When we had got all the information we could, Barini and I went back to the Battery and reported what we had heard and seen. On the way I let myself go and spouted much cheap rhetoric, I am afraid, at the little man. And he laughed rather nervously and thought me, I expect, a queer companion in rather unpleasant surroundings. For several shells kicked up great clouds of earth and stones pretty close to us. But he too, I know, smelt victory in the air that day.
ACROSS THE RIVER
Next day I went over the river and right on, one of the two F.O.O.’s (forward observation officers) from my Brigade who were to establish and maintain contact with the advancing Infantry. Three signallers and a runner came with me, carrying rifles, bayonets and ammunition, a day’s rations and much signalling gear. The other officer had his own party. We soon subdivided our work and separated.
The twenty-four hours of my duty do not lend themselves to a sustained description. I passed and identified from the map one of the targets of my Battery in the preliminary bombardment, an Austrian Battery position, which we had bombarded for many hours with gas and high explosive alternately. Our shooting had been accurate and deadly. The position was a mass of shell holes. One of the guns had been blown up, a second badly damaged. A third had been pulled out of its pit and half way up a bank by a team of horses. The enemy had made a desperate effort to get it away. But horses and men and fragments of men lay dead around it. It was a well prepared position, and well concealed by trees. But Italian airmen had spotted it, and marked it down with precision on the map, marked it down for destruction. The enemy had done much work here. There were fine, deep dug-outs, well timbered and weatherproof, comfortable dwelling places in quiet times and strong enough to resist shell splinters and even direct hits by guns of small calibre. But we had got a direct hit on one dug-out and killed half a dozen occupants. And the others had not been proof against our gas. They were full of corpses, mostly victims of gas. Some were wearing their gas masks, but our gas had gone through them. Some had apparently been gassed outside, some with masks on and some without, and had crawled, dying, into the dug-outs in the vain hope of finding protection there. However hardened one may grow, by usage, to the common facts of war, few can look on such a sight as this, without feeling a queer thrill of very mixed emotion. My men looked with solemn faces at the work they had helped to do. One said, “poor chaps, they were pretty well done in!” And then we turned and went on.
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