Italian Job 4- Cratego

Its only about a 150km from the airport to Cassino and I had as a leisurely drive as one could expect in Italy. I was not too disappointed that it was a short drive as my bonce was tender from the vase been broken on it and I had a bit of a headache.

The Battle of Montecassino was a costly series of four battles fought by the allies with the intention of breaking through the German lines and seizing Rome in 1944. The Monastery of Monte Cassino was founded in 524 AD by St Benedict. The area is very mountainous and the Germans had defensive positions set into the steep slopes below the abbey walls.

The Americans convinced the other Allies that the Germans were actually in the monastery. I should explain that the Monastery sits on a very high peak and over looks the town of the Cassino and is a hell of a vantage point. On 15th February the Americans mounted a massive air raid and bombed the monastery to rubble.

The bombing was based on the fact that the US commanders knew that the abbey was being used as a lookout post for the German (this position changed over time to admit that German military was not garrisoned there. Sounds a bit like the old weapons of Mass destruction story to me).

Anyway two days after the bombing, German paratroopers poured into the ruins to defend it. These were not any paratroppers, but the best of the best German fighting soldiers, the 1st Parachute Division and they made the taking of Montecassino so brutally tough for our men.

Consequently these defences were assaulted four times by Allied troops.

These operations resulted in casualties of over 54,000 Allied and 20,000 German soldiers. The town of Cassino was practically flattened. All in all pretty good going.

The town has been rebuilt as has the monastery and indeed does dominate the town. It was damp and misty when I got there and the monastery was shrouded in cloud. Mr Hawthorne had been staying in the Hotel La Pace and in the absence of a better plan I had booked into the same hotel. From the outside I must say it was not an inspiring place but the room was Okay and I wasn’t going to be here long.

I made some enquiries about Mr Hawthorne but the receptionist looked blank. There was no Englishman there and certainly no Mr Hawthorn. Was she sure? Oh yes quite sure. I showed here the photo I had been given. She looked at it. Yes she had seen an old man like that but he did not have a moustache and he was Italian not English. He was out as he was meeting somebody. I was just leaving the reception when the girl was joined by a colleague. They had a quick chat and then the second woman called me back.

“You want to see Signore Cratego?” She said in a very heavy Italian accent.

I was taken aback by the name and remembered it was one if the words written down on Hawthorns desk.

“Si er yes I do”

“He goes out everyday but he comes back ay about 5 o’clock”

“Do you know where he goes?”

“I think the Military cemetery”

I made quick phone call to Cyclops and asked him to look something up on the internet for me, I had a hunch. Cyclops had got back to me before I had reached the Cemetery. My wild hunch could be right but quite what it all meant I did not know.

The entrance to the Cassino War Cemetery is not one of archways or columns or marble panels, but of a simple design of granite stairs at both ends of a brick wall upon which is inscribed in white stone in bold letters the words, CASSINO WAR CEMETERY.

I have been to a lot of cemeteries bioth civil and military, but on entering the cemetery at Cassino your eyes are assaulted by the wide spread of grave markers. Its is hard not to be moved, a tightness came to my throat almost a sob, and I found it hard to hold back the tears.

There is a long and narrow rectangular pool, along the four sides of which runs a mosaic tiled walkway. Along the walkway, squares of flowers in a riot of colours blend harmoniously with low-cut box hedges. Standing like tall guardsmen on both sides of the pool, seven to a side, are the 15 foot high slabs of polished green granite on which are inscribed the names by Regiment and Corps of theĀ  men who died in the Sicilian and Italian campaigns and whose graves are known only but to God.

At the far end of the pool a platform of gleaming white stone supports a three tiered hexagonal pedestal above which stands the twenty foot high Cross of Sacrifice. On its face is fixed a large bronze sword, its length more than half that of the stone.

All around this central theme of Remembrance are the grave markers, row upon row, mute testimony to the terrible legacy of war. Tall pines and acacia trees are planted all through the cemetery, their leaves gently rustling in the light breeze.

On our right as we face the Cross of Sacrifice, rises the great mass of Monte Cassino, its crest capped by the rebuilt Benedictine Abbey.

I composed myself and paid my respects to those soldiers who had laid down their lives, before moving on to find a man who was alive.

There were a number of old men who were here no doubt to pay their respects to colleagues and friends who died during some of the fiercest fighting mankind has ever known. One of these men was Mr Hawthorn.

After about 30 minutes I found him kneeling by a grave. I looked at the name on the grave and did a double take.

Captain Cratego.

“Signore Cratego?” I asked. Hawthorn looked up

“Si” he replied with a distinct Italian accent

“Cavallo Alato” I said

He looked frightened and vulnerable

“What, how?”

“Mr Hawthorn I am Pegasus”

His knees buckled and he sagged as if kneeling, as he did so he put his hand out and braced himself against the headstone. I moved quickly and caught him round the waist to stop him falling head first to the ground.

I Helped him up and he looked dreadful, in fact I thought he was having a heart attack, he was white as snow and he looked very very old and frail. He opened and closed his mouth like and old catfish out of water but could not get any sound to come out. Eventually he was able to make some sound and then speak.

“I have waited a long time for you, I expected someone older” he croaked in a hoarse whisper “You know then, about everything.” He gave a massive sigh “Its over. What will happen to me Pegasus, what will they do to me?”

I couldn’t answer him because to be honest I didn’t know what the fuck he was on about.

4 Responses to “Italian Job 4- Cratego”

  1. dl says:

    Another fascinating story. It’s always good reading. Thanks.

    D.

  2. Theresa111 says:

    Dear Norman,

    I am a friend of Claire’s (Domestic Minx)and it seems she has gone missing. Are you her real Uncle? Or, do you have her email address to check in with her?

    Please send me an e-mail as we all are concerned about her absence. I only want to know that she is all right. Thank you so very for your time in responding to me. USA 3:52PM EST.

  3. Uncle says:

    Thanks Dl.

    Theresa Thanks for your concern for DM. No I have not heard from her, but I will drop her an email.

    Luckily for her I am not her Uncle!

  4. Theresa111 says:

    Dear Norman,

    I found the email address I had tried before was sans the AU for her country. I have since sent her an E-mail but haven’t heard from her yet. I am keeping my fingers crossed. Please see if you have the know how to track her down. I am not the only reader feeling concern. Thank you ever so much.

    Sincerely,

    Theresa
    “Sleeping Kitten – Dancing Dog!”

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