I spent also many interesting days about this time at our tree O.P. on Cima del Taglio. The Italians had an O.P. in a neighbouring tree, which they called Osservatorio Battisti. The British Field Artillery occupied a third tree, and the French a fourth. The pine trees on that summit were, literally, full of eyes. But the enemy never discovered any of us, though he sometimes dropped a few stray shells in our neighbourhood. Our own O.P. was not generally manned at night, unless some prearranged operation was taking place, but the officer on duty had to remain within call and slept in a log hut near the foot of the tree, in telephonic communication with Battery and Brigade. The French and Italians also had huts close by, and I spent several evenings playing chess with them, or talking, or listening to the mandolin and the singing of Italian stornelli. One young Italian, in particular, I remember with some affection, a certain Lieutenant Prato, a mandolin player of great skill and a very charming personality.
One day in September, when the news from the French Front was getting better and better, I remember talking, on our tree top, to the Italian officer, who was at that time acting as liaison officer to our Brigade, a member of a family well known in Milan. He knew every inch of those mountains, now in Austrian hands, along the old Italian frontier. His Battery had fought there in the early part of the war. He knew, too, Gorizia and the Carso battlefields. And he was sick at heart, as every Italian always silently was, at the memory of the retreat of last autumn. And I remember saying that what was now happening in the Somme country would happen soon in Italy. There, I reminded him, was a stretch of country which we had once conquered, inch by inch, with terrible losses and infinite heroism and insufficient Artillery, just as Italy had conquered those positions on the Carso and on Monte Santo. And all those gains of ours had been wiped out in a few disastrous hours last March, as Italy’s had been wiped out last October, and now we were advancing again over that same country and beyond it, far more rapidly and with far smaller losses than in those bloody days two years ago. And so, I prophesied to him, would it be on this Front too. The day was coming when Italy would win back all she had lost, and far more than she had ever won before, far more swiftly and cheaply than in her early brave offensives, and Austria, like Germany, would be broken in hopeless, irretrievable defeat. He said to me then that he hoped it might come true, but that he was less certain of the future than I. But, two months later, when I had proved to be a true prophet, he reminded me of that conversation of ours.
THE LAST PHASE
THE MOVE TO THE PIAVE