Black Watch troops in row over Monte Cassino charity trip


BLACK Watch troops have lashed out at “idiots” who keep mistaking their charity trip to the battlefield at Monte Cassino as a gambling junket.

The soldiers said they were “disgusted” that people had not heard of the Second World War battle, which left 45,000 allied troops dead or wounded.

Seven members of the battalion hope to raise £50,000 by cycling the 1,750 miles from Edinburgh to Monte Cassino, Italy.

The charity, Tartan Cassino, will hand the cash over to veterans’ support groups, including Help 4 Heroes, Erskine, The Royal Regiment of Scotland Association and the The Black Watch Association.

But the name of the charity has caused confusion during fundraising efforts on the streets of Scotland.

A number of people assumed the soldiers were raising cash to fritter away in a casino.

And when exasperated soldiers tried to explain the purpose of the trip, it emerged that many Scots had never heard of the battle.

Tartan Cassino used their official Twitter account to hit back hard.

They wrote: “Disgusted 2 hear people don’t know of the battle at Cassino, tartancassino is for charity not gambling. Idiots.”

Major Ronnie Proctor, secretary of The Black Watch Association, said: “This is a sign of the times.

“The general knowledge of the public about things that happened 67 years ago is scant. I think it is a lack of interest.

“When I was a lad everyone had a dad or big brother in the armed forces because they had been in the war or been conscripted.”

Major Proctor said the association had a 91-year-old Black Watch veteran of Monte Cassino on its committee. Sergeant Major George Grant MBE, from Dundee, was awarded the Military Medal for his actions during the battle.

Major Proctor said: “It’s very important that people know about battles such as Monte Cassino. It’s part of your country’s history. It’s not just ticking a box – they can learn from history, learn from the mistakes.”

The Black Watch entered the battle during its final phase in May, 1944. In nine days they lost 40 dead and 184 wounded.

Monte Cassino was a series of four battles fought between January and May that year in an attempt to break through Axis defences and seize Rome.

The historic hilltop abbey of Monte Cassino was destroyed by allied bombers on the mistaken assumption that German troops were dug in there. The rubble then provided ideal defensive for the defending troops.

Black Watch veteran Arthur Helps, who died in 2000, recalled: “Imagine how I felt talking to a comrade, then turning round to see him wounded, or worse. Or when, as one of a group of nine men with two or three metres between each of us, only three of them were capable of movement after the area had been bombarded with German shells. I was lucky with only a shrapnel wound across my left shoulder blade.”

Tartan Cassino’s website says British troops are now serving “in the most hostile of countries… risking all for their comrade in the name of the country and its people”.

It adds: “The soldiers who do become injured require support and it is also important to support the families of those who have not returned.”

The Tartan Cassino team is lead by war hero Sgt Richard Clark. Last year, the then Corporal was awarded the Military Cross for bravery in Afghanistan. He crawled on his belly towards an enemy machine gun position, bayonet fixed, to “silence enemy fire”.

The team have so far collected more than £12,000 towards their £50,000 target for the March trip.

The members of the expedition hope to cycle to Monte Cassino in just 14 days, averaging 125 miles a day, and passing through the Alps.

A spokesman for Tartan Cassino said: “We have to explain the difference between Monte Cassino and a gambling establishment. I doubt it’s anything malicious but we just wanted to make it clear.”

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  1. I have visited Monte Cassino where the abbey was rebuilt with money from the German Government after the war. Standing high above the Liri valley, it is easy to see how it was an ideal defensive position for the Axis troops to hold up the Allies heading towards Rome. Many nationalities lost troops during the four battles and the national cemeteries are very moving places. The Polish troops who lost many in the battles have gravestones lying flat on the ridge between two hilltops. In Krakow in Poland I noticed a street named after Monte Cassino. In many parts of Europe even young people are much more aware of the war than in the UK – perhaps because they were closer to it.

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