Waiting to go to the mountains



After dark we pulled out.  Robby and I with a few others rode on the first lorry towing one of the guns.  Our rendezvous was to be at a small town where we were to stop for breakfast before completing our journey.  It was a cold ride and I can picture now how we sat round a stub of a lighted candle trying to warm our hands at the flame.  In the small hours I dropped off to sleep and my left leg became entangled among the gear we were carrying.  I woke up with the worst attack of pins and needles that I have ever had.  I had lost my leg completely and had to grope around in the darkness to find it and release it from the gear.  We arrived at what we thought was our place of rendezvous and waited for the rest of the convoy to catch up with us. 

After about an hour we began to think there was something amiss.  We made enquiries and found that there were four places having the same name, presumably the name of a river or similar.  So it could be any one of three other places. We decided to unlimber the gun and while the lorry and driver went off to find the where the others were, we stayed behind with the gun. We were of course the centre of  great curiosity among the locals, and it struck me, not for the first time, what a horde of priests there were to minister to such a small community.  It was amusing to see how they formed little groups round a priest, who seemingly was able to explain everything to them.  Our gun had seen a lot of service and the steel work was cut and scarred by shell splinters as though it were soft wood. I think this was something that puzzled them. All this curiosity just served to convince me that we must be a long way off the beaten track.  It was quite some time before our lorry returned to say he had located the others.  We limbered up the gun again and joined  the convoy just in time to resume the journey.  We had missed our breakfast.

Later in the day we arrived in the foothills and we stopped at a farm where a large barn had been fitted up with three tier bunks.  We found that we were not going into the mountains straight away, but were being held in reserve.  This was a pleasant surprise.  We were in lush, green and hilly country,  it was Spring, with a pleasantly warm sun, and not a lot to do.  There was a small village down below and about three or four miles away a large town, which I think was Treviso. I cannot be sure now.  During the day we were not allowed to go far away, but after tea we were completely free to go where we liked.

It was Easter weekend and being in an Italian village gave everything an atmosphere.  It really felt like Easter. From the church bells and the whole population going to church and on the Easter Monday almost the whole of the male population struggling home drunk. It was the new seasons win, which was pretty devastating, and being a grape growing area no doubt it flowed rather too freely. All the foothills were terraced with festooned with rows of grapevines.  At this time they were more or less dormant, had it been later in the year heaven help the farmer with our thieving lot around.

Robby and I found a mountain stream not far away and the water was so clear and sparkling.  Each day we went along for a bathe.  It was water from the melting snow high up and was so cold.  It was only knee deep, but we splashed about and doused ourselves all over, in between fighting to get our breath back.  After a rub down we felt marvellous. On one occasion we ran along the stream and just as we turned a bend there was a party of village women doing their washing.  We beat a hasty retreat amid the squawks and laughter. It was the general practice for the Italian women to do their washing in streams such as this, and in the towns they used large stone troughs set up in the street. They never  used soap, as it was far too expensive and carried a high tax, yet their linen was as white as the driven snow.  After sloshing the article in the water, they rolled it up like a long stick and then beat it on a flat stone.  No dirt could withstand this treatment. They would lay it out on a clean piece of ground with a stone at each corner, and the sun dried and bleached it to a remarkable whiteness.

On returning from one of our bathing expeditions we noticed a Royal flying Corps tender waiting outside our billet.  This was ominous.  It was me they were after, only a few minutes to  pack my gear and I was whisked away.  No time to say cheerio to my many friends in the Battery, although Robby and one of them did seek me out later in the mountains for a brief chat.  I was taken back to the aerodrome, where I found a number of other operators, all of whom had been, like myself, withdrawn from British artillery units.  It appeared that we were all going out on loan to the Italian artillery.  It was several days before we actually went off and into the mountains.

At night we all slept in a canvas aeroplane hangar, under the wings of a Bristol fighter. 
This was a two-seater plane used mainly for photographic reconnaissance, but if attacked could give a pretty good account of itself.  The snag was, just before dawn the the mechanics came over, opened up the front of the hangar, wheeled the plane outside and started up the engine for a warm up.  The slipstream carried away our blankets and everything else we possessed, besides being darned cold. We tried all ways to hold ourselves and our bedding all in one piece, but it was hopeless.  One thing hereabouts puzzled me greatly. Night and day there was a strange noise that I had never heard before, and it was so predominant that I couldn’t get it out of my mind.  The aerodrome was surrounded by ditches, and these were chock full of bullfrogs. Here was the answer to my puzzle. I would never have thought they could make such a racket, it really had to be heard to be believed.

Both here at the Aerodrome and with my old battery we were close to the mountains and to look at the great towering mass stretching away as far as the eye could see overawed me. In the evenings I  would watch them change colour with the approach of darkness. In the daytime they looked grey/green, but always they were changing as the sun moved round and the shadows altered, but in the evening they changed through ever darkening shades of purple, until they were black. Up one of the great masses in daylight a thin whitish line could be seen  zig-zagging its way up the mountain.  This was a road, and the thought of going up there gave me the “willies”.  It looked much worse from a distance than it actually was, of course.

Tom Herbert’s Story  - WW1 Begins  -   Work and Play  -  R.F.C. 1917  -  Barrack Life -

To The Front Line  -  Menin Road  - Entrained  -  France to Italy  -  Montello  -  Easter -

Monte Pau  -  Angelo  - Log Cabin  -  Vittorio Veneto  -  Bordighera  -  Blighty  -  Notes  -  Links