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Maori Battalion Memorial At Cassino Station

For immediate release
Thursday 13 May, 2004

Special Maori Battalion Memorial Service At Cassino Railway Station

On Monday 17 May, ten Maori Battalion veterans and their relatives will hold a special memorial service at the Cassino Railway Station in Italy. The veterans are visiting Cassino to take part in the 60th Anniversary commemorations, but the service at the town’s railway station will be of particular importance and significance.

On behalf of the 28 (Maori) Battalion, Dr Monty Soutar, from the History Group, Ministry for Culture and Heritage explains the significance:-

“The Battalion had an impressive fighting record during the Second World War. They were considered ‘feared warriors’ and were sought after repeatedly when a special effort was required. Never was this more apparent than during the Battle of Cassino.”

“At Cassino the Battalion was picked from the New Zealand Division to capture and hold the town’s railway station. While some of the officers had reservations about the likelihood of success, the Maori soldiers saw it as an honour to be selected as the unit to spearhead the New Zealand attack.”

“It was a horrific assault. In less than twenty hours, two Companies from the Battalion together lost over 130 men who were either killed, injured or captured. It was six weeks before any bodies could be recovered and it was the unit’s survivors who personally retrieved and buried them.”

“The Battalion was pitched into other battles after the bombing of Cassino township, and suffered further heavy casualties, but it was at the railway station that the majority of their deaths occurred.”

“Now sixty years on, only a handful of Maori veterans who took part in the attack are alive. The veterans attending the special service at the railway station will no doubt have in mind all those men who lost their lives at Cassino, but they will particularly remember their mates and relatives from their Battalion who were killed and whose bodies lay in no-man’s land for all those weeks so long ago.”

Dr Soutar will travel with the 28 (Maori) Battalion veterans to Cassino.

On behalf of the Nga Taonga a Nga Tama Toa Trust, an entity made up of Maori Battalion veterans and widows, Dr Soutar is currently writing a history of the Maori war effort in World War Two, based on the records of the tribes of Tairawhiti.

“This history is inspired by a perceived need among older generations, which lived through the war, to better inform their descendants about Maori objectives in World War Two. It will also inform a wider New Zealand audience about the continuing impact that World War Two has on Maori society,” said Dr Soutar.

The book follows on from an oral history project of the C Company, 28 Maori Battalion in which Dr Soutar was involved. For almost a decade, together with a research team, he has collected more than 400 hours of video footage, 4000 photographs and a large amount of related memorabilia.

A feature from Dr Soutar’s World War Two project will appear later this year on www.nzhistory.net.nz

- ENDS -

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