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22nd Battalion 2NZEF
"Vrai et Fort"
Cassino Commemoration 2014 - 70 years on
The next generation returns
Douglas Froggatt and the few remaining men of the 22nd Battalion were determined to return, yet again, to Cassino in 2014 for the 70th commemorations. This would have been his fourth time in the town, 1944, 1994 and 2004 being his previous visits. But the fragments of German steel that had laid dormant in his legs for all that time awoke and the bacteria from 1944 (not affected by 21st Century antibiotics) took their toll.
So it fell to the next generation to polish up the medals and make the journey to Cassino. I was not alone, there were many others who had a similar mission. Around 60 people joined two organised tours and many others found their own way there. The 28th (Maori) Battalion was also well represented. The tour I joined was run by Greg Osborne from Tempo Travel. Greg and his military advisor (Mark Wilson) put on a great trip.
The visit was described as a "pilgrimage" and in many ways it was, within the context of the broad definition of "A pilgrimage is a journey or search made for exalted or sentimental reasons, typically to a shrine or other location of importance to a person's beliefs".
The 22nd Battalion was again represented. This time by two veterans, Mauri Gordon and Malcolm Waller, and two descendents - Paul Froggatt and Howard Boseley. This is my personal diary of the 70th Commemoration of the Battles for Cassino. It draws on my experiences on the trip, my photos and the shared knowledge of all those who accompanied me. It also reflects my father's experiences of Cassino, in the battle of March 1944 and his own pilgrimages back in 1994 and 2004.
Getting to Cassino
We could have flown into Rome or Milan, or several other major cities in Italy. But we chose the longer route, to fly to London and then experience the train systems of France, Switzerland and Italy in order to make our way south to join the tour in Rome. This gave us a week in Italy beforehand and the opportunity to become acclimatised to the weather and the Italian way of doing things... (You can read about that part of our voyage elsewhere).
We started with a day in Rome, criss-crossing the city in a large tour coach. It gave us a wonderful introduction to the chaos that is Italian roads, but better still, it provided our coach driver with the opportunity to display his formidable driving skills. Many times he headed bravely (to us) into narrow crowded streets, barrelled along at some incredible speed straight towards the oncoming car, or truck or bus. And then, magically, a small flick on the wheel and the truck hurtled past just millimetres from the side of our bus. You had to be of brave heart to sit beside the window on the left (driver) side. Several times I saw people involuntarily ducking so as to miss the oncoming truck or bus.
The tour leader for this day was Dr Danila Bracaglia, an historian who runs war-related tours of Rome and Cassino, see her website.
But with confidence in our driver we first visited Villa Torlonia, the official residence of Mussolini from 1925 to 1943.
And would you believe it - the day we arrived the local staff had decided they needed an extra holiday so had gone on strike for the day. We never did get to see the inside, with its magnificent works of art, or the underground bunker! So we cut that visit short and moved on.
Museo Storico Della Liberazione - Historical Museum of the Liberation of Rome
We next stopped at the Historical Museum of the Liberation of Rome on Via Tasso. This was once the headquarters of the SS Kommandantur, where the major representatives of the Roman Resistance, many of whom lost their lives, were interrogated, tortured and imprisoned. The museum relates, mostly by means of graphical and photographical evidence, the events from September 1943 to June 1944. The building has been kept as a museum, with bricked-up windows and prison cells still intact. It was a sad reminder of the suffering of Rome and did not lend itself to photgraphs. On our way to the Museum we passed the Basilica of St John Lateran, a much more imposing and satisfying sight.
EUR - Esposizione Universale Roma
EUR is a residential and business district in Rome, Italy located south of the city centre. The area was originally chosen in the 1930s as the site for the 1942 world fair which Mussolini planned to open to celebrate twenty years of Fascism. The EUR was also designed to direct the expansion of the city towards the south-west and the sea, and to be a new city centre for Rome. The planned exhibition never took place due to World War II. The uncompleted EUR development was severely damaged during the war. During the 1950s and 1960s the unfinished Fascist-era buildings were completed, and other new buildings were built in contemporary styles for use as offices and government buildings, set in large gardens and parks.
We drove through the EUR for a quick look at the buildings, however our bus driver was thwarted in one road by a car thoughtfully parked in the middle, blocking it to all but the smallest of cars.
Via Rasella and the Massacre at the Ardeatine Caves
On March 23 1944 a group of 10 partisans attacked a heavily armed column of German SS police, killing 33. In reprisal, 335 local men and boys were seized off the streets the next day and trucked to the Ardeatine Caves where they were all executed and buried. The caves are now a national monument and a Memorial Cemetery.
Back into Rome for lunch with a Michelin Star chef
We negotiated our way back into the heart of Rome, drove down some impossibly narrow street, passed a remarkable number of fountains and debussed just around the corner from a roof-top restaurant named AntonelloCollona. Greg had told us it was worth the money (€30) but only after we had entered did we discover that this place had a Michelin Star !!
Commonwealth War Cemetery - Rome
After lunch we found our way to the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Rome. There are 422 burials, of which only 10 are New Zealanders.
There are two men from the 22 Battalion buried here - James Douglas LEITCH and John Carter MCQUIRE. Both died on 11 January 1946 while on final leave in Rome before the Battalion embarked for Japan. The pair were killed in a vehicle crash in central Rome, as noted in the Battalion's unpublished diary.
Last updated: 26/11/14