The bombardment continued through the 19th and 20th and 21st of August, now with guns firing independently, now with salvos or rounds of Battery fire, now with individual guns being ranged afresh from some O.P., with hardly an hour’s interval of silence. How little the individual soldier knows of what is happening at these times! Conflicting rumours of varying credibility came in to us during those three days, rumours of big advances both to the north and to the south. But on our own sector we knew that no permanent advance had been made, for we were still firing a good deal on old “Zone 15,” one of our first day’s targets, and on that damned Hill 464, the most important of the first objectives of the Infantry.
Before this offensive began I had slept in a hut above ground, but the Major had now insisted that I should sleep in a small dug-out half-way up a steep bank, at the bottom of which our Mess Hut stood in an orchard stretching down to the river bank. The Austrians shelled us intermittently, but without doing any damage. In the small hours of the 21st I was dozing in my dug-out, where I had been reading Lowes Dickinson’s Choice Before Us, a congenial book at such a time, with nine-tenths of which I was in complete agreement. I then heard a series of Austrian “4.2’s” come sailing over my dug-out and burst just at the foot of the bank. They made miserable bursts in the soft earth, so small as to make me suspect gas shells for a moment, but this suspicion did not worry me, for no one was sleeping at the bottom and gas cannot run uphill. Next morning I found a shell hole fifteen yards from the Mess Hut, another on the path and several others among the trees. They were “double events,” with a shrapnel and time fuse head and a high explosive and percussion fuse tail, but neither head nor tail had been of much effect. There was very heavy firing that morning, but less in the afternoon. Great gloom prevailed on our sector, where we were back again in most of our first positions. The Infantry were reported to be unable to make headway against machine guns on Hill 464 and the Tamburo. To the south, on the Carso, the ruins of the village of Selo had been taken, but not much else.
But, though we did not know it then, the Italian Army in those first three days had won magnificent successes to the north of us.
WE SWITCH OUR GUNS NORTHWARD
On the 22nd of August we got for the first time definite news of the Italian advance on the Bainsizza Plateau. The day was rather hotter than usual, and on our own sector there was still no appreciable progress. Hill 464 had been won and lost three times since yesterday morning, and, to the south of it, Hill 368 also had been won and lost again. Up there it must be a vain and shocking shambles. It was claimed for Cadorna’s communiques, I think justly, that at this time no others were more moderate and truthful. No point was claimed as won, until it was not merely won but securely held.