Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Monte Cassino

Monte Cassino after a bombing raid
Fantasy Bob notes with interest that a feature film based on the Second World War battle of Monte Cassino is about to enter production. The film will be directed by John Irvin who has previously directed a number of action and war films including Hamburger Hill and The Dogs of War, although FB mostly remembers him for the excellent TV adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in the 1970s.

Monte Cassino is considered to be one of the bloodiest battles of the war.  It took place in 1944 when the Allies were moving through Italy pushing the Germans back. They held the hilltop Abbey against repeated assaults and bombing for almost 6 months. In the course of the battle there were 20,000 German and 55,000 Allied casualties. It still raises controversy today - particlarly about the Allied decision to bomb what was regarded as a jewel of architectural heritage and the extent of casualties attributable to friendly fire. FB is only glad he was not called to upon to bat on such a wicket.

Reports suggest that the film will be based on the story of an American soldier who survived the battle and the nurse who cared for him. Some displays of emotion can therefore be expected unlike the stiff upper lip approach preferred in British war films of the middle of the last century.  Where is Jack Hawkins when you need him?

Cricketers may regret that the producers of the film seem to have fallen for the need for romantic and sentimental interests in this way. For there is a side to Monte Cassino which is of interest to the cricketer.

There is a long list of Test and First class Cricketrs who fell during the Second World War. A number of those fell in the Italian campaign of whom the most reknowned is the Yorkshire and England slow bowler Hedley Verity. No First Class Cricketer fell at Monte Cassino, but cricketers were involved in the battle.

Alexander Wilkinson DSO, MC and Bar, GM was born in 1892. He had a long and productive cricket career. While he never played county cricket, he played 89 First Class matches scoring 4785 runs at 31.48. His last First Class match was for MCC against Oxford University in 1939. He was a career soldier and served in the First World War gaining the Military Cross in 1917. He was also shot in the hand, narrowly avoiding having it amputated. Although it remained greatly weakened subsequently he could still hold a bat and limited his fielding on his right side. The vast majority of his First Class appearances were subsequent to his injury.
The Distinguished Service Order

He had retired in 1933 but was called up again at the beginning of the war with the rank of Lt Colonel. He gained the George Medal for rescuing an injured man from a mine field. At Monte Cassino he gained the
Distinguished Service Order for singlehandledly restoring a smoke screen across a bridge being used by the attacking forces. He was then aged 50. He finally retired from the military in 1947 and died in 1983.

He sounds to FB like a bit of a hero - and a decent bat.  Just the subject for a blockbuster.


  1. FB will no doubt be aware that Monte Cassino was also the only battle in recorded history to feature a bear as a combatant. Woytek, a Syrian brown bear, fought with the Polish forces during the battle, carrying shells to the gun posts and generally assisting with the war effort. There is no record of him playing cricket unfortunately but his in-swinger would have been awesome.

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