journey to italy begins

 
 

1917

By the late evening we had arrived at a little village named Boeschepe.
I am not sure about the spelling but we called it Bo-sheep.  I don’t know whether we were still in Belgium or over the border again and in France.  We went under canvas in an orchard attached to a farm.  Down the road was the farmhouse and close by a genuine working windmill.  We spent a lot of time watching the mill in action and although the machinery was practically all made of wooden parts, I was surprised at the versatility of the thing.  We also spent a lot of time at the farmhouse where Madame produced glorious eggs and chips, and coffee - for a price of course.  All day her big wooden table in the kitchen was fully occupied by hungry troops.  I don’t know how she coped with it all.  In the three days we were there I had handed all my money to Madame but I didn’t regret a halfpenny of it.  Everyone else did much the same.  As it turned out we were not very wise.  We had a longer journey in time in front of us than we anticipated and we could have done with some of that money en route.


It was pleasant to be in clean open country untouched by war, and, more important, it gave us an opportunity to clean ourselves.  We were able to turn our uniforms  inside out and clean out the seams with stiff brushes, and have a clean change of underclothing. To me it seemed quite miraculous but from then on I was free of lice and was never troubled again. It must have been the same for all the others, because one unclean would have contaminated the rest.  But strangely enough, nobody seemed to think it worthy of comment, it was as though we had left all our tormentors behind at Ypres.


After about three days we moved off to a railway siding, where we loaded the lorries, the guns, the stores and ourselves on to the train.  Although we were only one battery of four guns with transport and stores we made up one complete train load.  The officers had two ordinary passenger coaches and the troops had covered goods trucks.  These trucks were labelled “10 Chevaux 20 Hommes”.  What they overlooked was that the chevaux could sleep standing up and the hommes couldn’t.  There were seven Divisions of troops on the move to Italy, with the supporting artillery, transport and other units which go to make up a complete army.  There must have been hundreds of trains involved and there were only two routes they could take. One via the Mount Cenis tunnel and the other via the coast through Marseilles and Genoa. 


We took the latter route, but because of the congestion, it was all stop and go, and it took us six days and nights. In a way the stop and go business was a god-send for us because we were completely without sanitary arrangements, or facilities even to make a cup of tea. In fact no water was carried on the train.  To make things tolerable we had to plunder as we went along, as apparently did all the other trains.  I read somewhere after the war that the British Government paid several hundred thousand pounds to the French Government in compensation for damage caused, and things stolen by troops in transit between France and Italy, and all I can say now is that it served them right for their neglect and failure to provision us properly. The journey and the way we conducted ourselves is worthy of a separate chapter.