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On the way Shield told me the story of how the British Batteries came to Italy. Our own War Office, as the habit of the tribe is, had wrapped the whole thing up in mystery, and the Batteries were christened “the British Mission” to a destination secret and unnamed. Passing through the South of France and up the Arc Valley to the frontier, with the gunners sitting on their guns in open trucks in the sunshine, the trains were loudly cheered by the French who, in that part of the country, had seen few of the sights of war. Once in Italy the official attempts at mystification mystified nobody. The engine-drivers at Modane hoisted Union Jacks on their engines and kept them flying all the way. Everyone knew who we were and where we were going, and at every station where the trains stopped there were official welcomes and immense crowds cheering like mad. At Turin our guns were wreathed in flowers and at Verona the station staff presented a bouquet to the General, on whose behalf Shield made a suitable reply in Italian.
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Grado lies on several islands, in its own lagoons. The Austrians were developing it, in a haphazard way, as a watering-place before the war, and there are several large hotels and the beginnings of a Sea Front. The canals are filled with fishing boats with brown sails, which seldom put to sea now for fear of mines.
One approaches Grado by a steamer which starts from a little cluster of houses on the mainland known as Belvedere, and takes one down a long channel through a maze of ’wooded islands, one of which is now the Headquarters of an Italian Seaplane Squadron. The islands are thickly clothed with tamarisks and pollarded acacias and stone pines, and are reputed to be somewhat malarial. There is a long beach at Grado, where all the world bathes, and the water is deliciously warm, with a bottom of hard sand. Lying in the water, I could see right round the Gulf of Trieste as far as Capodistria, and straight opposite to me lay Trieste, the Unredeemed City of Italy’s Desire, very clear against a background of hills. Through glasses I could even distinguish the trams running in her streets. I could easily fancy her scarcely a mile away across that sheet of blue sunlit sea. Thus must she often have appeared to Italians fighting and dying by sea and land to reach her, who remained ever just out of reach.
A GRAMOPHONE AND A CHAPLAIN ON THE CARSO
The Battery moved up to its new position on the edge of the Carso on the night of July 25th. The guns were drawn by Italian tractors. It was a long business getting the guns out of their gun pits, as we had not much room for turning, and a still longer one getting them into the new pits, after unhooking the tractors, down a steep slope and round two right-angle turns. Owing to our nearness to the front line no lights could be used and the night was darker than usual. For hours the gun detachments were at work with drag ropes, lowering, guiding and hauling, and the monotonous cry, that every Siege Gunner knows so well, “On the ropes—together—heave!” went echoing round those rocks till 2 a.m. next morning.