Battle of vittorio veneto

 

October to November 1918

We spent a few days at squadron speculating as to our next assignment. During this period I tasted green figs for the first in my life.  They were delicious. Although they were locally grown they were somewhat expensive but perhaps there was a bit of exploitation in this.  We were soon away again, this time headed for the River Piave.  There were quite a few of us and I hoped that I might be given a new partner, although Sylvan was one of the party.  However, as we dropped off two here and  two
there, it seemed that we had got to put up with each other for a further spell.  Once again we were to be with the Italians, but this time it was a mobile battery with light guns mounted on special motor lorries.  Here was a mix-up, civilians and troops all going about their business.  We borrowed a room in a farmhouse.  The owner haggled about paying for the use of the room.  We told him that our officer would be along sometime and he would pay.  It was incorrect of course, and although the old man tackled us several times on this point, even when we were leaving, we assured him he would be paid.  The whole area was stiff with troops, so it was obvious something really big was in the offing.


The farmer, the old Patriarch we called him,  was apparently a widower, and he had three teenage daughters. Although they were of the peasant type, they were all very good-looking and dressed in becoming clothes, they would have been stunners.  The old Patriarch guarded them like an eagle with its chicks, and with all this motley crew around he had need to.  We spent most of our evenings in the large kitchen with the family, as did a dozen or so Italian troops, drinking the cheap wine which all the farmers seemed to make.  We did go one evening to a proper wine establishment, but it seemed the whole allied armies were already there.  It was quite hopeless.


In the early hours one morning, our artillery opened up a terrific bombardment.
  This was it, the beginning of the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, which destroyed the Austrian Army.  We stayed in bed or rather on the floor, as there would be nothing for us to do until daylight.  The three girls, frightened out of their wits, came down to our room and we told them not to worry, everything would be alright, and to go back to bed.  Not very gallant perhaps, but I didn’t want the Patriarch to chase me out of the village with a stiletto.


By the middle of the day the infantry had crossed the Piave and the Austrians were on the run.  As we were a mobile battery, I expected we would be on the move following up the retreat.  However the Italian Commander sent for me to say the battery was going to move, and they would not need our services any longer. I was  not only disappointed, I was bothered about not having any transport to get us back back to Squadron, or the means to get  in touch with them. Besides we had to eat.  We packed all our gear and moved it down the road.  I left my partner to guard it while I had a scout round to see what I could find. I came across a British battery of six-inch Howitzers.  How I wished it was our old battery, number 247 but it wasn’t.  I asked the officer if I could contact my Squadron through their telephone switchboard.  They got me a line, and I reported what had happened to the Wireless Sergeant, and told them where we were located.  I gathered a lot of of operators had been abandoned and they were making arrangements to collect us.  Very late, transport arrived and picked us up and we were once more back at Squadron.


A day or two later on the 7th of November, the war ended on the Italian Front.  Everybody was very excited and they laid on some jollifications, to celebrate the armistice.  I didn’t enjoy it very much, I was feeling ill.  There was an epidemic raging all over the world, and for the want of a better name it was called Spanish Flu.  Unfortunately it was killing off more people than had been killed in four years of war, and I had got it. I was sleeping on the floor of an overcrowded hut, and with many of the chaps coming, some carried, having celebrating too well, I had a dreadful night.  In the morning I asked someone to report me sick and I stayed put.  I couldn’t go to breakfast, I didn’t want any, but someone brought me a mug of tea.  It tasted like mud, so I didn’t drink it,


The Doctor came to see me during the course of the morning and ordered me into hospital.  First this meant going to a casualty clearing station, and I and one other were taken there in the afternoon.  The place was crowded with casualties, mostly sick like myself.  We were all on stretchers, not all that comfortable, I remember, but next day a Hospital train was due to arrive to move us all to more comfortable conditions.


In the afternoon of the following day, we were all taken by ambulance and put on the train only a mile or so outside Venice.  It has always been a matter of regret that having been so near, and yet have never seen Venice.  The train was a complete hospital on wheels, extremely comfortable, with medical staff to look after us.  It was wonderful to be in a comfortable bed after roughing it for so long.  I didn’t mind how long the train meandered on its journey.  Actually we were traveling for two days and three nights.  In the early hours of the eleventh of November we stopped at a station somewhere, and the news was passed to us that an armistice was to be signed on the Western Front at 11 am that day.  So it was all over.  We reached our destination - Bordighera - which is on the Italian Riviera, only two miles from the French frontier.



          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