WAR heroes have had their services recognised by Prince Harry at a special remembrance service.
National service veteran Sgt Jack Dixon, chairman of the Bolton-based Royal Artillery Association Central Lancashire branch, accompanied branch president Col Dennis Walton when they met the Prince in Italy for the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino.
The two old soldiers, who were guests of the Not Forgotten Association, have known each other since the 1950s, when they were with the now disbanded 253 Regiment of the Royal Artillery, based in Bolton.
Mr Dixon, who lives in Breightmet, said: “We shook Prince Harry’s hand and introduced ourselves.
“He noticed my tie, saying he liked it, and recognised it was the Royal Artillery Tie.
“It was nice to meet him. He asked me about myself and I told him I completed national service. He went down the line and spoke to everyone, which I didn’t expect.”
Last summer Mr Dixon was a guest of The Princess Royal in recognition of his efforts in helping soldiers in Afghanistan by sending comfort boxes every Christmas and spring since 2006.
Mr Dixon, aged 82, said: “I think for Dennis it would have brought it back because he was there during the war. It does bring it home the sacrifice made with the many lives lost.”
Prince Harry spent more than an hour chatting to veterans following the service at the Cassino war cemetery.
The Battle of Monte Cassino was a crucial campaign that saw Allied forces launch attacks in 1944 to destroy Nazi forces holding a strategically important outcrop, home to the ancient Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino, between Rome and Naples.
Mr Dixon and Col Walton also saw the monastery, which was bombed and destroyed and later rebuilt.
Col Walton saw action in the battle to cross the Rapido River, where American forces were trying to reach heavily defended Nazi positions.
The 94-year-old, who is originally from Bury, said: “I was a mobile gun officer trying to bring fire down on the other side of the river.
“The enemy had guns and mortars — they massacred the Americans. I could see the bodies floating down the river. I still think: ‘Could I have done better?’”
Prince Harry 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.”
- A special outdoor service to commemorate D-Day will be held in Bolton Parish Church grounds on Friday at 10.50am.
It will take the form of a 20-minute service near the Normandy Veterans Association memorial. The Last Post will be played. All are welcome to attend.
MONASTERY AND LIVES DESTROYED
- The Allied fighting force consisted of many nations. As well as the Americans and British, there were Indians, Poles, Canadians, French from North Africa, Indians, Gurkhas and New Zealanders.
- They had to contend with icy mountain terrain, mines and constant bombardments from the Nazi forces. Progress was slow, the conflict claimed many lives and it became the bloodiest battle in Europe.
- The monastery was destroyed in a bid to make a breakthrough. It was later rebuilt.
- The battle claimed the lives of more than 50,000 Allied soldiers before they captured the strategically important hilltop. It was known as the “forgotten campaign”.