When the Allies decided to go offensive against the Axis powers in Italy’s Winter Line, the ensuing war – the Battle of Monte Cassino – was among the costliest major battles of the Second World War.
The Allies did their series of assaults (four assaults in all) on the seemingly impregnable stone fortress of Monte Cassino which is located at the southern part Rome. They even bombed the 1,500-year-old abbey thinking German troops had taken shelter there. It took them four months to displace the Germans forces who were camping just below the abbey walls of Monte Cassino. Casualties – injured or killed- from the said WWII battle amounted to 75,000 soldiers from both sides.
The Battle of Monte Cassino had been a bitter part of WWII.
War veteran Lewis Renshaw of Newark was almost 26 and part of the artillery when he became one of the massive Allied force who went into battle in Monte Cassino. He was among the casualties, a soldier victimized by a land mine severely burning and injuring him. But he managed to survive.
But May 14 this month saw the 95-year-old former WWII soldier packing his clothes along with his beloved WWII uniform along with his memory-filled cap and his war medals. After 70 years, he – along with a handful of war veterans like him – is going to Monte Cassino, the place where he almost lost his life.
In an interview with BBC News, he wanted to see Monte Cassino, the land which the Allied and the Axis powers once fought against, but most importantly, he wanted to see the WWII cemetery at the foot of the mountain where many of his comrades were laid to rest after being killed in action.
His son Keith who also was going with him on his trip to Monte Cassino added that his dad, at his old age, may have realized it might be the last time he could afford to go to the place and recognized the need to relive those great times and the moment where he also almost died.
Last Monday marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino and Lewis Renshaw had graced it along with fellow war veterans. Prince Harry also attended the said commemoration.
On the other hand, BBC News Correspondent Alan Johnston was able to gain access to a secret chamber at the monastery in Monte Cassino. The said room is filled with the debris, rubble reminders of how extensive the Allied bombings were during its assault against Monte Cassino, a major and one of the bloodiest battles of WWII.
When the Allies assaulted the area, the monastery – a 1,500-year-old structure – was almost completely destroyed. After the war, the monastery was rebuilt and now sits beautifully on its perch high on the mountain.
However, the war debris Alan Johnston found in the chamber that no tourist is allowed to go to remain reminders to the sorry state it was placed in during the Second World War.