Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Lucia Monte Cassino - 70th anniversary

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (C) with his wife Malgorzata Tusk (2-R), Prince Harry (2-L), New Zealand Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae (R) and Polish General Wieslaw Grudzinski (L) arrive for the official ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino
Prince Harry stood shoulder to shoulder with Polish veterans as he commemorated their bravery and sacrifice capturing Monte Cassino in one of the Second World War's bloodiest battles.

From the (UK) Telegraph:

It was 70 years ago on today that troops from the Polish II Corps finally took the ruined Benedictine monastery near Rome - a symbol of Nazi resistance to the Allies' campaign to push Hitler's forces out of Italy.

The victory had followed months of hard fighting that left an estimated 250,000 dead.

The Prince joined more than 50 Polish veterans of the battle, their prime minister Donald Tusk and many dignitaries for an open-air mass at the Polish Military Ceremony where those who paid the ultimate sacrifice are buried.

He arrived wearing his white tropical no 1 dress of the Household Cavalry and walked with Mr Tusk and the Governor General of New Zealand, Sir Jerry Mateparae, along a long avenue to the burial place.

Their route was lined by hundreds of scouts in their uniforms and each carried a single large poppy.

The Battle of Monte Cassino was one of the most important campaigns of the Second World War and saw Allied forces launch four major attacks in 1944 to remove Nazi forces from a strategically-important rocky outcrop, home to the 1,400 year-old Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino.

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 after the war.

Finally, on May 18 1944, the troops of the Polish II Corps commanded by General Władysław* Anders reached the monastery ruins.

The campaign had claimed the lives of 923 Poles, 2,931 were injured and 345 reported missing.

It's hard being in New Zealand, and reading about commemorations about important battles such as the ones for Monte Cassino and not having the entire story reported here. My grandfather and uncles that were just a bit older than my dad fought for Ander's Army, the Polish Corps that were able to finally make the final assaults on Monte Cassino and capture it for the allies. Yet, the NZ Herald article that does mention the Poles only says:
The honour of being the first troops to enter the shattered stone building was given to the Poles, whose country had suffered grievously under Nazi occupation.

That one line hides the contribution from the Polish soldiers who fought and died in order that such an honour could be given - why else were they there? As bystanders?  I don't expect the whole article to give the full Polish story, but it would be nice if the Poles weren't whitewashed in it, considering their most sizable contribution to the eventual victory.

Many Polish veterans of Monte Cassino settled here in New Zealand - three from my family alone. The story of how they got here is explained his this short NZ made documentary from the 60's : The story of 700 Polish children who came to NZ during the war.  Those surviving Polish soldiers who had children that were sent here, came to live in NZ as well.

I like the photo above in this post that shows the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk walking up to Monte Cassino with NZ's Sir Jerry Mateparae.  It shows a connection between the two countries on a common cause where Poland and NZ fought in a decisive important and costly battle.  If only there was more acknowledgement here in NZ of those men that fought on the Polish side in that battle and eventually became New Zealanders themselves, raising NZ families with NZ children who are really left out when it comes to commemorations of  NZ battles overseas.  Our choice is to associate with the Poles, not with the New Zealanders.

I don't quite know what the solution is.  Maybe there is no solution, maybe it just comes down to descendants of Ander's Army, like myself, putting up posts such as this to make the point that the NZ story needs to include us in some way.

Related link: Prince Harry commemorates sacrifice of Polish soldiers who captured Monte Cassino ~ Telegraph, UK

* Spelling corrected for Władysław. English speakers tend to turn the Polish ł into an l, but the sounds are completely different. The ł more accurately sounds like our w. The Polish w sounds like an English v. So the name Władysław (this was my dad's name as well) is sort of pronounced Vwa-DEES-wavf.

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