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Veterans of Monte Cassino attend 75th anniversary of battle
One of the hardest fought campaigns of World War Two has been commemorated with a moving ceremony on the 75th anniversary of one of its toughest battles. The Italy campaign was a major turning point in the war but later become known by veterans as the 'Forgotten Campaign' due to the increased focus on D-Day and the Normandy Campaign, both during and after the conflict. On Saturday 11th May, the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire remembered The Italy Campaign by holding a commemorative ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino, which took place between January and May 1944.
The parade passes through the National Memorial Arboretum
Veterans from the Second World War, who fought in the Italy campaign, and also took part in the Battle of Monte Cassino, were among the many people who gathered at the Arboretum, which is the UK's year-round Centre for Remembrance in honour of the fallen. Armed forces from six continents fought side by side at Monte Cassino, and in the wider Italy Campaign, ranging from Brazil, Bangladesh, and South Africa to Poland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Battle of Monte Cassino, which became known as the "Stalingrad of the West", opened the way to liberate Rome in April 1945 to signal the end of the two-year Italy Campaign that resulted in more than 330,000 Allied casualties.
The service at the Arboretum, which is part of The Royal British Legion and has more than 370 memorials dotted amongst almost 30,000 maturing trees, was attended by more than 30 veterans of the Italy Campaign, plus other dignitaries and representatives of armed forces from around the world. The day's events began with a parade to the main ceremony, held under a giant canopy erected in the shadow of the Armed Forces Memorial. Music throughout the ceremony was provided by The Black Watch Association Pipe Band and The Band of the Prince of Wales' Division, while the service was led by Flight Lieutenant Mandeep Kaur, Sikh Chaplain to the Armed Forces. Readers during the ceremony included Monte Cassino veteran Lt Col (R'td) David Blum OBE, the highest ranking surviving veteran of the Italy Campaign.
The parade moves in front of the Armed Forces Memorial
The ceremony also included the singing of the Ballad of the D-Day Dodgers by Petty Officer Matt Hicks of the Royal Navy, written during the war in response to the belief in some quarters that the army was having it easy in Italy. There was also an extract from Robert Binyon's 1914 poem, For The Fallen, which was read by the national chairman of The Royal British Legion, Terry Whittles. After the service, there was a break for refreshments followed by wreath-laying ceremonies at the Polish Forces Memorial at 2.30pm, and at the Monte Cassino and Italy Star Memorials at 3.10pm.
The Royal British Legion, which originated in 1921, is the national custodian of Remembrance and safeguards the Military Covenant between the nation and its Armed Forces. It is well known for the annual Poppy Appeal. In 2019 The Royal British Legion is asking the nation to Remember Together, to remember the service and sacrifice of both British service personnel and their families and those of the Commonwealth and Allied nations who stood side by side with Britain.