One of my objects was to get a view of the Austrian trenches and barbed wire on the Tamburo, in order to observe from closer quarters than was possible from any of our O.P.’s the effects of our recent bombardments, and to verify or disprove a report that certain new defensive works were being constructed by the enemy at night. Our own trenches here were on a higher level than the enemy’s, and the bottom of the valley between the Tamburo and this part of the Volconiac was in No Man’s Land, as was a relatively short slope on the Tamburo and a relatively long slope on the Volconiac. The latter slope was very steep, but thickly clothed with pines, most of which were now shattered by shell fire into mere dead stumps. Even these stumps, however, made it difficult to get an uninterrupted view of the Tamburo, and I had to go some miles along the trenches, gazing through numerous peepholes, before I reached a point from which I could satisfy myself that our bombardments had been effective and that the reported new works were indeed real. Having got this information, I smoked a pipe and talked with an Italian company commander in a rocky dug-out, and then started to return.
Things were quiet on this sector of the Front that afternoon, though Italian Field Guns were bursting shrapnel from time to time over the Tamburo. As I went along the trenches I was several times greeted by Italians who had been in America, “Hullo, John! How are you? How d’you like this dam country?” This type brings back with it across the Atlantic the frank, almost brutal, familiarity of a new and democratic civilisation. It contrasts oddly with the quieter ways of those Italians who have lived all their lives in Italy, amid one of the oldest and most mature civilisations of the world.
On our way down the hill we passed a seemingly endless string of pack mules coming up, laden with food and ammunition. Always at evening this wonderful system of supply was visibly working, triumphing over tremendous natural difficulties. We passed, too, a party of about fifty men hauling up on long ropes a heavy drilling engine, the sort of labour of which British fatigue parties have, luckily for themselves, no experience. Mists came down from the mountains as we descended, and rainstorms threatened, but did not break.
AN EVENING AT GORIZIA
On the first day in August I had been doing some observation at S. Andrea in the afternoon, and, this duty over, I got permission to walk into Gorizia and visit the section of the British Red Cross stationed there, several of whose members I knew. It is a longer walk than one would think, for S. Andrea is practically a southern suburb of Gorizia, which, however, straggles over a large area of country. The railway bridge across the Isonzo is broken down by shell fire and so are two other bridges,—all three of stone,—but these could be soon repaired,