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Harry honours Cassino war dead

British and Commonwealth forces who fought and died in one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War have been honoured by Prince Harry.

Harry, a serving Army officer, joined veterans, dignitaries and representatives of British regiments and Forces' organisations at a moving open-air service to mark the 70th anniversary of the battle of Monte Cassino.

They stood in the Commonwealth cemetery at Cassino in the area where tens of thousands of men fought and died to take the strategically important monastery of Monte Cassino which towered above them.

In 1944 Nazi forces were encamped on the heavily fortified rocky outcrop, topped by the holy site, and were frustrating the Allies' march north to Rome.

Taking the position was crucial but progress was slow and the conflict claimed a huge number of lives becoming the bloodiest battle in western Europe with an estimated 250,000 men killed or wounded.

The fighting force consisted of many nations from Americans and British, to Indians, Poles, Canadians, French from North Africa, Indians, Gurkhas and New Zealanders - but all had to contend with the icy mountain terrain, mines and constant bombardments from the Nazi forces. Controversially the monastery was heavily bombed and destroyed in a bid to make a breakthrough but the move failed and the holy site was later rebuilt.

The fourth major attack finally broke through and a Polish unit raised their national flag at the outcrop's summit on May 18, 1944.

The Venerable Jonathan Boardman, Archdeacon for Italy and Malta, welcomed the congregation and told them: "Today is rather a nice day but there is still snow on the top of the mountain.

"It still reminds us that this country, which most people think of as a place of sun and warmth and friendship, also saw the worst in human beings, the worst bitterness in human conflict - much death and much suffering as well as rainy weather."

Around the congregation were the white headstones of thousands of Commonwealth soldiers who had died fighting to take Monte Cassino.

During the open-air service hymns were sung, and a minute's silence was observed after a bugler had sounded the Last Post.

The Chaplain General the Reverend Jonathan Woodhouse gave the address and told the congregation: "It is said that this valley headed by Monte Cassino and its Benedictine monastery experienced some of the fiercest fighting in World War Two.

"The four main battles were symbolic of the intense demands and sacrifices made by soldiers for the battle for Rome and the wider Italian campaign."

He added: "Stakes were high, the pressure was on and the fighting was intense but behind the history stands the courage and sacrifice of servicemen far from home, especially those servicemen who never came home and whom we remember today."

Harry was first to lay a wreath of poppies at a monument within the cemetery and pinned to it was a handwritten note that said: "In memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country, I thank you - Harry".

He was followed by dignitaries like Lord Astor, the Government's Lords spokesman on defence, and organisations like the Royal British Legion and the 28th Maori Battalion.

Before leaving Harry spent a few private moments walking among the graves, stopping to look at some of the headstones of British servicemen.


From Belfast Telegraph