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'Absolute hell' - Kiwi soldier recalls brutal WWII battles of Cassino

"It was absolute hell." That was how one soldier described the fighting during the battles of Cassino - one of New Zealand's most brutal and costliest parts of World War II.

A total of 343 Kiwi soldiers died, and those that did survive were changed forever.

Ceremonies have been held in the Italian town to mark 75 years since the town's liberation from Nazi forces.

Inside the famed Monte Cassino Abbey, the last surviving member of the 28th Māori Battallion who fought in Cassino, 94-year-old Robert Gillies, was front and centre at the third and final Kiwi service marking the 75th anniversary.

Many others were there with personal connections.

“When you visit the places where your own ancestors, in my case my grandfather, fought it brings a deeper personal moment to it that sets you back a little bit. You just think gosh what they did for us, the freedom we enjoy now, both needs to be celebrated but also continue to protect it,” said Brigadier Chris Parsons.

The Italian campaign is sometimes called the forgotten front, but today everyone who suffered there was remembered.

And the only Kiwi left who truly remembers was honoured by a grateful generation.

“It'll probably be the last time we ever do that haka for one of the 28 Māori battalion who is still alive,” said haka performer, Poai Niha.

As the years go by, it's a privilege few others will get.


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Ceremonies have been held in the Italian town to mark 75 years since its liberation from Nazi forces. Source: 1 NEWS