Having talked till midnight, I found a bedroom at the Croce Malta, where I slept for four hours. Then I got up and dressed and walked to the railway station, where I drank coffee and ate biscuits. A train was due to leave for Palmanova, the nearest station to Versa, at 5.30 a.m. As I waited for it on the platform, I looked out at the station lights, a dull orange under their dark shades, and at the red signals beyond, four in a vertical line, and beyond again at the dim outlines of houses and dark trees against a sky, at first a very deep dark blue, but slowly lighting up with the beginning of the dawn. The train did not start till nearly seven. By this time it was quite light, and the sun had turned the distant Cadore into a ridge of pink grey marble, very sharply outlined against the morning sky, and in the middle distance, just across the maize fields which run beside the railway track, rose the campanile of some little village of Friuli, like a stick of shining alabaster.
THE BRITISH AND THE ITALIAN SOLDIER
The sending of ten British Batteries to Italy had something more than a military significance. Otherwise the thing was hardly worth doing. It was evident that here was an international gesture. An effort was being made to promote a real Anglo-Italian understanding, to substitute for those misty and unreal personifications—“England” to an Italian, “Italy” to an Englishman—real personal knowledge and a sense of individual comradeship in a great cause. Our task, in short, was not only to fight, but also to fraternise. But would we fraternise successfully? For it has been said, not without some truth, that “England is an island and every Englishman is an island,” and in the early days I was doubtful what sort of personal effect we should produce, and what sort of personal impressions our men would bring away.
When I got back to the Battery from Versa I began to take stock of my own impressions so far, and to notice, in the letters which I had to censor, the drift of general opinion. It was surprisingly satisfactory.
“Some of these Italians,” writes one gunner, “are the finest fellows you could wish to meet. Our men get on very well with them.” “The Italians,” writes another, “are very good soldiers and nice chaps. We get on well together.” “The other night,” writes a third, “I was out laying telephone wires in a graveyard. We saw some Italian soldiers carrying a tombstone for their Lieutenant who had recently been killed. The Italians look after their graves very well. A Sergeant, who had spent most of his life in England, asked us in and gave us some coffee and cognac which was jolly acceptable. He asked if we had any old English papers, as he was forgetting all his English, as he had been away from England for five years.” And a fourth writes, “The great majority of these Italians have been in different parts of America”