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Governor-General's speech at the Cassino War Cemetery

Governor-General's speech at the Cassino War Cemetery

Speech given on Sunday 18 May by the Governor-General at the Cassino War Cemetery, Italy, to mark the 70th anniversary commemorations of the Cassino Battles.

E aku rangatira
O Itari,
O Cassino,
Tenei aku mihi mahana ki a koutou,
Ki nga maunga,
Nga awa,
Me nga whenua,
Tēnā koutou i tenei ra whakamaumahara hirahira.

Ka huri ki a koutou te hunga mate,
Nga tūpāpaku hoia o te Pakanga o Monte Cassino,
Takoto, mae mai, okioki i roto i te rangi marie.

Kia hoki mai ki a tatou te hunga ora,
E te Arikinui, Prince Harry, tēnā koe,
Ki a tatou katoa o Aotearoa,
Kia ora huihui tatou.

The esteemed people of Italy and Cassino
My warm greetings to you,
To the mountains, the rivers and the land,
I greet you on this special commemorative day.
I turn to you, the deceased
The soldiers of the Battle of Cassino
My respects to you all lying here
Rest in peace.

And to those gathered here, your Royal Highness, Prince Harry, greetings.
To all those from New Zealand.
Greetings to us all gathered.

Tēnā koutou katoa.

It is a great honour to join New Zealand veterans from the Italian campaign at this commemorative ceremony today – the 70th anniversary of the day when Cassino finally fell to Allied forces.

On behalf of all New Zealanders, I thank you for your service during the war effort, and honour those of your comrades who cannot or could not be here today.

This journey will bring back vivid memories of your wartime experiences, and the highs and lows of a tough campaign.

Tens of thousands of New Zealanders came to Italy to free the Italian peninsula from the yoke of fascism.

They fought a stubborn and determined enemy, well-entrenched in defensive positions, who resisted every inch of the way.

Some paid the ultimate sacrifice so that successive generations could enjoy a rich peace. The promise of their hope is reflected in the faces of the young people from New Zealand and Italy who are with us today.

In the 1940s, most New Zealanders would have had a sketchy knowledge of Italian geography, but from the latter part of 1943 until February 1946, when the last of our troops left Italy, words like Orsogna, Castelfrentano, Cassino, Faenza, Rimini, Trieste, Padua, Sangro and Senio would become part of our vocabulary and part of our nation’s story.

Cassino was a particularly hard-fought and desperate battle – where, despite heroic efforts and weeks of fighting, victory was to remain elusive for our men.

American troops had mounted the first unsuccessful assault.

In the second, involving New Zealand and Indian troops, the 28th Māori Battalion suffered particularly heavy losses in the attack on Cassino’s railway station. Only 66 men returned to the allied lines after the German counterattack, out of the 200 men who took part the assault.

In the third battle for Cassino, our men and the supporting tanks struggled to make progress through the wilderness of bombed streets and enormous craters. After 10 days, as casualties mounted, the New Zealand troops were withdrawn.

464 have marked graves in this cemetery and another 55 are listed on the Cassino Memorial.

I hope as more young New Zealanders show interest in the deeds and sacrifices of their forefathers, they will visit not just Gallipoli, but also the battlefields and cemeteries of Europe.

When they come to Italy, they will find few traces of the Italian battlefields. Time and the march of progress have seen to that.

But they will be able to retrace the footsteps of their tupuna, and feel their spirits walking beside them.

They will be able to visit the beautifully tended cemeteries maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. They will take memories of those experiences home with them to pass on to their family and friends. And they will find that communities across Italy remember the sacrifices made by New Zealanders on their behalf.

And as our young people see prosperous and bustling Italian towns and cities, they will be proud that their forefathers helped generations of Italians to know the peace that we also enjoy in our country.

French author Laurent Binet has talked about the role of memory in honouring our heroes and consoling the living. He said:

The dead are dead, and it makes no difference to them whether I pay homage to their deeds. But for us the living, it does mean something. Memory is of no use to the remembered, only to those who remember. We build ourselves with memory and console ourselves with memory.

In coming to this cemetery today, we remember all who were victims of the tragic events here and elsewhere in Italy – the Americans, the Indians, the British, the Poles, the French and the Italians our men fought alongside as allies; and also our then enemies who fought well in a wrong cause.

But most of all today, we honour the 2176 young New Zealanders who did not return home after the Italian campaign. We remember a time in our history when New Zealanders came from the other side of the world in defence of freedom and democracy.

Today, we also seek, and hope to find, some consolation for those we lost.

No reira, kia ora huihui tātou katoa.
Again, greetings to us all gathered.

ENDS

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