B Company captain's heroics remembered 75 years on

By Kereama Wright

The heroics of Te Arawa B Company leader, Captain Materehua Monty Wikiriwhi, have been remembered 75 years on at the Cassino railway station in Italy.

More than 200 people gathered at the station to commemorate one of New Zealand’s deadliest battles of the Second World War and acknowledge the bravery of men such as Capt. Wikiriwhi.

The station was the scene of fierce fighting in February 1944 between soldiers from A and B Company of the 28 Māori Battalion and German defences.

Capt. Wikiriwhi (DSO, MC, MID) was born on 4 April 1918 and educated at Te Aute College. When war was declared, he enlisted with C Company.

But, while in camp in Palmerston North, Captain Rangi Royal recognised Wikiriwhi as a Rotorua man and claimed him for B Company.

While with B Company, Wikiriwhi fought in the Italian campaign but served most of his time with the intelligence section of the Battalion Headquarters.

Wikiriwhi was the Intelligence Officer at Takrouna in Tunisia and one of only two New Zealand Lieutenants awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

He also commanded B Company during the first attack on Cassino in 1944 where he was badly wounded and left behind on his own orders when his company finally withdrew.

Despite his wounds, Wikiriwhi crawled overnight back to 24 Battalion lines the next day.

It was the first of four wounds suffered by Wikiriwhi during the war.

In 1958 he, along with Major Fred Baker of A Company and others, founded the Association of the 28 NZ Māori Battalion where he was elected as the first National President.

Capt. Monty Wikiriwhi had three children before passing away on 29 October 1988 at the age of 70.

The Cassino Railway Station:

Cassino Railway was the scene of the most costly and crucial fighting by New Zealanders during the struggle for Cassino.

On the night of 17 and 18 February 1944, A and B Company of the 28 (Māori) Battalion attacked along the causeway leading to Cassino railway station.

The plan was to use the railway station area as a base from which to outflank the main German defences in Cassino.

The attack has been described as like "walking a tightrope in a shooting gallery.”

After fierce fighting, the two companies succeeded in occupying the railway station.

But it came at a cost.

Of the 200 men from the 28 (Māori) Battalion who took part in the attack, more than 130 became casualties.

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