I went away from Rome strengthened in my previous judgment that the Italians are not a militarist nation. There was no sign of the militarist, as distinct from the military, spirit at the Bersagliere Depot. The relations of the Colonel and Signer Marini illustrated this. They had never met, nor, I think, heard of one another before. Yet this little civilian seemed to find it quite natural to march into a military barracks without any preliminary inquiries, to walk upstairs and straight into the Commanding Officer’s office and, not finding the Commanding Officer there, to send a message into the Officer’s Mess, and, the Commanding Officer having come out, to present his card, without any appearance of servility or undue deference, and to ask to be taken round. And the Colonel seemed to see nothing odd in these proceedings, but placed himself at once at our disposal and showed us everything and talked without aloofness and without reserve to both of us. I could not help thinking that things would not have happened quite like this at the Depot of a crack regiment in most other European capitals.
THE FIFTEENTH OF JUNE, 1918
I happened to be the officer on duty in the Battery Command Post on the night of June 14th-15th. There had been a thick fog for several days and not much firing. No one expected anything unusual. The Battery was much below strength owing to the ravages of what the doctors in the mountains called “mountain fever” and the doctors on the plain called influenza. We had, if I remember rightly, about forty men in Hospital owing to this cause alone. I myself had a touch of it, but, thinking I could probably count on a quiet night, I refused the offer of a brother officer to take my place, coldly calculating that a few nights later, when it would be my turn to take his duty, I might have more to do. But my hopes of much sleep were soon dispersed.
Orders came in from Brigade for an elaborate counter-battery shoot with gas shell, in two parts, one between 11 p.m. and midnight, the other between 2 and 3 a.m. We had never fired gas shell from six-inch howitzers before, though we had been warned that we should soon be required to do so. We had no gas shell in the Battery, but we were informed by Brigade that a sufficient quantity would arrive by the time the shoot was to begin. In fact, however, the first consignment of gas shell was not delivered in time to enable us to take part in the first part of the bombardment, and I was told not to fire high explosive instead, as that would tend to disperse the gas which other Batteries would be simultaneously firing on the same targets. The method adopted on this and later occasions, when gas was used, was that a number of our own Batteries should concentrate for, say, five minutes at the fastest rate of fire possible on a particular enemy Battery, then all switch together