A group of young men from Northland have headed to Italy to mark the 75th anniversary of what is regarded as the most brutal and costly battle involving the Māori Battalion.

Seventeen young men from Te Kāpehu Whetū's Leadership Academy of A Company - which pays tribute to the 28th Māori Battalion - left for Italy on Tuesday to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cassino.

Rangatira Keerako, 17, and Zenith Sayer, 15, said they had been learning a lot about the battle prior to their trip.

Rangatira Keerako, 17, said the students would pay respects to their tūpuna (ancestors) who fought in the Battle of Cassino. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Rangatira Keerako, 17, said the students would pay respects to their tūpuna (ancestors) who fought in the Battle of Cassino. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Keerako said he had known about this trip for two years so was "speechless" now it was happening.

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"I feel amazed ... We'll be paying our respects to our tūpuna," he said.

Meanwhile Sayer was excited.

"It's a good experience for me being a Year 11 in school, and me being so young."

The struggle for Cassino in early 1944 was one of New Zealand's most brutal and costly battles during World War II.

Nearly 350 members of the New Zealand Division were killed during the Cassino campaign, and at least 1200 were wounded.

The 28th Māori Battalion played a crucial role in this campaign and suffered significant losses – 128 of their soldiers were killed, wounded or captured during a single attack on the town's railway station.

Zenith Sayer, 15, is excited for the trip. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Zenith Sayer, 15, is excited for the trip. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Both boys discovered they had great-uncles who fought in the Battle of Cassino and Keerako said he was most looking forward to visiting that railway station because of its significance.

"Heaps of our Māori Battalion died there and sacrificed their own lives," he said.

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The students will be away for two weeks.