PROUDLY wearing his tartan trews, old Scottish soldier Alex Munro stood in the baking sunshine in Monte Cassino, in Italy, and cast his mind back more than 70 years.

Mr Munro, 96, from Glasgow, took part in the battle of Monte Cassino in 1944, one of the least well-known but one of the hardest-won battles of the Second World War. He was one of a group of 12 veterans from the campaign to to pay their respects on a special tour funded by a charity rugby match organised by the Royal British Legion.

“This place has got so much history,” he said yesterday of the historic hilltop abbey at Monte Cassino, “but I look at it now and the place has more tourists than Edinburgh Castle, so I think they’re making more money than ever before. But it is a wonderful place to come back to.”

Mr Munro served in the Scottish Horse as an Observation Post Signaller. Before he found himself in the tumult of Monte Cassino, he had seen service at El Alamein, then in Tunis and Salerno.

What does he remember of the battle after 70 years? “When you’re as young as I was back then, sometimes you don’t look at life the same way as you do when you’re older, because you’re living from day to day anyway. You don’t know what’s going to happen to you.

“But for the five years I was in the army, I remember the good times more than the bad times. There were plenty of bad times here when the war was on. When you were out of action you completely forgot what you had done the week before, and where you were the week before.”

He has been accompanied to Monte Cassino by his good friend, Ian Leslie. It was Ian who elaborated, for The Herald’s benefit, on the role played by Mr Munro.

“As an OP signaller, Alex was almost at the front-line, relaying messages back to the gun posts about where the Germans were, so that the gun posts could fire on the enemy,” he said.

“He was in a slit-trench with his radio battery, his rifle, his great-coat. It was a highly responsible position, definitely, as he had to send the signal back to the gun-posts.Usually, the Germans found out where he was and he had to make a quick move and find another slit-trench and start again.

“The battle lasted from January 22 until the [Allied] outbreak in late May and early June. He would be out for 24 hours in the post then 24 hours rest - 24 hours on and off, like that, all the time.

“He remembers crossing the Garigliano river once, in the dead of night. There was a rope right across it, probably the work of the Royal Engineers, and they hung onto this rope and pulled themselves across it. The current of the river was well down before they reached the other end. They didn’t know where they were going and of course they didn’t know what was on the other side, waiting for them.”

After Monte Cassino Mr Munro and his regiment were involved in later battles in Florence and north-east Italy. Eventually, he came home to Glasgow on leave. He was due to return to duty - to the Far East, so it was thought. But the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6,1945, then Nagasaki, on August 6, brought the war to an end.

After the war, Mr Munro opened a grocer’s shop in Glasgow - “he was a very good businessman”, says Mr Leslie. He was a first-class golfer and frequently took parties of golfers on trips abroad. A shoulder injury suffered in a fall, two years ago, meant an end to his golf, but he remains a keen bowler. “He’s a very active man at 96,” he added.

Mr Munro has one son, and has been a widower for several years.

The trip to Monte Cassino was organised by Remembrance Travel, the travel arm of the Royal British Legion.

Hundreds of people helped to raise funds for the tour by supporting amateur rugby players to take on rugby legends, including former Welsh Captain Colin Charvis, in matches staged by Remembrance Travel on the playing fields of London’s Honourable Artillery Company.

Nichola Rowland-Smith, Head of Travel Royal British Legion, said: “The Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy seems to be less well-known in the nation’s history, to other battles such as D Day, yet it was another pivotal turning point in bringing to an end the Second World War. We have a wonderful opportunity to take back those who fought in Monte Cassino for them to pay their respects to fallen comrades.

Colin Charvis said: “We all knew about what happened at Normandy but for many of us it was a real eye-opener to discover what those guys did at Monte Cassino. We also shared some great stories between the teams, finding out what each other’s ancestors did in the war - it was a lovely chance to ensure their memories live on.”

Monte Cassino veterans, says the Royal British Legion, “fought in despicable conditions, on exposed hilltop slopes, coming under heavy artillery fire, knee-deep in mud and snow.

“Many veterans are in their 90s and will now be able to lay old ghosts to rest and honour fallen comrades.”