Search

‘It was like walking into hell’: Monte Cassino veteran from Upminster remembers battle on eve of return

16:14 14 April 2014

Jim with a painting presented to him by the Ilford branch of the Parachute Regimental Association.

Jim with a painting presented to him by the Ilford branch of the Parachute Regimental Association.

Archant

An Upminster veteran will join other Second World War heroes from across the country on a historic pilgrimage to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino, the epic struggle to capture a vital German stronghold and open up the way for the allied advance into Rome.

Jim was 16 when he first joined up Jim was 16 when he first joined up

Recognised as one of the most dogged and ferocious actions of the war, the five-month struggle claimed more than 50,000 lives.

Jim Knox, 89, from Upminster, was still a teenager when his regiment, 4th Parachute Battalion, landed in Italy at Taranto in September 1943 and moved up the west coast to the Sangro river to join forces with a New Zealand Division patrolling the Gustav Line.

“The most frightening time of the war for me was going into Monte Cassino for the first time,” said Jim. “There was a tremendous noise from the mortars and this hideous yellow smog. The sky was lit up red and yellow and we could see flames. It wasn’t until we got closer that we realised that was Vesuvius erupting. It was like walking into hell. The stench was horrible from dead mules and dead soldiers. It was terrifying.

“We were with a New Zealand division at the railway station and Germans were dug in just a few yards away at the Continental Hotel. We were so close that we shouted abuse at each other.

Jim, far left, with friends from the Paras in Italy. Picture: Jim KnoxJim, far left, with friends from the Paras in Italy. Picture: Jim Knox

“You could hardly move – and you only moved at night. And we constantly worried about treading on a mine. The mortaring was constant from both sides. It was a bit like trench warfare at the First World War – a stalemate - no one could move.”

Jim is travelling with the Monte Cassino Society which was awarded a £28,535 Heroes Return grant by the Big Lottery Fund.

The grant allows WW2 veterans from across the world to pay their respects to fallen comrades at official ceremonies around the battle sites.

Big Lottery Fund has to date awarded more than £26.6 million to more than 54,000 Second World War veterans, widows, and carers under its Heroes Return 2 programme.

Jim with his war medals. Picture: Jim KnoxJim with his war medals. Picture: Jim Knox

Peter Ainsworth, chairman of the Fund, said: “We are proud to remember and honour the immense debt of gratitude owed to those brave veterans who endured one of the most arduous campaigns of the Second World War.”

The battle of Monte Cassino was pivotal to the success of the Italian campaign and the greater allied advance into mainland Europe.

It eventually led to the destruction of the formidable Gustav Line, the spine of German fortifications across Italy.

Latest News Stories

Yesterday, 15:00
Parked cars. Picture: PA/Stefan Rousseau

The council stands to make thousands of pounds after changes to nighttime parking were made official.

Yesterday, 12:00
The girls in the year 6 class at Broadford Primary School took a vow of silence inspired by a Free the Children campaign

Girls across the world are taking a vow of silence to show their support for women whose voices can’t be heard and a Harold Hill school is joining them.

Saturday, February 28, 2015
Spirit Factor finalist Courtney Abrahams

A young opera singer was “shocked” to be crowned champion of a talent contest on Saturday.

Saturday, February 28, 2015
The Robert Beard Centre in the 1970s.

Memories will be shared by past and present members of a youth centre when it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Most read news

WW100

Click on the banner above for full coverage of the centenary commemorations of the outbreak of the First World War.

News from your area

Digital Edition

Image
Read the Romford Recorder e-edition today E-edition
Family Notices 24
Our trusted business finder

And while we’re at it, why don’t we sell all the Queen’s homes and move her and Phil into a two-bed in Grimsby?

Technology experts have been giving their verdict on the first big smartphone offerings of 2015.

The Korean smartphone giants made the announcement at their Unpacked event ahead of Mobile World Congress.