisoners of war, were captured in North Africa during World War II, and were brought to Orkney in 1942. The prisoners were stationed on the island between 1942 and 1945 to help in construction of the Churchill Barriers at Scapa Flow, four causeways created to block access to Scapa Flow. 200 were based at Camp 60 on the island of Lamb Holm. In 1943, Major T P Buckland, the Camp 60’s new commandant, and Father Giacombazzi, the Camp’s priest, agreed that a place of worship was required.
The chapel was constructed from two Nissen huts joined end-to-end. The corrugated interior was then covered with plasterboard and the altar and altar rail were constructed from concrete left over from work on the barriers. Most of the interior decoration was done by Domenico Chiocchetti , a POW from Moena. He painted the sanctuary end of the chapel and fellow-prisoners decorated the entire interior. They created a front facade out of concrete, concealing the shape of the hut and making the building look like a church. He remained on the island to finish the chapel even when his fellow prisoners were released shortly before the end of the war. In 1958 the Chapel Preservation Committee was set up by a group of Orcadians and in 1960 Chiocchetti returned to the chapel to assist in the restoration. He returned again in 1964 but was too ill to travel when some of the other prisoners returned in 1992 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of their arrival on the island. He died in 1999. Today the chapel remains a popular tourist attraction, receiving over 100,000 visitors every year. It has become one of the most well-known and moving symbols of reconciliation in the British Isles.