The Battles of Cassino Revisited by Veterans

Seventy years following the Battles of Cassino in WWII, over forty former servicemen from New Zealand are returning to the sites for memorial services. While the conflicts took lives and extensively damaged property, some are excited to return to a locale which is rich in memory for them. Some visitors to the Italian city will be attending services at the Abbey of Monte Cassino, which had been bombed in the attacks.

Even those who took part in the attacks found the bombings to be a devastation of the town’s beauty. One veteran in particular, Terry Flanagan, is impressed at how quickly the abbey was rebuilt—a mere ten years after the Battles of Cassino took place. He is eager to experience the abbey for one of its masses rather than an attack. Having always considered the site to be beautiful, he is particularly eager to see the basilica.

The commemoration ceremonies this year will be a bit different than they have been in years past. Ten years ago, veterans wishing to attend the ceremonies had to put their names up for consideration. This year, the events at Cassino are open to all who wish to attend. This will allow for large groups of veterans to travel together, which will make the trip easier both pragmatically as well as emotionally.

There are several events which will take place in memorial of the battles, including the mass services at the abbey. Some of the events are sponsored by organizations which are largely invested in war history, for instance the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. They will have a remembrance ceremony at a Cassino cemetery, which will honor many of the lives lost to the conflict. There will also be additional events, such as one occurring at the local railway, which was a key site in the battles, The New Zealand Herald reports.

The Battles of Cassino were treacherous, but the ability of fellow servicemen to associate with one another in a rebuilt city gives the commemoration events a much more light-hearted feel. While there was much terror in the Second World War, there was also a great deal of unity amongst those with the common cause of liberation from fascism. Some of the veterans in attendance have never met, even after seventy years, but they will be able to swap stories about their similar experiences. Those attending Cassino will undoubtedly have several military connections, as well as similar connections to the town.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE