Winter at Monte Cassino
Winter at Monte Cassino is a story told through the eyes of Lieutenant Patricia Hampton. A member of the U.S. Army Photography Section and a uniquely educated classical historian she is brought over by her godfather General Mark Clark to create a visual record of what everyone assumes to be his rapid advance north to liberate Rome after the Allied invasion of Southern Italy in September 1943. It is a story of the conflict that arises as Patricia comes to understand that whereas she sees her job as creating a faithful photographic history of the campaign, her godfather's public relations staff view it only as creating the publicity he needs to get command of the Allied Invasion of France the far more important focal point of American strategy for defeating Hitler. But in a campaign that goes wrong from the outset Patricia's experience soon becomes less one of memorializing military progress than of confronting her own tendency towards misplaced hero worship and wondering whether she ever really knew her godfather for what he was. Faced with the increasing likelihood of him authorizing the bombing of Monte Cassino Abbey which stands on his intended line of advance Patricia is forced to decide once and for all whether to believe the words of the man she has idealized for years and says the Abbey is occupied by Germans, or believe the opposing German General who assures her he has no soldiers inside at all. Being the Patricia she is she goes out and at considerable risk finds the evidence of who is telling the truth for herself and when she discovers who it is must decide whether to passively watch the impending tragedy or to use her camera, the only weapon she has, to somehow prevent it. Part coming of age story this is also one of adventure as Patricia has to survive an assortment of ordeals in her pursuit of the truth and her attempt to convince General Clark not to destroy the Abbey at all. But out of the tragedy comes at least some redemption as Patricia seizes her own chance of being a light in the darkness by trying to rescue as many of the innocent civilians inside the Abbey as she and her friends can. And afterwards as she watches the Abbey burn just like her we are all forced to wonder whether we should perhaps reconsider some of our definitions of who the heroes in this war really were.
In Winter at Monte Cassino, author Stewart Blair takes the reader back to the crazy, chaotic days of World War II when the bonds of family and friendship were often tested on a public stage. During the Battle of Monte Cassino in early 1944, Monte Cassino Abbey sat on a defensive German line to keep the Allies from advancing into Italy toward Rome. On February 15, 1944 a series of American-lead air-raids destroyed it.
Some believe that only women and children taking refuge in the Abbey were the innocent victims of the bombing. However reports suggest that the monastery was a German observational post.
Patrica Hampton is sophisticated, exuberant, and winsome. As a photographer and historian -- and the goddaughter of American General Mark Clark who is famous for leading allied troops into Rome in 1944, her special view of the decisions that led to the bombing of the abbey makes for an intriguing perspective of this historic event. Interpersonal conflict, disillusionment, and disappointment fill the pages of Winter in Monte Cassino.
Reviewed by: Joyce Faulkner (2012)