Some Czecho-Slovaks were billeted in the next house to ours, but, owing to lack of a common language, we were unfortunately unable to talk to them. They were well-built fellows, and gave one an impression of great tenacity and intelligence. And I know that they were fine fighters. But they had not the gaiety of the Italians, partly perhaps because they were exiles in a strange land, and must so remain till the day of final victory, which might then have seemed still infinitely remote. An amusing incident happened one evening. Four officers had deserted from the Austrian lines and surrendered to the Czecho-Slovaks; it was one of their military functions to induce surrenders. Two of these officers were themselves Czecho-Slovaks, the third a Jugo-Slav and the fourth an Italian from Istria. They were very hungry and were in the midst of a good meal, in the presence of a Czecho-Slovak guard, when a Corporal and two gunners from our Battery, passing outside the house and hearing some language being spoken within, which they recognised to be neither English not Italian, rightly thought it their duty to enter and investigate the matter. The deserters were astonished to see these unfamiliar looking persons, speaking a strange tongue and wearing a uniform which they had never seen before. But they were still more astonished to learn that they were British. They seemed hardly to be aware that the British were at war with Austria, much less that any British troops had been within hundreds of miles of them. The incident closed in much mirth and friendliness.
In the village were also billeted many Italian troops, who used to fill the night with song, long after most of us had gone to bed:—
“‘Addio, mia bell’,
Cantava nel partir la gioventu,”
which is never very far from the lips of any Italian soldier, and those endless stornelli, which to an invariable tune they multiply from day to day.
“II General Cadorna
Mangiava la bifstecca;
Ai poveri soldati
Si dava castagna secca,"
[Footnote 1: “General Cadorna used to eat beefsteak. To the poor soldiers they gave dried chestnuts.”]
“Il Re dal fronte Giulio
Ha scritto alla Regina,
’Arrivato a Trieste
Ti mandero una cartolina,’"
[Footnote 1: “The King has written to the Queen from the Julian Front ‘when I get to Trieste, I will send you a picture post card.’”]
with its sardonic variant or sequel,
“Il General Cadorna
Ha scritto alla Regina
’Se vuoi veder Trieste,
Compra una cartolina.’"
[Footnote 1: “General Cadorna has written to the Queen, ’if you want to see Trieste, buy a picture post card.’”]
Many of the others are for various reasons unprintable, though many are extremely witty and amusing. Even those which I have quoted were nominally forbidden by the High Command to be sung, but the prohibition was not very rigorously enforced. And General Cadorna, after all, had now passed into history. Of his successor I never heard any evil sung, though I remember once hearing a great crowd of soldiers and civilians at Genoa shouting monotonously.