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Prince Harry marks anniversary of Monte Cassino with Polish veterans of Second World War

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: May 18, 2014

  • Prince Harry (centre) at a commemoration service at Monte Cassino cemetery on the first day of his tour of Italy. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

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Prince Harry today marked the capture of Monte Cassino with Polish veterans of one of the Second World War's bloodiest battles.

After months of hard fighting that left an estimated 250,000 dead, its was 70 years ago 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.

Harry 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.

The Prince 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 Wladyslaw Anders reached the monastery ruins.

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

The Second World War battle is an important part of Polish history and seen as a crucial element of their struggle for self determination.

The Polish prime minister told the congregation in a speech that “it was a fight for our freedom and all the successive generations throughout the world”.

He added that Poland “was not idle, we were not helpless, we were able to prove to the whole world there is no hill that cannot be attained”.

During the moving service, each teenager from the youth groups placed their red poppy on an individual grave.

Monte Cassino loomed large above them on a nearby hill top and Harry paid tribute to the Poles who died fighting to take it by placing a wreath at the Virtuti Militara Cross.

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