While I was in Italy, we spent a few hours at the abbey of Monte Cassino, probably most well known as the source of the Bendictine monks. But in 1944, it was the stage for the battle of Monte Cassino. An important battle in World War II as Cassino and the surrounding areas presented an opportunity for the Allied forces to move on to Rome – providing they could defeat the German troops holding the position. The Allies eventually prevailed, but not without a massive loss of life.
About a 10 minute drive from the abbey, is the Cassino War Cemetery. I’d never been to a war cemetery before, so I was a little unsure what to expect once confronted with the thousands of graves of soldiers. Naturally I have been in a cemetery before, but this was an entirely different feeling altogether. The feeling was that of an overwhelming sense of wasted life, so many young men led to their deaths by politicians and war mongers. It made me wonder how many future lives were lost by the deaths of these men – their children and grandchildren that were never born. There were five Australians buried there. Five out of four thousand. Strangely enough, one of them was from right here on the Central Coast where I live, which I find pretty amazing, considering I was on the other side of the world.
Not surprisingly, it was a sad place to be. There are over 4000 soldiers buried in this war cemetery and the nearby Polish cemetery holds over 1000 Polish troops, also killed in the Battle of Monte Cassino. But the thing that affected me themost, were the graves of those who are unknown. For whatever reason, these soldiers were never identified, meaning there have probably been families for decades, wondering where their loved ones ended up. It is one thing to lose someone in such a way, but another thing altogether to never know where they are.
In less than 24 hours, it will be Remembrance Day. The day marking the armistice which brought about the end of the First World War in 1918. I don’t believe that this day, or those like it, hold any special significance for the younger generations. We are getting past the stage where we had a father, grandfather, or even great grandfather fight in one of the wars and these days now seem to be just another notation on the calendar you bought in the supermarket. The personal connection to these wars has all but been lost and with it is disappearing the appreciation for the fortunate lives many of us are privileged to lead.
Visiting this war cemetery certainly put things into perspective for me. While I am already (mostly) grateful for what I have, I will be more appreciative now of what I have and what I will have. I wouldn’t say that it has changed my life, but it was definitely a very moving experience and one that I won’t forget any time soon.