In some of the stations along the line were placards, “Long live great old England,” “Welcome to the valiant British Army,” “Vive la France,” “Vive la victorieuse Armee de Verdun.” The first of the Allied reinforcements were arriving.
At Arquata station I met an advance party of the Northumberland Fusiliers. They told me that they had been quite moved by their wonderful welcome on the way through Italy and by all the hospitality shown to their officers and men at the stations where they had stopped. It gave me a queer thrill to see British Infantrymen again after many months, and this time on Italian soil.
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After various orders and counter-orders I left Arquata for Ferrara on the 16th, with two truckloads of stores. But this was only a very small proportion of the minimum which we required.
REFITTING AT FERRARA
I got back to Ferrara on the evening of November 17th, and shared a bedroom with Jeune, who had returned from leave in England, having missed all our most unpleasant experiences. Our brother officers of the Italian Field Artillery were very hospitable and courteous to us through those weeks of waiting. We could do nothing till the Ordnance sent us gun stores from Arquata, and these dribbled in very slowly, a few odds and ends at a time.
I often went out riding on the Piazza d’Arme and along the ramparts and in the country round Ferrara with Italian officers. Days were still very anxious, and the news from the Front not always good, and one rather avoided talking about the war. But one evening at dinner I succeeded in piercing the polite reserve of a little Captain who was sitting next to me. “Italy should have made it a condition of her intervention,” he said, “that the other Allies should have sent troops to the Italian Front. Also more guns and war material. Italy, at the beginning of her war, had many heroes but few guns. The other Allies, equally with Italy, are without statesmen. Your Lloyd George is energetic, but——! The British are not really at war with Austria. They have soft sentiments towards her and don’t want her to lose too much. The Jugo-Slav propaganda was at its height, and was being encouraged in Paris and London, at the very moment when Italy was being pressed by the French and British to enter the war.
“We have made too many offensives on our own, unaided. Cadorna should have refused, but he went on and on. He sacrificed thousands of lives uselessly. He demanded too much of his troops. He did not understand them. This last disaster was caused by Croats and Bulgarians, who spoke Italian perfectly, having lived among us and taken degrees at our Universities, getting through our lines in the first confusion, dressed in Italian uniform, and sending false telephone messages and signals in our own cipher, ordering a general retreat. It was men from ——, who first ran away at Rombon and Tolmino. It has been often proved in the history of our country that those men have no courage. Italians have too little unity.”