Over four days at the end of April, a group of Old Bedfordians and Friends of the School had the privilege to visit Monte Cassino. Many OBs will have heard of this conflict which took place from January to June 1944, and played a crucial part in the overall Italian Campaign. The allied plans after securing Sicily and the landings at Salerno were to push north to take Rome. In preparation, the German forces had built a number of defensive lines running across Italy with the mountains around the town of Cassino playing a vital part in this defensive plan. Once in the Liri Valley (Route 6 of the advance) it was easy for the group to understand why the German positions in the mountains (which were part of the Gustav Line) and surrounding areas were to provide such an obstacle for the advancing forces resulting in some bitter fighting at close quarters and sadly large numbers of casualties, both military and civilian.
It was fascinating to learn that the Allied Forces were made up of many nationalities; British, Americans, New Zealanders, Canadians, Polish, Indians, Italians and Palestinians. One senior officer to play a crucial role during this campaign was OB Lieutenant General Sidney Kirkman (1903-14) who took over as GOC XIII Corps early in 1944, having distinguished himself in the North African Campaign.
Remembrance and Reflection are important elements of such a trip, and a small Act of Remembrance took place at the Cassino War Cemetery, where two Old Bedfordians are buried; Capt Michael Doble MC (34-38) and Sgt Anthony Le Fanu (27-36). At the main monument the Club’s President, David Murray, laid a wreath in memory of all Old Bedfordians involved in the Italian Campaign. The party also visited the Polish, Italian and German Cemeteries and a number of individual Regimental Memorials. One of which was to recognise the bravery of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, which is documented in the book “Cap Badge” by RH Medley.
In the evenings the group enjoyed discussing the day’s events and sampling the local Italian cuisine and wines. Thank you to our guide Tim Saunders and the team at Anglia Tours for making this trip such a success. Please keep a look out for similar events in the future, they are always interesting, moving and enjoyable.