Peter Fraser visits Cassino, 1944

One week after the fall of Monte Cassino in May 1944, New Zealand Prime Minister Peter Fraser visited the site and surveyed the ruins of the Benedictine monastery and town where the New Zealanders had fought. The 2nd New Zealand Division had landed in Italy in October 1943, and in early February 1944 it was first involved in an attempt to break the German defensive line by driving up the Liri valley. The valley was guarded by the 500-metre-high hill topped by an historic monastery. The decision to bomb the monastery (which remains controversial) ultimately proved counter-productive as its ruins assisted the German defenders. The fighting cost New Zealand 343 lives.


Next morning the party sets off for the Cassino area. It is less than a week since Cassino fell and along the roadside are many reminders that the fighting has only just moved on. These knocked-out tanks have not yet been salvaged. These Polish dead are yet unburied.

Leaving their jeeps the party started climbing the monastery hill. It was over this ground that the most desperate battles of the whole Mediterranean Campaign were fought. Here, for a long five months, the Germans managed to pin down the Allied advance.

Up this steep slope men had to fight. And General Freyberg shows Mr Fraser and General Puttick how the German occupation of the monastery put them in command of the whole valley.

The party clamber over the monastery ruins. It was from this vantage point that the Germans directed their counter-attacks against the New Zealand Division two months before. With such odds against them, Cassino had been too tough for even the Kiwis to crack. But the way they fought brings pride to the New Zealanders looking down on all that is left of Cassino town.

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