Our tractor, less enthusiastic than its driver, broke down continually. It was rumoured that the bridge had been blown up already, and there were wild screams of despair from a crowd of women, who came running past us. At last we turned the last corner and came in sight of the Tagliamento. The bridge was still intact. Italian Generals were rushing to and fro, gesticulating, giving orders. General Pettiti sent a special orderly to ask me if mine were the last British guns. I told him yes. Our tractor broke down three times on the bridge itself. But at last we were over. One of our party had an Italian flag and waved it and cried “Viva l’Italia!” Not long after, the bridge went up, with an explosion that could be heard for miles around.
FROM THE TAGLIAMENTO TO TREVISO
I heard later that the Major and his party had reached Latisana the previous day. Winterton had joined them near Muzzano. They had marched for forty-eight hours practically without food and with only some three hours’ rest in stray halts. They had been magnificent, but they were utterly done, and the Major, who had been most done of all, told me afterwards that it had made him cry to watch them hobbling along,—some of them men too old or of too low a medical category to have passed for the Infantry,—and to hear them singing,
“What’s the use of worrying?
It never was worth while.
So pack up your sorrows in your old kit bag,
And smile, smile, smile!”
The spirit of the men in the retreat from Mons was not finer than the spirit of those men of ours.
At Latisana they got on board a train for Treviso. It was about the last train that was running.
* * * * *
My party, though they were longer on the road, were at least able to ride a great part of the way on the tractors and guns.
Once across the Tagliamento, our tractor not only continued to break down every few hundred yards, but also developed the unpleasant habit of catching fire. Twice we put the fire out with the squirts and chemicals provided for the purpose, and a third time with mud. I determined not to risk a fourth time, and so pulled on to the side of the road and halted. I sent on the Battery Sergeant Major on a passing lorry to Portogruaro with a note to the Major asking that another tractor might be sent back, and I also sent Avoglia to the nearest Italian Headquarters to see if he could raise a tractor there. We were halted at the top of a hill on the road running along the western bank of the river. We were indeed literally “across,” but we should have provided a splendid target for enemy Artillery advancing on the further side. A good system of trenches ran alongside the road, and these were now manned in force by Italian Infantry. Field Guns also had come into position behind them. Our men took advantage of the enforced halt to collect fuel, light fires and make tea. We were still halted here at nightfall.