Red poppies

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There is Monte Casino Street in Warsaw, a small street, which sounds Italian. And rightly so, because it takes its name from Italy. In Italy, on a hill called Monte Casino, there is a seat of the oldest Catholic order founded in 529 by St. Benedict of Nursia. Benedictines also have their history in Poland, where already the first Piasts established Benedictine monasteries. The first known Benedictine monk in Poland was St. Adalbert. He was a Benedictine monk who came to Poland, already a Christian country at that time, from where he went on a missionary expedition to Prussia, where he was killed and from where his body was ransomed by Mieszko I's son, Boleslaw, later the king of Poland known as Boleslaw the Brave.

But it's not Italy, not the Benedictines, not the kings that this story is about, it's the flowers...the red poppies....

During World War II, the Allied forces, which included the 2nd Polish Corps, attacked German forces from the south of the Apennine Peninsula, heading towards Rome. The belt of fortifications defending the road to Rome, known as the Gustav Line, was heavily defended by the German army from the south. The hill of Monte Casino (along with the buildings of the Benedictine monastery located on it and manned by German troops) played a crucial role in this belt. Breaking this line opened the way for the Allies to take Rome.

The fighting for the Gustav Line lasted for months and was very fierce and bloody.  Matthew Parker, a British historian. wrote: The Battle of Cassino - the largest land battle in Europe - was the fiercest and bloodiest of the battles between the Western Allies and the German Wehrmacht on all fronts of World War II. On the German side, many compared it unflatteringly with Stalingrad

Successive assaults by Allied forces failed because the German defenses were very strong - after all, this was Rome. The Allies decided that the main attacking force in the next assault would be the 2nd Polish Corps commanded by General Anders. General Anders had been making detailed reconnaissance and planning the attack for several weeks and finally gave the order on May 11:


My dear brothers and children. The moment of battle has come. We have waited a long time for this moment of retaliation and revenge against our eternal enemy. Beside us will fight British, American, Canadian, New Zealand divisions; French, Italian and Indian divisions will fight. The task that has fallen to us will make the name of the Polish soldier known throughout the world. The thoughts and hearts of the whole Nation will be with us at these moments, and the spirits of our fallen comrades in arms will sustain us. May the lion live in your heart.

Soldiers - for the bandit attack of the Germans on Poland, for the partition of Poland with the Bolsheviks, for the thousands of ruined towns and villages, for the murder and torture of hundreds of thousands of our sisters and brothers, for the millions of Poles deported as slaves to Germany, for the misery and unhappiness of our country, for our suffering and wandering - with faith in the justice of Divine Providence we go forward with the sacred motto in our hearts God, Honour and Homeland.

Major General Wladyslaw Anders

Before the conquest of the monastery the fighting lasted for a week. There were moments of breakdown and whole days of extraordinary heroism. It was not until 18 May 1944 that Second Lieutenant Gurbiel, at the head of a patrol from the 12th Regiment of Podolski Lancers, entered the monastery, took a dozen or so German soldiers who were still there as prisoners and planted the banner of the 12th Regiment on the walls of the monastery. The Allied forces broke through the Gustav Line and two weeks later Rome was captured. One thousand soldiers of General Anders' corps died on the battlefield and three times as many were wounded.

After the Battle of Monte Casino, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Italy, Marshal Harold Alexander, sent a message of thanks to the Poles:

Soldiers of the 2nd Polish Corps! If I had to choose between any soldiers I wanted to have under my command, I would choose you - the Poles.

Harold Alexander

There is a Polish War Cemetery on Monte Casino, and over 1,000 graves of Polish soldiers who managed to break out of Soviet Russia, went through Iran, Iraq, Palestine to fight for Poland, and fell asleep next to St. Benedict's Monastery where the poppies grew.

And there is a song about these heroes: "Red poppies on Monte Casino", which grew there in May, when the battle was going on... and which "instead of dew they drank Polish blood"....

(Translated with

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