British veteran, 100, leads ceremonies marking Monte Cassino British, Commonwealth struggle 80 years ago

Veteran Jack Hearn, 100, with latter day Fusiliers. PHOTO CREDIT MICHAEL LAPOINTE

  CASSINO --The Duchess of Edinburgh flanked by a sprightly 100-year-old veteran former warrior led ceremonies at the town of Cassino Sunday to commemorate the sacrifice of 20,000 British and Commonwealth troops killed during the Battle of Monte Cassino against Nazi German forces 80 years ago..

 As the Allied forces landed in Italy in late 1943 and advanced north, the Germans retreated with the Gustav Line which held at Monte Cassino (located between Rome and Naples). Starting in January1944, there were four Allied offencives or battles. The fourth offensive spearheaded by the Poles and free French resulted in a victory finally for the Allies in May of the same year. This came at a substantial cost - over 55,000 casualties were suffered by a coalition of Allies including American, British, Canadian, Indian, New Zealand, French Moroccan, and Polish troops. The breakthrough opened the road to Rome for the Allies and brought them a step closer to liberating Italy from German Occupation.

 During the ceremonies Sunday the Duchess delivered a message from King Charles: "On this Eightieth Anniversary, let us pause to reflect on the immense sacrifices made by so many for the cause of freedom in Europe - perhaps ever more poignant today," she quoted the King saying.

 "Let us remember all those who fought in the campaign, including the lives of the Commonwealth personnel who never returned home and lie, or are remembered, in the Cassino War Cemetery."

 In attendance were Lord Edward Llewellyn OBE, the British Ambassador to Italy, General Sir Patrick Sanders, The UK Chief of Defence Staff, The Polish Ambassador to Italy, Anna Maria Anders, whose father, General Władysław Anders, led his troops to Capture Monte Cassino at the climax of the Fourth Offensive.

 Also among those attending Sunday was one of the last surviving veterans of the battle, a sprightly 100-year-old.  John Hearn, who served in the Northumberland Fusiliers during the Battle of Monte Cassino, laid a wreath on the centrepiece of the Commonwealth ceremony as trumpeters from his regiment playes the last post. John (also known as Jack), joined the British Army in 1942 when he was just 18. He seemed to enjoy the attention after the ceremony posing with multiple soldiers for photos and sharing life lessons with the younger troops. Apparently he may hold the title for the "Oldest Judo Instructor" in the world. His son John also joined the British Army and served in Afghanistan

  Among family members, Arthur Griffiths attended the ceremony with his son to remember his father who died at Cassino. Lance Corporal William Griffiths from Essex was killed at the age of 27 while fighting. Arthur remembered his mother fainting when she heard the news, and he later joined the army in 1955 as a Military Policeman and served in Berlin.

   The cemetery is managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and there are 4,200 graves at the location which has a direct view of Monte Cassino.