Lost chapel built in wartime Italy re-discovered

Salerno, Italy - After 65 years a frescoed "lost chapel" created by British troops to honour the war dead after the landings at Salerno in southern Italy during the Second World War has been found - but has been turned into an ironmonger's basement storeroom.

The hunt for the chapel began after former British soldiers who took part in the landings in September 1943 told Harry Shindler, spokesman in Italy of the "Star Association", which represents Italian campaign veterans, that they had built the chapel to honour those who died in the landings, naming it after St Martin and St George.

Mr Shindler said the veterans recalled that the chapel had been carved out of a former wine cellar. "But part of the problem was that the landscape had changed out of all recognition" he told The Times.

This week, after an appeal to residents of Salerno who remembered the "lost church" to come forward was published by La Repubblica, it emerged that it was now used as a storeroom in the seaside town of Pontecagnano, south of Salerno. The chapel retains its vaulted ceiling, but the frescoes painted by the troops have been whitewashed over.

Domenico Maisto, a local resident who was five at the time of the landings, said it had been constructed in the wine cellar of a partly bombed building which was taken over as British army headquarters. According to a report of the inauguration in 1944 by the war correspondent Don McWhinnie, the chapel was built on the initiative of an army chaplain, Father HP Hansen, and blessed by the Bishop of Lichfield.

The report said 15 "truly outstanding paintings" were made by Corporal Harold Addenbrooke from Sheffield, who had been a commercial artist in peacetime. There were "three in the windows above the altar, four in the altar piece and eight on the arches".

The chapel was constructed by a Private Wainwright from Wolverhampton, assisted by Privates Pitt and Robinson, who had been bricklayers before the war. The chairs were provided by individual soldiers who inscribed their names and their "own places of worship" on them. "I noted the names of churches as far afield as Burnley and Madras" McWhinnie wrote.

The chapel, which could hold 300 worshippers, had a brick floor, and an altar made of stone, marble and quartz. At the entrance stood an oil painting of Jesus donated by a local Italian whose canvas bore bullet holes from the fighting. A marble plaque in English and Latin read: "This chapel of St Martin and St George has been raised to the glory of God in remembrance of those who fell in the landing on the beaches in this area in 1943, and as a perpetual monument to the ideals of chivalry and the brotherhood which inspired them".

The chaplain said he had chosen St George because he was "a soldier doing battle against evil" and St Martin because he had performed "acts of Christian charity and brotherhood", which both "typify the reason for our being in the war."

Mr Maisto said he remembered the chapel and the nearby British military camp, " because I used to play there. I remember a soldier called David who gave me cigarettes for my father." He also remembered a wedding at the chapel between a British soldier and an Italian girl from the island of Capri.

Mr Maisto said he vividly recalled the Biblical scenes painted on the walls, "which must still be under the whitewash." Mr Shindler said he would ask the Salerno church authorities if they knew the whereabouts of the marble plaque, "which may well have ended up in a local church" when the chapel was converted into a storeroom.