As the sun shone down on the Ilford Park Polish Home in Devon, residents made their way from the church service remembering those who bravely fought and lost their lives during the Battle of Monte Cassino…

The memorial service marked the 75th anniversary of a battle that saw an estimated 48,000 Polish soldiers fighting as part of the Allied assault during the final stages between 17 January and 18 May 1944 on Italian soil during World War 2.

The service, organised by the MOD’s Veterans UK, part of Defence Business Services, and The Royal British Legion, was held on Tuesday 14 May 2019 and was conducted by Father Jarek Kucharczyk in the Ilford Park Church situated within the home.

Three Polish residents who fought in the battle, Mr Zenon Slomka (96), Mr Waclaw Domagala (95) and Mr Jan Grzesik (93), attended the service alongside other Polish residents and their families. Mr Slomka said: “It is important that we remember all those who lost their lives in the battle and throughout the war. It was an excellent service.”

6 standard bearers were part of the service proceedings whilst a bugler played the Last Post. Attending dignitaries included Deputy Lieutenant Robin Barlow, Lieutenant Colonel Andy Pierce, Councillor Ken Purchase, Mayor of Newton Abbot and local and county chairmen of the Royal British Legion. Colonel Norbert Czerbniak, Deputy Defence, Military, Naval and Air Attaché from the Embassy of Poland, also attended.

With victory secured by the Allies on 18 May 1944, the Battle of Monte Cassino, one of the toughest and bloodiest battles of World War II, takes a special place in Polish history. In April 1944, the 2nd Polish Corps in Italy numbered around 48,000 soldiers and was part of the British 8th Army.

Winning key German defensive positions and breaking the Hitler Line opened the way to Rome, which was taken over by the U.S. 5th Army on 4 June. The 2nd Polish Corps paid a very high price for its victory: 923 dead, 2,931 injured and 345 missing in action. Considering the many battles fought around Cassino and including all the missing, wounded and captured, the battle lasting half a year claimed 200,000 casualties on both sides.

Ilford Park Polish Home provides residential and nursing care to former members of the Polish Forces under British command in World War 2, and who were displaced from Poland following the war, or their spouses. The Home meets a wartime UK government promise made by Winston Churchill. It is the responsibility of the MOD’s Veterans UK to continue the promise of the former Prime Minister.