Sunday 18th May is the sixtieth anniversary of the Fourth Battle of Monte Casino. It has some significance for me, my father was there. He did not fight. He was with the Free Polish Army Liaison Staff. He was nothing grand, a private, a driver. He had been with the Eight Army since El Almein.
Charlie said on the day of that last battle his commanding officer (unfortunately I can't remember his name) had told him; This is not your day Charlie, you're staying here. The commanding officer went to fight with the Poles and was killed. Charlie found his body the next day.
He was lucky. Three and half thousand Poles died taking that mountain. You can read about it here. They were not the only ones, I don't want you to think that they were, nor do I want to ignore the thousands of other brave people who died defeating the fascists.
After Monte Casino Charlie told me that things became difficult. None of the other officers wanted to lead and the camaraderie that had kept them going for so long evaporated.
Monte Casino has always held a significance for me. Perhaps it was watching newsreels on All Our Yesterdays on tv when I was a child. I remember asking my dad if he had been there and he told me he had. I don't know but I suspect it was my fathers words that did it. On more than one occasion he said: You've never seen as many dead people as at Monte Casino.
He was bitter about the way the Poles had been treated after the war in Europe had ended. He told me they were disarmed and surrounded by an armoured division to stop them fighting their way home. That option was not in the grand scheme of things. In Charlie's opinion they had won the right to try and free their homeland from the communists.
So here we are sixty years later, amid the anniversary of an older war in which unimaginable numbers of people died. We have had it lucky. I just did not want this day nor the sacrifice of so many to go unmarked.
This is a work in progress, but I offer it for this day.
This is where the Poles died,
died in their thousands,
fighting up that mountainside,
brave and young and paying the Nazis back.
We hadn't done it, had three goes,
just lost more bright lives each time.
That is where Charlie found his commanding officer,
empty eyes staring into the blue sky.
You never saw so many dead bodies, as at Monte Casino.
It fell apart after that,
no one wanted to lead, they'd seen the cost.
Sour bickering as victory grew near.
The Poles were sold down the river,
surrounded by tanks and wire, after
threatening to fight their way home
across broken Europe.
They's bested the fascists
and were ready for the communists.
We sold them down the river.
Duplicity, Charlie told me, is something
the English have been good at for a long time.
I leave you with Ian Campbell's version of The D Day Dodgers. Apparently it was inspired by an incautious remark by Nancy Astor. During a visit to newly liberated France she described the Eight Army as D Day Dodgers.