Heroes Return Blog – Stories from Second World War veterans’ trips


Jim to return to Monte Cassino for 70th anniversary by Big Lottery Fund

Commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy, is Jim Knox, 89, from Upminster, Havering. Jim is returning to the battlefields in May 2014 with the Monte Cassino Society.

Jim Knox

Jim Knox with a painting presented to him by the Ilford Branch of the Parachute Regimental Association.

The battle (January – May 1944) was fought to capture a vital German stronghold and open up the way for the main allied advance into Rome and claimed over 50,000 lives.

Jim joined the Army in 1941 aged 16 after persuading the sergeant at Romford Army recruitment office that he was 18. In August 1942 he volunteered for the Paras and joined 4th Parachute Battalion, part of the 2nd Parachute Brigade. Jim first served in North Africa, landing at Oran in early 1943. The 2nd Brigade landed in Italy at Taranto in September and moved up the west coast to the Sangro river where the brigade became the Independent Parachute Brigade, joining forces with a New Zealand Division patrolling the Gustav Line.

He recalled: “Once on night patrol the two lads in front heard some talking – our officer who could understand German crept up to listen and could hear what their plans were. It was a German fighting patrol – about eight or nine of them – armed with rapid fire Schmeiser machine guns which had a terrific firepower. We wouldn’t have stood a chance against them so we crept inside a mausoleum. They stopped right outside and we could hear them talking. Luckily they didn’t come in.

Jim in his teens

Jim in his teens

“The most frightening time of the war for me was going into Monte Cassino for the first time. There was a tremendous noise from the mortars and this hideous yellow smog. The sky was lit up red and yellow and we could see flames. It wasn’t until we got closer that we realised that was Vesuvius erupting. It was like walking into hell. The stench was horrible from dead mules and dead soldiers. It was terrifying.

“We were with a New Zealand division at the railway station and Germans were dug in just a few yards away at the Continental Hotel. We were so close that we shouted abuse at each other.

Jim (far left) with fellow Paras, Italy

Jim (far left) with fellow Paras, Italy

“You could hardly move – and you only moved at night. And we constantly worried about treading on a mine. The mortaring was constant from both sides. It was a bit like trench warfare at the First World War – a stalemate – no one could move. You did get the odd glimpse of a German but very rarely. If there was any movement from either side everyone would open fire.

“I was on a two inch mortar – when you saw a flash you had to send some back in that direction. We were there for 13 days until the Poles advanced to the monastery.”

Following the battle for Monte Cassino, Jim was parachuted into France, behind enemy lines. The daring operation to surround and contain a German garrison at Le Muy took place a few days before the invasion of the Southern France in August 1944. Jim was awarded the Legion d’honneur – the highest decoration in France – following his work with French Resistance guerrillas, the Maquis, during the operation.

 



The Bells by Big Lottery Fund
September 22, 2009, 4:42 pm
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The bells – more complex and quieter than ours – have been ringing out real wartime tunes.  Imagine a piano with small bells instead of strings.

The veterans have returned and are getting into the old vehicles here to go to the memorial.

I overheard Larry say “We are being treated like Gods. We must be careful. ” I think they are really appreciating being real guests of honour.

Many speakers at the book event earlier were quite emotional. This act of being liberated obviously affects people greatly  – even a generation or two later. That is what the UK doesn’t really know perhaps – directly.

Anyway sunny, a big wide town square, dominated by this high church,  lots of people sitting out in the cafes and this real feeling of a town wanting to welcome the veterans. .

It’s very humbling to be here.



The civic centre ceremony veterans by Big Lottery Fund
September 22, 2009, 2:59 pm
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the veterans



The civic centre ceremony by Big Lottery Fund
September 22, 2009, 2:58 pm
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civic centre ceremonyHere now. Arrived two minutes ago. This is where the Town Mayor met everyone this morning.  The band play to about 50 people seated. Speeches and Wesley is presenting Larry with a copy of the book he has written about the war history here. He told us over lunch he want’s to join the Army and war history is an important part of training.

Larry and his fellow veterans still look great in their blazers and medals. JP our cameraman has been admiring the cameras of three or four news crews that are here too! I expect this will be on the tv tonight.



The liberation memorial by Big Lottery Fund
September 22, 2009, 10:00 am
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the liberation memorial