Thursday, May 19, 2005

Stalingrad of the Southern Front 

It was remiss of me to forget the 61st anniversary, but BBCÂ’s On This Day has reminded me that on 18 May 1944, Polish troops have finally put their red and white flag on the ruins of the monastery at Monte Cassino, in Italy, after the fourth and the final Allied assault on the famous mountain and surrounding positions (by American, British, Hindu and New Zealand troops), in one of the hardest fought battles of World War Two.

The gorgeous baroque monastery (the original founded by St Benedict in the fifth century) has been rebuilt after the war following its total destruction in bombing raids and the assault. I went there in 1988 and the bus journey up the hair-pin road to the peak was harrowing enough, so I can hardly imagine what it was like to advance up the heavily fortified slopes under constant German fire. The Polish cemetery at Monte Cassino is in my humble opinion the most beautiful military cemetery in the world, spreading under a giant cross on a gentle slope of Mount Cairo, which overlooks the monastery hill. My great-grandfather had fought there and survived, over a thousand of his brothers-in-arms lost their lives in five days of the final assault.


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