We had certainly been spotted. And then we suddenly saw another plane, this time an Italian, coming from the left, flying high, hard in pursuit. The Austrian began to rise, but the Italian outpaced him and got right above him, and pressed him gradually down towards the ground. We heard the wooden-sounding clack-clack-clack of machine gun fire. And then we saw the Austrian evidently go out of control, diving toward the ground, more and more rapidly, and the Italian circling downwards above him; and then the Austrian went out of sight behind the acacias and a few moments later a column of smoke began to rise. He had crashed in flames, just this side of the river, and his valuable information with him. The Italian flew back over us, triumphantly and very low this time, and waved his hand to us. And we gave him a grateful cheer.
THE BEGINNING OF THE LAST BATTLE
By the night of October 24th the river had fallen a few inches, and British Infantry crossed in small boats to the Grave di Papadopoli, a long island of sand in the middle of the stream. On the right a Battalion of the Gordons crossed, rowed over by Venetian boatmen. I met one of their officers afterwards. “Everyone of those boatmen deserved a decoration,” he said. “They were all as cool under heavy shell fire as if they had been rowing on the Grand Canal.” Our Infantry held their preliminary positions here for two days, in spite of considerable Austrian bombardment and counter-attacks. British aeroplanes flew over the island and dropped rations in sandbags. Throughout the fighting of these two days, we were standing by ready to open fire, if orders should come. But no orders came and we remained a silent Battery.
But on the night of October 26th, half an hour before midnight, the big bombardment opened and our guns spoke again. It was to be their last great oration. It was, of its kind, a fine, thunderous performance, and the Austrian reply, in our own neighbourhood, was feeble. Evidently they had not spotted our position, thanks to that Italian airman. Our targets were enemy Batteries and Brigade Headquarters. We fired gas shells continuously for many hours, switching from one target to another, until a strong wind got up, rendering gas shelling comparatively ineffective. Then we got orders to change to high explosive. The gun detachments worked splendidly, as always. We were below strength and could not furnish complete reliefs, but no one spared himself or grumbled.
On the morning of the 27th, just before 7 o’clock, our Infantry attacked, crossing from the island to the further bank of the river. There were no bridges, and the water was breast high in some places. In places it came right over the heads of the smaller men, but their taller comrades pulled them through. Where the current was strongest, cables were thrown across and firmly secured, and to these men held on, as they forced their passage through the water.