Red poppies on Monte Cassino
Instead of dew, drank Polish blood.
As the soldier crushed them in falling,
For the anger was more potent than death.
Years will pass and ages will roll,
But traces of bygone days will stay,
And the poppies on Monte Cassino
Will be redder having quaffed Polish blood.
The lyrics of the song were created over night from May 17-18, 1944, a day before the Polish flag was stuck on the ruins of the Monte Cassino Abbey. The mountain was an important part of the fortification on the Gustav Line, which ran across the narrowest part of the Italian Peninsula and was heavily fortified.
For five months, the Allies couldn’t win the mountain and break the Gustav Line. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers had lost their lives trying. British historian Matthew Parker wrote: “Monte Cassino Battle – the biggest land battle in Europe – was the hardest and bloodiest fight between Western allies and German Wermacht.”
After the Monte Cassino Battle, General Harold Alexander, ground forces commander of the 15 Army Group thanked the Polish II Corps for the victory: “Soldiers of the Polish II Corps! If I could choose any soldiers in the world I would like to lead you, Poles.”
Today Cassino is a picturesque town with a rebuilt abbey towering over it.
Every year the town celebrates the anniversary of the bloody Monte Cassino Battle. Italians, Americans, French, British, Hindu, Gurhkas, New Zealanders, Poles, Canadians and South Africans took part in the battle. But it was especially important for Poles to avenge the occupation of their country. The celebrations are not very different from other similar events around the world. There are shows and reconstruction groups, unveiling of monuments (this year it was the monument of General Anders – the commander of the Polish Second Corps), and placing flowers on graves of the fallen shoulders.
This event has, however, a unique way to commemorate the fallen soldiers: A 10-kilometer race up the mountain with the finish line at the entrance to the Abbey. Only 1052 Poles are allowed to take part – this is the number of Polish graves at the top of the mountain.
Each contestant, apart from his or her running card, has the name of a soldier printed on his or her t-shirt. The idea was to make the name of each soldier live and carried on the chest of a runner. Mine was 694, in memory of Second Lieutenant Josef Pienkowski from the 2nd Machine Guns Battalion, who died on 12.05.1944.
Running up such a steep mountain has its problems. When after 35 minutes the fastest reached the finish line, weaker runners where somewhere at the bottom of the mountain. The participants were scattered along the way up the mountain like a red and white serpentine. But the truth is that such events are organized to commemorate the past and everyone who runs with this purpose in heart has a place there. It doesn’t matter if you are first or last on the finish line. The only thing that matters is not to let the memory of the Monte Cassino battle disappear.
GLORY TO THE HEROES.
Thanks for listening