Presidential couple pay tribute to fallen Polish troops at Monte Cassino

Piotr Nowak/PAP

Polish President Andrzej Duda and his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda laid flowers on Thursday at the Polish Military Cemetery at Monte Cassino in southern Italy, the site of a 1944 battle in which Polish forces played a key role.

The presidential couple are on an official visit to Italy, which continued on Thursday. In the morning, the president took part in an unveiling ceremony of a bust of General Wladyslaw Anders, who commanded the Polish troops at Monte cassino, at the Polish embassy in Rome. Then, together with his wife, Duda travelled to the Polish cemetery at Monte Cassino where the pair visited the Memorial Museum to the 2nd Polish Corps after which they laid a red-and-white wreath in tribute to Polish soldiers killed on the hill in May 1944. Flowers were also laid at the grave of General Anders and his wife, Irena.

The Battle of Monte Cassino, called "the biggest inland battle in Europe," involved four Allied assaults against the Nazi-German Winter Line in Italy during the WWII Italian Campaign. The fighting continued for 123 days, from January 17 to May 18, 1944. The Allies' goal was to gain passage to Rome. Polish troops proved fundamental in fulfilling the plan.

On May 18, 1944 a Polish patrol climbed to the top of Monte Cassino and raised the Polish flag over the ruins of the abbey. In all, 923 Polish soldiers were killed in the fighting, with 2,931 wounded and 345 reported missing.

The presidential couple also met with local officials including the prefect of the Frosinone province, Ignazio Portelli, and Mayor of Cassino Enzo Salera. Duda also spoke with Commissar General for Honouring the Fallen General Alessandro Veltri. The presidential couple also took the opportunity to talk to local schoolchildren.

Duda's trip to Italy was originally planned for May but had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday he will visit the Vatican.