A Second World War hero has been given a Royal thanks after meeting Prince Harry at the site of the Battle of Monte Cassino.
Retired Colonel Dennis Walton CBE, 94, of Matlock – who served with the 58th Suffolk Medium Regiment during the epic campaign – spoke with the Prince about his experiences at a commemoration event marking its 70th anniversary on Sunday.
“I was able to have a few moments with him and he was a very delightful chap indeed” said Mr Walton. “I spoke with him about how well organised the event was as not only did they have a nurse, they had a doctor in case we fell ill and if that failed, there was a father to bury us.”
Prince Harry praised the courage of the men, who stormed Nazi positions at the site near Rome in terrible conditions knowing they or their friends would likely be killed.
The Prince said: “I take my hat off to them. I’m so privileged to be here on this spot, on this ground, to share the last couple of days not only with the Brits but the New Zealanders and the Polish as well, and everybody else who has taken part.”
Mr Walton, 94, who owns Lady Fair clothing shop in Bakewell, saw action in the battle to cross the Rapido River, where American forces were trying to reach heavily defended Nazi positions. He said: “I was a mobile gun officer trying to bring fire down on the other side of the river.
“The enemy had guns, mortars - they massacred the Americans.
“I could see the bodies floating down the river - I still think, ‘Could I have done better?’”
The Battle of Monte Cassino was a crucial campaign that saw Allied forces launch four major attacks in 1944 to destroy Nazi forces holding a strategically important rocky outcrop, home to the 1,400 year-old Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino. After fighting their way north the Allies’ progress to Rome was frustrated by the enemy forces at the elevated location.
The fighting force consisted of many nations from Americans and British, to Indians, Poles, Canadians, French from North Africa, Indians, Gurkhas and New Zealanders but all had to contend with icy mountain terrain, mines and constant bombardments from the Nazi forces. Progress was slow and the conflict claimed many lives, becoming the bloodiest battle in Europe.
The Prince added: “At the end of the day this has always been referred to as the forgotten campaign - to me it makes no sense at all. Those guys in there are as important as everybody else.
“And as I said, listening to some of the stories and banter amongst them, German soldiers and British veterans here together having a laugh, I think it’s amazing.”