The French Parliament fairly early in the war, with that gross lack of discrimination and of military understanding habitual to politicians, insisted on the granting of leave every three months to all ranks in all theatres of war. The Italian Parliament pedantically laid down a uniform period of six months. The British Parliament, with the sure political instinct of our race, preferred to leave the whole matter in the hands of the War Office. The interference in purely military affairs of unpractical sentimentalists was strongly discouraged at Westminster.
Why no leave to England could be granted except in special cases, was cogently explained from time to time during the summer in circulars written by Staff officers of high rank, who had frequent opportunities of informing themselves of the realities of the situation, while visiting London. These circulars were read out on parade and treated with the respect which they deserved. To allay possible, though quite unreasonable, unrest, it was determined to open a British Club, or Rest Camp, at Sirmione, which, as every reader of Tennyson knows, stands on the tip of a long promontory at the southern end of Lake Garda. Here a week’s holiday was granted to a large proportion of the officers and a small proportion of the rank and file. Many officers went there more than once. Two large hotels were hired, which had been chiefly frequented before the war by corpulent and diseased Teutons, for whom a special course of medical treatment, including sulphur baths, used to be prescribed.
One of these hotels was now set apart for British officers, the other for men. A funny little person in red tabs was put in charge; there were various speculations as to his past activities, but all agreed that he had got into a good job now, and wasn’t going to lose it, if tact could prevent it. This little man used to stand outside the hotel gates as each week’s guests arrived from the steamer, and always had a cheery smile of welcome for every Field officer; to General officers he showed special attentions. He took his meals in the same room as the rest of us, but at what was known as “the Staff table,” where he invited to join him any officers of high rank, who might be staying at the hotel, or, if there were none such available, certain of his private friends. The food supplied to ordinary people like myself was good, wholesome, reasonably plentiful and cheap. At “the Staff table” special delicacies were provided and additional courses, with no increase of charge. The profits, he used to say, were made entirely on the drinks and smokes.