Indigenous | Italy

Kōrero for pou to be erected in Italy in honour of battle of Monte Cassino

Ngāti Whakaue and Ngāti Kahungunu delegates will travel to Cassino, Italy next week to discuss having a pou erected near the Cassino railway station where 128 Māori Battalion soldiers fought and died in 1944.

This will happen ahead of next year’s 80th anniversary of the brutal Battle of Monte Cassino, where Māori Battalion soldier Sir Robert ‘Bom’ Gillies, who fought in that battle, will also attend.

Hemi Rolleston (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui), who is part of the group travelling over, says he is beyond excited to begin the journey, particularly being alongside Sir Giles and his whānau on Monday.

“Being led by our rangatira Tā ‘Bom’ Gillies is going to be something really special, the last of the revered Māori Battalion, 98 and fit and well.”

“The fact that he also is a cavaliere, knighted by the president of Italy, and hasn’t been back since that happened since 2019, and just over a year ago he was knighted in New Zealand.

“If I could speak for him, he’s hugely excited but, obviously, there’s a sense of sadness as well when he goes back into those war cemeteries and particularly to Cassino itself.”

Special connection

Included in the travel group are whānau of fallen soldiers from A and B Company and solicitor David Stone who has been on a mission to repatriate medals to whānau of Māori Battalion soldiers.

“Everyone’s got a special connection,” Rolleston says.

“[For] myself, I had three grand-uncles that fought there but everyone in the delegation has got some special connection to Cassino.”

Discussions with the town and its mayor on approvals for the pou will happen for this trip, with the hope of having the pou approved and erected during the 80th anniversary next year.

“To the best of my knowledge, it’s a 7.6 metre pou. All of the designs and planning have been done here... it’s really around the approval.

“We’ve got to remember, [Cassino] is going to be the kaitiaki of it, so we’re making sure that it’s done properly and Uncle [Bom] has some ideas on what that might look like as well.

“It’s probably more a kōrero around how it might happen but I know from an Aotearoa point of view, [we’re] ready, willing and able when the green light goes to have it ready for May 2024.”

Public Interest Journalism