We had to fire hard most of the day, especially in the afternoon and evening. It had been exhausting and almost sleepless work for the detachments for several days past, for Darrell and a working party of forty were away preparing the reserve position on San Michele, and we had hardly any reliefs for the guns. The Major, too, looked very tired and frayed, but, whenever our eyes met, he gave me a smile of encouragement and leadership. That evening, during a short break in the firing, he asked me, since he himself could not leave the Command Post, to go round and “buck the men up” and thank them on his behalf for the way in which they had behaved. “So long as the Major’s pleased, we’re satisfied,” said one man. Another, a Bombardier who afterwards got a Commission, and had been with Darrell on a reconnaissance on Faiti a few days before and had nearly been killed on the journey, said, “Well, Sir, we were thinking of the boys in the Front Line today.” And well he might, for it had been a hellish bombardment up there. After delivering my message to the men, I walked up and down the road in front of the guns for a few moments in the short silence, realising how the Alliance of Britain and Italy was burning itself more deeply than ever into our hearts in these days of trial.
That night the enemy attacked again, and we lost Faiti and Hill 393, and had to fire on them. I heard afterwards from the Group that Colonel Canale, when he gave the order to fire on 393, was almost weeping on the telephone. Next day we counter-attacked and retook Faiti, but 393 remained in Austrian hands. Rumours and denials of rumours came in from the north. It was said that we had lost Monte Nero and Caporetto, and that German Batteries had kept up a high concentration of gas for four hours on our lines in the Cadore. And we knew that the Italian gas masks were only guaranteed to last for an hour and a half in such conditions, and that each man only carried one.
FROM THE VIPPACCO TO SAN GIORGIO DI NOGARA
On the 27th the rumours became bad. The German advance to the north was said to be considerable and rapid. Orders came that all the British Batteries were to pull out and park that night at Villa Viola, behind Gradisca, “for duty on another part of the Front.” Probably, we thought, we were going north. “The gun concentration up there must be awful,” said the Major. I told Cotes that we were probably going into the thick of it, and his eyes shone with pride. He was a fine fellow. That day the sun was shining, and the Italian planes in this sector seemed to have regained command of the air. For the moment there was a little lull in the firing, but we felt that some big fate was looming over us. I went away to my hut for five minutes and wrote in my diary, “I here put it on record once more that I am proud to fight in and for Italy. I repeat that dying here is not death, it is flying into the dawn! If I die in and for Italy, I would like to think that my death would do something for Anglo-Italian sympathy and understanding.”