Artist returns to European front

Maree Frewen-Wilks installs her Return to Monte Cassino exhibition at Te Hikoi Heritage Musuem in Riverton.
Maree Frewen-Wilks installs her Return to Monte Cassino exhibition at Te Hikoi Heritage Musuem in Riverton.

An Invercargill photographer is excited to be returning to Monte Cassino, Italy after her last emotional trip.

Maree Frewen-Wilks went to Monte Cassino 10 years ago to photograph New Zealand returned soldiers for the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino.

Frewen-Wilks chronicled the 120 soldiers through 88 black and white images.

There are 474 New Zealanders buried in Cassino Commonwealth Cemetery - 55 of them are Southlanders.

She described their trip as a "trip of a lifetime".

"I wasn't prepared for the suppressed grief inside those veterans."

The soldiers would often break down at the sight of their fallen comrades' graves, she said.

"They would crumble."

The photographs captured were compiled into an exhibition called Return to Monte Cassino and in May Frewen-Wilks has been invited back for the 70th anniversary of the battle.

Her photographs captured the emotional journey the veterans experienced.

"Often it was too much for me to endure, I wondered how they could survive after coming back from [that] and questioned my role because these veterans belonged to an extraordinary generation."

Since returning from Monte Cassino Frewen-Wilks' photographs have travelled around New Zealand and are currently in Te Hikoi Heritage Museum in Riverton.

Despite her previous emotional trip the William Hodges fellow said going back will be great.

"I will have a chance to show these veterans to Cassino."

While there Frewen-Wilks will be involved in working with the language school, lecturing through translators, teaching archival techniques and the importance of recording history.

During her trip, New Zealanders have the chance to catch her exhibition at Te Hikoi.

"The selected images depict their journey, they endorse the courage of those men who returned, to feel their memories, good or bad, their dreams and perhaps rekindle another life once lived long ago.

"They haven't forgotten and neither should we."

The anniversary will have visitors from across the world, including a New Zealand delegation, and Frewen-Wilks' exhibition will be a part of the official commemorations.

Opening her exhibition will be opened by London-based Maori singing group Ngati Ranana.


The Southland Times