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The God of Battles also discriminates delicately. He takes the best and leaves the worst behind. There died that day, struck by a shell at the foot of our tree O.P. on Cima del Taglio, one of the finest personalities in the Battery, a signalling Bombardier who had worked for some years on a railway in America and, just before the war, as a railway clerk in the Midlands. He was the father of a young family, thoughtful and capable, and loyal without subservience to those of higher military rank, in so far as he judged them to be worthy of his loyalty. I remember one night at the beginning of the year, when we were keeping watch together among the snows at Col d’Astiago, with the sky cold and clear and full of stars, and when he and I talked in complete understanding and agreement of the waste of war and the deeper purposes of life and the need to build up a better world. Now he is buried in the beautiful Baerenthal Valley, along which runs the road from Pria dell’ Acqua to San Sisto and Asiago.
As that day ended, which the Italians always afterwards spoke of as “il giorno quindici” (the fifteenth day), the firing on both sides in our sector slackened, though our guns were seldom silent for more than an hour at a time, and the Austrians still carried out sudden bursts of vicious fire in our neighbourhood. But that night, and the next day and the next, we began to get through information of what had been happening all along the line. And when, a week later, the whole tale could be told, it was evident that no great offensive on any Front during this war, prepared with so great elaboration and carried out with so great resources, had ever quite so blankly failed, as the great Austrian offensive from the Astico to the Sea. And the effect upon the self-confidence and morale of the Italian Army and of the Allied contingents was correspondingly great. For, to speak frankly, this offensive had been awaited with much apprehension and anxiety, with the memory of Caporetto not yet faded and in view of the success of the German offensive in France.
IN THE TRENTINO
The Austrian offensive on the mountain sector, from the Astico to Monte Grappa, had been obviously and decisively broken by the 18th of June. But there was still danger on the plain, particularly in the Montello sector, where the Austrians were established in strong force west of the Piave. A flying Brigade of British Heavy Artillery was hurriedly formed and sent down the mountains. Of this Brigade my own Battery formed part. Our general function was to reinforce the Italian Artillery in what was at the moment the most critical sector of the whole Front, our particular function to destroy by shell fire the Piave bridges behind the Austrian troops. But when we arrived we found that the emergency had already passed. The bridges had already been destroyed by airmen and Italian Artillery, and the Austrian forces had either been driven back across or into the river by Italian counter-attacks, or had been cut off and compelled to surrender. We, therefore, came back to the Plateau without firing a round.