New Zealand's fallen have been honoured by Prince Harry, who reached another milestone in his official life – performing his first Maori hongi.
Harry attended a service to commemorate the Kiwi troops who died during the Allied campaign to take Monte Cassino from Nazi forces during five months of bitter fighting which culminated in victory 70 years ago yesterday.
And before it began he performed a number of hongis – nose rubbing – with senior guests who had gathered at a war ceremony in the town of Cassino, overlooked by the imposing Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino.
New Zealand forces played a big part in the second and third battles of Monte Cassino in 1944 before victory was secured in the fourth battle. Prince Harry, who attended the ceremony as a member of the New Zealand Royal Family, performed his first hongi when he met the country's Governor General, Sir Jerry Mateparae.
Both took off their military hats to press their noses and foreheads together and then repeated the greeting inside the cemetery after the prince had signed a book of remembrance.
Harry did the same with Warrrant Officer Class 1 Jerald Twomey, 50, of the Royal New Zealand Army Logistical Regiment and Sergeant Wai Paenga, 44, of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, both in military uniform.
The Prince's technique impressed his hosts with Warrant Officer Twomey, from Whanganui, saying: "He was very good".
Harry then joined veterans and the Governor General in a slow procession to the Cross of Sacrifice led by an arrowhead of Maori Warriors, flanked by two airmen in uniform twirling Purerehua, Maori wind instruments, above their heads to make a buzzing sound.
As they moved forward a Maori cultural group performed a Maimai Aroha, or chanting, and a Karanga – a spiritual call.
During the open-air service hymns were sung, contemporary accounts of the battles were read and a minute's silence was observed after a bugler had sounded the Last Post.
Harry laid a wreath at the Cross of Sacrifice, as did other dignitaries, including the Governor General.
Many New Zealand veterans of the battle of Monte Cassino had made the long journey from their homeland to attend the service and honour fallen comrades whose graves surrounded them.
After the ceremony they patiently queued to shake hands with Harry and many cracked jokes – with Brian Schofield, 92, from Auckland telling the prince "you be good," and he replied: "I will".
Mr Schofield was a sergeant in a tank transport unit who spent three months fighting in the Cassino area.
Asked if memories of the battle were still fresh in his mind, he replied: "Oh Christ yes" and pointing up to the monastery said: "It's still looking down on us".
The original 6th century monastery was obliterated in a bombing raid the Allies hoped would bring an end to the conflict.
From the rocky outcrop topped by the holy site, Nazi forces had constructed a highly fortified position and were frustrating the Allies' advance north to Rome in 1944.
But the air raid failed to root out Hitler's forces.
Mr Schofield said: "I still think the bombing was a waste of time."
Prince Harry reacted with amazement at the damage wreaked on an historic monastery during one of the Second World War's most important battles. Harry visited Monte Cassino and was given a tour by the Abbot's secretary, Father Antonio Potenza. As he walked into an exhibition chronicling the destruction of the holy site he saw a huge black and white image of its ruins and said: 'Unbelievable – they knocked the whole thing down'