Young New Zealand Army soldier to parade Māori Battalion Banner for 80th anniversary of the battle of Cassino in Italy

A young soldier of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has received a special honour ahead of the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cassino in Italy.  

New Zealand Army soldier Private Taedyn Edmonds-Griffiths will be parading the 28 (Māori) Battalion Banner at commemorations marking the Battles of Cassino - one of the most brutal missions for New Zealand in World War II.  

The 21-year-old, from Great Barrier Island, is part of a NZDF contingent holding commemorative events to remember those who fought and died in these gruelling Second World War battles - something close to Edmonds-Griffiths' heart.

His whānau's blood and fear were spilt on the Italian lands.

He has been fighting tears since he arrived at Cassino as he's struggling to find the words worthy of the honour.

"I feel the wairua aye. I feel like they'd be really lonely buried in a different country, where their families can’t always visit them, I'm very sad… it makes me really sad," Edmonds-Griffiths said.

On Sunday, his comrades gifted him a kahu huruhuru to wear at Monday's commemorations. Always in his heart, he now carries the mana of his ancestors on his shoulders as well. 

Carrying the banner of the Māori Battalion at this year's service is a big deal as normally only officers can.  

But an exception has been made for his extraordinary reason.  

"I whakapapa to over a 100 servicemen and women who served with the Māori Battalion, from both sides of my family," Edmonds-Griffiths said.

"They came back, didn't really tell their story, shoved it aside." 

Their stories, though, are etched in history.

The Māori Battalion were the first New Zealanders to fight on these shores - battling to capture Cassino railway.

It was bloody, brutal and brave. And the Germans soon forced the Kiwis to withdraw under heavy fire.    

"The terrain here was just incredibly complex, so certainly advantageous for the defenders," Major Alex Bowyer, from the New Zealand Army's 2nd/1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, said.

New Zealand did try again, but it wasn't until May 1944 - 80 years ago this weekend - that Cassino finally fell to British and Polish troops.  

"As young men to come to an unknown land and experience things together as a troop, as a family, is just incredible what they went through for our freedom," Staff Sergeant David Fiu said.

The fighting that took place here proved to be among the most costly battles for New Zealand of WWII - of the almost 1500 casualties, 343 died.   

Cassino was seen as a gateway to Rome and its capture ultimately led to the liberation of Italy.   

While so many young lives were cut short, their legacy continues to inspire so many others. 

"Since I was a kid I wanted to be in the army, it was like destiny that I came here," Edmonds-Griffiths said.

However, unlike those who made the journey before him, his parents can rest easy knowing he'll be back home soon.