Nila Kanten was 23 years old when he arrived in Cassino. After volunteering for service in Bangalore, India in 1939, Nila had been to both East and North Africa before landing in Italy. Nila had hoped to serve in the infantry but he had failed the medical.
As a porter with the 4th Indian Division, Nila’s duties were physically exhausting, but given the mountainous terrain, he and the other porters were vital in order to keep the men at the front fully supplied. They scaled mountain tracks unable to support motorised vehicles. Porters were drawn from across the globe, the Royal Pinoeer Corps alone employed men from India, Mauritius, Basuto, Bechuana and Swaziland.
‘Actually, no vehicles could move, so on our shoulders we carried all the things up the hills. We are doing as porters do. Not only did we have all the infantry, we had to sustain all the troops, and the gradient was so hard, one ratio to three. …Almost on all fours we had to go.’
Nila witnessed the bombing of the monastery in the second battle of Monte Cassino; ‘we were just seeing from this thing, wave after wave, wave after wave, bombers going and dropping their bombs.’ Sitting in a jeep at the time, Nila describes how the ground shook with the violence of the assault and the vehicle jumped up and down. Asked how he felt about the destruction of the monastery and the battle in general he declared:
‘It has completely ruined me, …I still can’t forget the Cassino, I had to pass through… the bodies are still black and stinking… I had to cover my nose… I have ever seen such a number of dead bodies… where I counted killed more than 800 and then gave up… so many New Zealanders, British, Indians… gone. …I felt that there should never be a war again.’