A FRONT LINE RECONNAISSANCE
Every day, in our Group, some officer carried out a Front Line Reconnaissance. This officer was chosen in rotation from the Group Headquarters and the various Batteries. Colonel Raven, our Group Commander, often carried out these Reconnaissances himself. Of all British officers at this time serving in Italy, he had, I think, the greatest understanding of the Italians. He had travelled in Italy in peace-time and had studied Italian history. He fully appreciated the difficulties against which the Italian Army had to contend, and its military achievements in spite of them. He enjoyed social intercourse with Italians, and his invariable and slightly elaborate courtesy was, in an Englishman, remarkable. For, as Mazzini once said, an Englishman’s friendship, when once secured, holds very firm, but it is manifested more by deeds than by words. But Colonel Raven had the gift of sympathetic imagination, and he had also in full measure the Allied spirit.
The purpose of these Reconnaissances was twofold: first, to report on matters of military importance, any notable activity by the enemy, the direction and nature of hostile fire upon our trenches, the effects of our own fire, when not otherwise ascertainable, the precise position on the map, especially after any action, of our own and of the enemy’s lines, including saps, advanced posts and the like; second, to maintain a real contact and spirit of comradeship with the Italian Infantry and to seek to give them confidence in the efficiency and promptitude of British Artillery support. Under the first head, valuable information was frequently brought back, and under the second I believe that, so far at least as our Group was concerned, the personal relations between the Artillery and the Infantry were exceptionally good. Hardly ever did we receive complaints that our guns were firing short, though such complaints are often made, and often quite groundlessly, when the Infantry lack confidence in the Artillery behind them.
At one time thin-skinned persons among us used to complain that Italians who passed them on the roads used to call out “imboscato!” Imboscato is a term very frankly used in the Italian army, generally though not necessarily as a term of reproach. It corresponds with the French “embusque,” one who shelters in a wood, for which we in English have no precise equivalent. It is used by an Italian to indicate one who runs, or is thought to run, less risk of death than the speaker. It is chiefly used of men in the non-combatant services or in posts well behind the fighting front, including the Higher Staff and especially the junior ranks attendant on them. It is used also in jest by Italian patrols going out at night into No Man’s Land, of their comrades, whom they leave behind in the front line trenches. Personally I was never called an imboscato, nor were any of my brother gunners, except once or twice when riding in side-cars or motors miles in rear of our guns. And to Infantry marching along dusty roads under an Italian sun there is something very irritating in a motor car dashing past, with its occupants reclining in easy positions, its siren hideously shrieking, and blinding dust-clouds rising in its wake.