A YEAR OF RESISTANCE AND OF PREPARATION
IN STRATEGIC RESERVE
Our train reached Cittadella shortly after dusk. We interviewed a British R.T.O., who had only taken up his duties five minutes’ before our arrival, and so not unnaturally knew nothing about us. The Major proposed that the train should be put into a siding and that we should spend the night in it. This was done. We went into Cittadella, but found everything in complete darkness, most of the houses sandbagged, and all shops, cafes and inns closed at dusk by order of the military. We succeeded, however, in getting a meal of sorts, and then went back to the train and turned in early. We were woken up a little after midnight by two British Staff officers, who were very vague and ignorant, but told us to go next morning to San Martino di Lupari, a little village midway between Cittadella and Castelfranco. This we did and found pretty good billets. Monte Grappa loomed over us to the north, deep in snow. I did not go into Cittadella by daylight, but only saw its battlemented outer walls.
Then for a few days nothing happened, except that everyone seemed to have caught a cold. We were now part of the XIth British Corps, who were concentrated in the surrounding district and formed for the moment a strategic reserve, which might be sent anywhere according to the development of the situation. If nothing particular happened, we should probably go into the line south of the XIVth British Corps on the Piave. If, on the other hand, the Italians were driven back in the mountains to the north of us, or were forced to retire down the Brenta Valley,—and this danger had not yet quite passed,—we should move up the mountains and take over part of the Italian line, with the French probably on our right. We received tracings of several possible lines of defence, on the plain itself and on the near side of the mountain crest, described as the “Blue Line,” the “Green Line,” etc., which we were required to reconnoitre with a view to finding Battery positions and O.P.’s. They were all very awkward lines to defend, as the enemy would have splendid observation and we practically none at all.
On the 15th the Major went out in the car reconnoitring to the east. He met some Alpini on the road to whom he said, “Fa bel tempo," and they replied, “Le montagne sono sempre belle;" also an old man who had never seen British soldiers before, and was tremendously excited and pleased, and shouted with joy.
[Footnote 1: “It’s beautiful weather.”]
[Footnote 2: “The mountains are always beautiful.”]
On the 16th the Major went out again with Jeune and myself to look for Battery positions for the defence of the line at the foot of the mountains. We went through Cittadella and Bassano, then southwards along the Brenta to Nove, and then back through Marostica and Bassano. Bassano is a delightful old town, with many frescoes remaining on the outer walls of the houses, and a beautiful covered-in wooden bridge over the Brenta.