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We were seen as D-Day dodgers: Veterans mark 75 years since ‘forgotten battle’ | World News

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Veterans once labelled “D-Day dodgers” have gathered to commemorate a little-known battle often overshadowed by the success of the Normandy landings.

The Battle of Monte Cassino was pivotal in leading to Italy’s liberation in the Second World War but those who fought in it have felt “ignored” for 75 years.

The Allies – including British, Commonwealth, the free Polish army, the free French, the royal Italians and US soldiers – fought in the Italian campaign between 1943 and 1945.

Battle of Monte Cassino veteran Bryan Woolnough, aged 96, prepares to lay a wreath at the Battle of Monte Cassino memorial during a commemorative ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the "Forgotten Campaign" at The National Memorial Arboretum on May 11, 2019 in Stafford, England
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Battle of Monte Cassino veteran Bryan Woolnough says veterans were called D-Day dodgers
Battle of Monte Cassino veteran John Clarke MBE (L), aged 95, of Hertfordshire and other Italy campaign veterans take part in the Battle of Monte Cassino commemorative ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the "Forgotten Campaign" at The National Memorial Arboretum on May 11, 2019 in Stafford, England
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John Clarke MBE of Hertfordshire was among the campaign veterans

Over 123 days in 1944 they suffered 55,000 casualties as they tried to take a monastery fortified by the Germans in Monte Cassino, between Naples and Rome. They were eventually victorious, but the Germans suffered far fewer losses with 20,000.

Bob Gamble OBE, from the Royal British Legion, said: “The army was the best part of a quarter of a million people that the British put together – everyone else that wasn’t needed for Normandy.

“Without Italy holding the German attention Normandy would not have happened – it is that significant in terms of time.

“It sticks with me today that they feel they did the hardest fighting for the longest time and all the stardust was sprinkled on D-Day and that’s a natural consequence of timing.”

A parade, ceremony and wreath laying marked the battle at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

Battle of Monte Cassino veteran Bryan Woolnough, aged 96, lays a wreath at the Battle of Monte Cassino memorial during a commemorative ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the "Forgotten Campaign" at The National Memorial Arboretum on May 11, 2019 in Stafford, England
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Mr Woolnough, 96, laid a wreath at the battle’s memorial

Bryan Woolnough MBE, 95, who fought in the battle, said: “I think it’s wonderful that people do at last recognise what the Italian troops did.

“I mean, we tied down so many German divisions which, if they’d been available across Europe, it would have been a different tale.

“Then, of course, that horrendous story about how we were the D-Day dodgers which we couldn’t get our thought around.

“To think that the men out there were dying, and back home they thought we were D-Day dodgers, which just seems incredible.”

Battle of Monte Cassino veteran John Clarke MBE, aged 95, of Hertfordshire takes part in the Battle of Monte Cassino commemorative ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the "forgotten campaign" at The National Memorial Arboretum on May 11, 2019 in Stafford, England
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Mr Clarke, 95, said Monte Cassino veterans were ignored

John Clarke MBE, also 95, saw the humour in their nickname and helped write a song entitled The D-Day Dodgers as they fought.

“We’ve not been recognised, we were just ignored. When they landed in Normandy we didn’t get reinforcements or ammunition – they forgot us.

“I feel satisfied finally that it’s being done and sad others haven’t lived to attend.

“I think our lads were brilliant… it’s the first time for many years I’ve had a good cry.”

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