Monday, 24 May 2010

Monte Cassino.



We`re accumulating a bit of a backlog of reports including two brilliant days out over the holiday weekend so here`s a quick scribble and pics of a trip to Italy earlier this month.

I went out to Italy a few weeks ago with my dad and fellow veterans of the Italian campaign of World War Two.They are all getting on a bit nowadays and it looks like this will be their last visit.There were 26 altogether in the group comprised of the veterans themselves,helpers and a a woman from Invergarry who was paying her first visit to her brothers grave out there.A couple of the old boys had even ignored medical advice in order to travel.

The Northern Scottish and Glasgow contingents along with a couple of Geordies met up in Schipol airport in Amsterdam to catch a mid afternoon flight to Rome.The first section of the tour was based in Anzio where everything had been organised by a lovely Italian woman,Giuliana,who gives freely of her time to organise these Scottish visits.A coach,paid for by the Anzio council, met us at the airport and whisked us off to our hotel.

Next day most of us set off for Monte Cassino about 80 miles to the south.The hilltop here had been the site of some of the most bitter fighting of the war,on a par with Stalingrad and more
reminiscent of the battles of World War One.A United Nations of nationalities fought here....British,American,Polish,French,Indian,New Zealanders,Canadians,Portugese,Moroccan and even Brazilian units. By a stroke of luck my dad and I got talking to a guy in the local hotel who turned out to be a battlefield tour guide and hopped on the bus with us.First stop was the Commonwealth cemetary in Cassino itself.

Major Willie McArdle in the cemetary.....


...where there was a short wreath laying service and Stewart the piper played a lament on the
bagpipes...


Cassino Abbey on the hilltop....



I`d read about the battle for Monte Cassino in the past and formed a picture of it in my mind but
when the bus stoppped midway up the hill I was astounded to see how difficult the assault up this flank must have been.If I was out for a days hillwalking then I`d go looking for another way up.A few shrubs and small trees exist nowadays but 66 years ago there was no cover at all.Next stop was the Polish cemetary situated just below the monastery.

A short history here.

My dad in the Polish cemetary with the abbey behind.....


Stewart plays again...thanks to Michele di Lonardo.The full video is at the end and worth watching right through.



My dad had a stroke of luck here in 1944 ( or so he thought at the time ) when he contracted malaria and was taken out of the front at Cassino.It was a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire though as on recovery he was sent to the beachhead at Anzio where he sat in a foxhole while the German artillery lobbed shells on him for weeks on end..!

I`ve never been on an organised trip like this before and it took a bit of getting used to the fact
that I couldn`t just wander off at will.Sunday at 11am there was a special service in the Church of Scotland in Rome for my dad and his friends.I managed a quick walk around for an hour before entering bang on the start of the service.I think this is the first time I have been inside a church for something other than a wedding or funeral :) The church has one of the few roof gardens in Rome and we all repaired up here for lunch and admired the views over the city including the Vatican.
Simonetta,an old friend of my dads who lives in Rome came along to meet him.Giuliana on the left and Simonetta on the right...always had time for the ladies my dad....


Kiss for Simonetta whilst Jack Doig hopefully awaits a turn....



A few hours in the afternoon were spent wandering around Rome.



The Colosseum is in the background above.Price is up to 18€ nowadays so I thanked my lucky stars I had visited it years ago :)

Back to Anzio for a formal(ish) dinner with the mayor,British miltary attache and a few other dignitaries which wasn`t as boring or as formal as I`d feared. Monday included a trip to meet the local mayor at his chambers for a short ceremony and exchange of gifts,a visit to the museum housing exhibits from the allied landings in 1944,a few more cemetaries,lunch at Giuliana`s, and a memorial to the Gordons down by the beach where they landed.



Having a break at the Beach Head cemetary.....


My dad and Jack Doig get interviwed for the local newspaper...


Across the spine of the Appenines now via the L`Aquila area which was devasted by an earthquake last year with many fatalities.My father and his friends had sent off a cheque for around £1500 to help out with the relief effort but this had apparently "gone missing".....a local official has been charged.

We went to Fossa,a small hillside village, to vist the local primary school.Earthquakes appear frequently in the newspapers along with casualty numbers but here,meeting kids who lost their parents and siblings, the statistics bite home hard.A couple of hours were spent visiting and Stewarts bagpipes were a huge hit with the kids :) Ian who organised the trip has decided to raise some cash again only this time send it directly to the school at Xmas time.Feel free to dip into your pockets and I`ll give you his address..! There`s already a couple of hundred quid in the kitty.




Fossa...everything looks normal...


Zoomed in...


The ruins of the village stand as they are.Nobody is allowed back in by government order.There are now rows of endless prefabs down in the valley below where the population have been rehoused,a bit like a trailer park.

On a brighter note there were some cracking mountains nearbyI think this is Gran Sasso....if only....



Onwards up the Adriatic coast to Cervia for the next five days now.I hadn`t been looking forward to this part too much as it was just a beach resort and not having any transport I was guessing I`d be more or less stuck there most of the time.Fortunately the hotel had free bikes for the residents though not the type you would be seen dead with back in Glasgow :) The first day I walked through the town to the outskirts where there was a cracking bird reserve at the salt pans.Entry was only possible if accompanied by a guide and I had missed the last tour.On asking if I could get in at 6am the next day I was told that it didn`t open until 10am.! Anyway,I tried walking along the edge of the motorway and getting in further along the boundary only to be defeated by a bloody canal.Alisdair and I cycled over two days later and failed to get in again,too late again apparently.We tried without success to get in at the other side....I was a bit miffed to say the least.


Still,managed to see stilts,avocets,egrets,loads of terns.Another cycling jaunt through the pine
forests produced a hoopoe and a golden oriole both clocked by Alisdair and some weird sounding bird in the rushes which neither of us had a clue about.

A trip to San Marino was a washout with torrential monsoon like rain putting paid to my attempt to bag the country high point to my list.The downpour also put paid to the battlefield at Gemmano which was a pity as I`d been looking forward to that.Next up was the cemetary at Coriano Ridge where my uncle is buried.Marigold,from Invergarry,was making her first visit to the grave of her brother who coincidentally was killed on the same day as my uncle and is buried a few yards away.


My uncle Hamish`s grave with flowers placed by my dad.....




Marigold by her brothers grave and Stewart playing the pipes...


Coriano Ridge cemetary...


A trip on the train up to Ravenna with Irene,Frances and Marigold to see Dante`s tomb and a tour of the Basilicas.

The only photo of me on the entire trip...



Basilica di San Vitale was a bit special but almost impossible to do it justice with a compact
camera.The sheer scale of the place is almost beyond belief.
This Youtube clip will give you a good idea of what it`s like inside.




Walking through Ravenna...


From Bologna to Amsterdam where we were stuck for two days by the volcanic ash.We managed to wangle two nights in a top class hotel with all meals included . Might have been something to do with us telling them that the veterans were reurning from Arnhem after visiting the graves of their friends who were killed in the liberation of Holland :) Other folk were given camp beds in the airport ..!

Managed a few short walks along the canals when not in the airport....


Some more pics...
He never stops trying...my dad and Camilla in the hotel in Cervia....


Thanks to Giuliana,Michele di Lonardo from Cassino who put this video together..




Stewart for his piping over the trip and Ian Leslie ( 2nd from the left) who took so much trouble to organise it...


...and all the women of Italy ,like Claudia above,who kept my dad occupied :)

3 comments:

vally said...

Hey Alex, you're the spitter of your ole man!

blueskyscotland said...

Not really.He`s better looking than me and a lot fitter :)

fatdogwalks said...

My dad was in Italy at the end of the war. I think he was with the Territorial Army - he was a truck driver. I think the war was over/almost over when he was there as he didn' see action. I remember him talking about Monte Cassino. Must go and dig out the old photos now (lol).


Must have been a moving trip for them...especially if it's liable to be the last one.