Sophie Ryan

Sophie Ryan is an NZME. News Service reporter.

Kiwi veterans return to Cassino for 70th anniversary

Terry Flanagan will return to the site of the devastating battles of Cassino next week.
Terry Flanagan will return to the site of the devastating battles of Cassino next week.

Forty-one New Zealand veterans of the Battles of Cassino will return to the site of the World War 2 battles to mark 70th anniversary commemorations next week.

Terry Flanagan, 93, was in an anti-aircraft artillery unit at Cassino and witnessed the "pitiful" bombing of the historic Abbey of Monte Cassino, thought to be a key vantage point for German troops.

As part of the commemorations the Hamilton man will attend mass at the restored abbey overlooking Cassino, Italy, the site of four key battles as the allied forces tried to reach Rome.

"The monastery was almost completely destroyed during the war with the bombing. It was pitiful to see it happen but remarkable how it was almost all replaced in 10 years," he said.

"The basilica there is, I think, as beautiful as it was previously."

Ten years ago Mr Flanagan was in the ballot to attend the 60th anniversary of the battle and wasn't successful. However, for this commemoration there was no ballot and he will be attending with 40 other veterans from around the country.

The veterans will leave Whenuapai Air Base next Sunday and travel on a RNZAF flight to Rome.

They will attend mass at the restored Abbey of Monte Cassino, visit the Cassino Railway Station where the 28th Maori Battalion were heavily engaged, take part in the National Commemorative Service at the Cassino Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery and attend and British and Commonwealth Service of Remembrance.

Mr Flanagan said he was looking forward to reminiscing with fellow veterans.

He said he did not think he knew anyone going on the trip personally but was sure they shared connections from the war.

Son Paul Flanagan said his father shared the good memories of the war with his family.

"One the memories he shared with me was the kindness of the local people [in Cassino]. They were hard done by by the war but they were very friendly and hospitable." he said.

Paul said he was pleased to see his father taking part in the commemorations.

"The whole family is really thrilled that he has this opportunity, particularly at this stage of his life," he said.

The 70th anniversary of the Battle of Cassino is one of two major commemorations for New Zealand's involvement in WW2 this year, the other being the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

- APNZ

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