Thoughts turned to the Italian offensive in the Herald’s Farnham, Haslemere and Hindhead edition on Saturday, May 20, 1944, two weeks before D-Day, as Allied troops fought their way north after the invasion of Sicily ten months earlier.

A summer of hard-won successes in 1943 pushed the German army back towards Rome. But the Italian offensive ground to a halt over the winter of 1943/44 when the Nazi forces retreated to the Gustav line, a succession of formidable defensive positions exploiting the hard terrain of the Apennine mountains.

Black-out times in May 1944
Black-out times in May 1944 (Farnham Herald)

After months of brutal fighting in early 1944, most notably around Monte Cassino, the Allied forces finally broke through the Gustav line and the defenders were driven from their positions.

“Things are moving in Italy, quite as fast as we are justified in expecting,” reported the Herald just two days after British and Polish flags were raised over the ruins of the abbey at Cassino.

“While all have done well and fought courageously, British people are glad to be able to give special praise to our French and Polish allies.

“The French did splendidly in Tunisia, but somehow they have since been under a cloud; now it is lifted. In Italy they have taken strong mountain positions from the Germans with the greatest gallantry, and made a most useful advance. As one correspondent remarks, they skipped over the difficult country like mountain goats.

“On another part of the line, in the difficult and tragic Cassino sector, another Ally, the Poles, have fought a most gallant fight against heavy opposition. The Poles have many bitter memories of cruel German wrongs done to their nation and people, and they are fighting in an avenging spirit.”

On the home front, the Herald reported the blessing of the crops in Farnham’s Gostrey Meadow on Rogation Sunday was combined with an appeal for volunteers to work on the land during the summer and “help get in what may well be the most needed harvest”.

Farmers were also reminded to “make doubly sure of winter protein” and “be ready to make some silage if the weather breaks down”, ensuring their dairy herds remain productive “when milk yields must be kept up”.

There were also reports from across the area on ‘Salute the Soldier Week’ fundraising drives. This was a national savings campaign with the aim of British Army equipment being sponsored by local communities.

Tilford’s Salute the Soldier Week was opened with a speech by Air Marshall Sir Grahame Doland followed by a parade of troops, which included detachments of a Canadian Tank Regiment and the Royal Engineers. This is one of very few references in the paper to troops amassing in the area in the build-up to the Normandy landings two weeks later.

Every town and village was set a fundraising target, and villagers in Seale and Sands rejoiced after more than doubling their £6,000 target, with the WI alone raising some £2,000 through the sale of stamps and certificates.

Lloyds bank also capitalised, helpfully offering to “provide the financial sinews for the prosecution of the war” and encouraged customers to “lend to the Government the limit of their available resources” by taking out 25% National War Bonds, 8% Savings Bonds, 3% Defence Bonds, and National Savings Certificates.

Also advertised in the May 20, 1944, edition were the services of photographer Madame Yevonde - the subject of past Peeps articles - who travelled from her studio at 28 Berkeley Square, London, to attend The Oast House, Bear Lane, every Tuesday from 10 to 5. Black-out times were extended as the days drew longer, from 10.35pm to 5.19am on Friday, May 19 to between 10.44pm and 5.10am a week later.

Readers were also informed “where to get your new Ration Book”, with pick-ups listed across the Alton, Farnham, Guildford DIstrict & Hambledon, Hartley Wintney, Haslemere, Midhurst, and Petersfield Food Areas.