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Monte Cassino

by gmractiondesk

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Dennis Maher, General Alexander, General Mark Clark
Location of story: 
Monte Cassino, Italy; Switzerland; France
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
31 January 2006

Dennis Maher, gunner, circa 1943

This story was submitted to the People's War website by Julia Shuvalova for GMR Actiondesk on behalf of Dennis Maher and has been added with his permission. The author is fully aware of the terms and conditions of the site.

Italy, Monte Cassino, 1944. We arrived in Naples, then to Casserta, to the Allied Headquarters of English and American forces in the Italian campaign against Germany. Then we went to Magazino, to Ponte Ciano, then to Foggia, near the Adriatic Sea. We were at the front with the Royal Artillery Regiment Defence Force for the 15th American Air Force who were bombing the Monte Cassino monastery.

American Air Force gave us bed, food, cigarettes and occasional cinema show. We used to go to the American air base for all our meals. The air base was like the Ritz, but we felt like refugees going to handout. We were also separated from the towns and cities, although we were allowed to visit a lovely city named Barletta.

Our duties consisted of guard duties with anti-aircraft artillery gun named the Bofors, which could be brought into action very quickly against the enemy aircraft, the German bomber planes.

One day the order came from the Command Head Quarters to move to Monte Cassino. The same day the order was fortunately cancelled, otherwise we would have been killed together with 40,000 soldiers who were killed in the battle of Cassino monastery. Why did they have to be killed in the battle against German soldiers when Cassino monastery was bombed to a complete destruction on the orderrs of General Alexander? The American war commander was only interested in being the first of the Allied invasion commanders to enter the city of Rome.

Then we were transferred to Milan, the beautiful city, where I bought myself a pencil and a fountain pen. Milan's cathedral was magnificent. On the train we went through the Simplon Tunnel into Switzerland, and into France. What lovely scenery and grape vines in full bloom!

At the French port of Calais local girls said I was a 'petit boxer'. Also, at Amiens where we stopped, I gave a chocolate bar to a young French girl called Raymonde. I also gave her my address and later received a letter from her. From France I went to London and then to Manchester.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Monte Cassino

Posted on: 31 January 2006 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

My dear Mr Mather -
It is unfortunate that you have decided to publish your views on Monte Cassino at this late hour of the series whih will close in just a few hours from now, thus it will be incorported into the historical archive for future generations to study and possibly accept all that you have written as the truth.
I am not saying that all your story is not the truth but it should be corrected here and there.
Since you landed at Naples then you were a late arrival and proceeding to Foggia to guard the American - and British Air forces stationed there - this was not the front line as you claim as you state that you arrived as the Air Forces were bombing the Monastery at Monte Cassino which was 15th and 17th February 1944 - the Front line was at Cassino and close by - many miles away to the North of Foggia.
Gen Alexanader - as Army Group Commader did indeed give the order to Bomb the Monastery on the tactical advice of both Lt.Gen Freyberg of New Zealand and Maj.Gen Tuker of the 4th Indian Div. The Air Forces were lectured by the American Chief of Air Staff - Gen "Hap" Arnold to go out and "Bamb" something - Cassino happened to be handy.
The 40,000 men killed at Cassino were not killed in the one day but rather spread over a period of some five months so I hardly think that you would have been part of the casualty list as there were sufficient anti aircraft personnel doing very little as the Luftwaffe were disappearing very fast at that time.
While it is somewhat true that the US gen.Mark Clark went against all orders - and common sense to drive into Rome first - he only helped to kill some more from determined German armies.
Your sojourn into Milan must have been very late in 1945 - after hostilities ceased and was obviously a part of your homecoming.
Cheers - Tom canning


Message 2 - Monte Cassino

Posted on: 01 February 2006 by Sokolik_Shuvalova

Dear Tom,

My name is Julia, and I contributed this story on behalf of Dennis Maher [sic], who lives in Manchester and is a good friend of mine.

I do not think it is unfortunate that Mr Maher's story came in late, and at any rate I cannot see how he can possibly become the most reliable source for the history of Cassino battle. Despite some factual discrepancies, which may well be explained by his age at which he had to remember his experience, this is a reliable personal account. As far as I know, the BBC was aiming at building the biggest archive of living war memories. This means - memories that do not necessarily conform with the facts or an established point of view. The BBC have never said they were only collecting the most reliable or unbiased accounts. If it was so, perhaps a quarter of all stories would not even be accepted simply because they presented a very personal view of the WW2.

Nevertheless, I am sure my colleagues among historians and all who are interested in Cassino battle will find your comments most useful, unless they have already spotted all mistakes in Mr Maher's account.

As for the casualties - a similar story is currently in the news, with the 100th British soldier being killed in Iraq. The figure surges anti-war protests, but at the same time it is incomparable with American losses. Same with 40,000 men who were killed at Cassino - how much does this 'spread in time' change either the destruction of the monastery or the fact of their death?

Yours sincerely, Julia Shuvalova.


Message 3 - Monte Cassino

Posted on: 01 February 2006 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

My dear Julia -
thanks you for your response and your comments.- while it is true that the BBc never insisted on accuracy in the tales which they have now accepted for their permanent archive - they did in the initial stages require a modicum of truth, which as you correctly point out would nullify many tales of derring do.
There was a slight change in the attitude of the BBc when they finally decided to go for quantity as opposed to quality in order to gain some 50,000 stories - as it happens - we - the site helpers have just received their thanks for our assistance in gaining some 45,000 stories also 15,000 pictures. Sadly many of us objected to many of the stories which will now find in the archive, and as an Historian I would have thought that you would share this view.
The actual facts of the overall casualties at Cassino has been estimated at 5th and 8th armies 120,000 and the German armies at 80,000. Which is a tremendous loss to all of mankind allowing for the five month spread of that battle as even the loss of one person is a tragedy.
The anti war people will always be with us in their protests, not necessarily regarding the losses but rather that they may be involved in the actual fighting.I have always held the view that not too many of those people would survive even the basic training let alone a battle such as we experienced at both Monte Cassino and the Gothic Line further North, but I guess - you had to be there - which your Mr Mather was not !
tom canning
ex 21st Tank Bde.,
and 16th/5th Lancers
6th Armoured Div.


Message 4 - Monte Cassino

Posted on: 01 February 2006 by Ron Goldstein

Dear Julia

The time is just after 5 am and I have just wandered onto the site to check whether or not it has actually closed down or whether it was still open to get the last dregs of the WW2 memories.

I was surprised to see you crossing swords with Tom at this last moment and although he needs no defence from me (Tom has always been more than willing to fight his own battles) I feel obliged to raise one point.

We (that is the Gang of Four, referred to below) have always been at pains to point out errors of fact in order that future users of this site are not given incorrect or false information.

The BBC have always said that any inaccuracies posted could be counter-balanced by threads added by veterans who were able to supply first hand experience or by researchers who were able and willing to go the extra mile in their research.

Tom, I believe, was bemoaning the fact that time was quickly running out and there would not be sufficient time for rebuttal of innacuracies.

May I suggest that you make use of the following information to continue your discussion?

" The Second World War" can be found by using the following link:

: links

This new site has been created by the "Gang of Four", namely (in Alphabetical order) Tom Canning,Peter Ghiringhelli,Ron Goldstein and Frank Mee and will be operative from the 1st of February 2006.

The site will hopefully cater for all those who have been using the existing BBC site for serious discussion and research into WW2. Old and new friends welcome.


Ron Goldstein

ex 49th Light AA Rgt, RA and 4th Queen's Own Hussars and yes... I was at Cassino


Message 5 - Monte Cassino

Posted on: 01 February 2006 by Sokolik_Shuvalova

Dear Ron and Tom,

Many thanks for your replies. I'll certainly migrate with you, and many thanks for the invitation.

I'll only say that even if my response sounded belligerent, it was probably just as much so as Tom's comment. I do seriously doubt that a particular account we are discussing here will be of huge significance for a grounded historical research - and in any case the figure is there, and no matter how long it took for all those soldiers to be killed, the number is nonetheless stupendous. The opinion of Mr Maher of either Gen. Alexander or the casualties is his personal, and I would imagine a researcher would use this account not to tell us 'how it really was', but rather as an antithesis, as the evidence of what some people thought of Cassino battle.

Quite simply, I understand Tom's intention, which I share, but I cannot really imagine Mr Maher's account playing such a potentially crucial role for all researchers that it needed to attract a discussion.

Once again, thanks for inviting me over! I shall also recommend your link to a friend of mine, who is a dedicated, albeit non-academic, researcher into the WW2 and, especially, Cassino battle.

All best,



Message 6 - Monte Cassino

Posted on: 01 February 2006 by Sokolik_Shuvalova

Oh, and one more thing - his surname is Maher, nor Mather.


Message 7 - Monte Cassino

Posted on: 01 February 2006 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Ms Shuvalova

You seem to me to be blissfully unaware that both Tom Canning and Ron Goldstein are well into their 80s and are both veterans of the bitter war in Italy. Both were in the front line in Italy, and Tom was very badly wounded on the Gothic Line when his tank received a direct hit. So please, let's have less of pleading age as an excuse for a misleading account. I am sure that many front line troops in Italy would have given anything for a few days break in Foggia in 1944.

This is not Mr Maher's fault, for obvious reasons airfields had to be located well behind the front line and there had to be adequate anti-aircraft defences. He was doing a very necessary and important job, but he was nowhere near the front line.

No-one is asking that Mr Maher should "become the most reliable source for the history of Cassino battle" but equally you should not dismiss other veterans' memories because they happen to chime with "an established point of view" - implying that one memory is as good and as reliable as another.

As for Milan, it was liberated by Italian partisans and all German troops left the city on 25 April 1945, disorganised and routed. No Allied troops set foot in Milan before then. By the way, I was in Milan myself shortly after that and quite possibly well before Mr Mahler.

Kind regards,
Peter Ghiringhelli

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