Not till the end of May did Spring really climb the mountains, and the snow finally vanish, and then the days, apart from the facts of war, were perfect, blue sky and sunshine all day long among the warm aromatic pines and the freshness of the mountain air. Here and there, in clearings in the forest, were patches of thick, rich grass, making a bright contrast to the dull, dark green of the pines, and in the grass arose many-coloured wild flowers.
The Italians have buried their dead up here in little groups among the trees, and not in great graveyards. There was one such little group on the hillside in the middle of our Battery position, between two of our gunpits. There was another in the middle of our forward position at San Sisto, and another, where some thirty Bersaglieri and Artillerymen were buried, in the Baerenthal Valley. It was here one day that an Irish Major, newly come to Italy, said to me, “I don’t want any better grave than that.” Nor did I. It was a place of marvellous and eternal beauty, ever changing with the seasons. It made one’s heart ache to be in the midst of it. It was hither that they brought in the months that followed many of the British dead, who fell in this sector, and laid them beside the Italians, at whose graves we had looked that day.
SOME NOTES ON NATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS
For a week or two in May an Italian Engineer officer messed with us. He had a sleeping hut on the hill just behind us, and was in charge of a party of men who were working on British Field Artillery positions. His men were on British rations and did not altogether like them. They would have preferred more bread and less meat and jam, and they missed their coffee. Our tea they did not fancy. The first time it was issued to them, they thought it was medicine. “Why do the English give us ’camomila’?” they asked their officer, “we are not ill!”
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I have had, at one time and another, much gay and delightful intercourse both with Frenchmen and Italians, which has led me to certain speculative comparisons and to many dangerous generalisations, some of which I will venture tentatively to set down here. But it is difficult to find forms of words which are not mere journalism.
Italian humour is more primitive and uproarious than French, and the Italians seem to present fewer barriers to intimacy, but the proportion of rational discussion is larger in the conversation of the French. Both the French and the Italians combine natural and easy good manners with great punctiliousness in small matters of etiquette. Only very arrogant or very boorish people find it difficult to get on well with either.