Italy 1917 - 1918
On December 1st "A" and "B" Companies with half the Battalion HQ and half the Transport but with all the band, under the command of Lieut-Col. Colt entrained at Hesdin. The remaining half of the Battalion under Captain (acting Major) Maywood were due to follow in a few hours time. Just as we were steaming out of the station, however, their departure was postponed. As a matter of fact, they did not leave until the 8th or 10th December.
We were fairly comfortable in the train. Two officers were allocated to each compartment (either 1st or 3rd class) and 20-25 men to each covered van. Strict orders were given as to discipline while on the train, including the removal of putties and the daily rubbing of the men's feet with whale oil. On one occasion our train broke down and we were able to go for a short route march. Our journey lay past Paris and included Marseilles, Nice, Cannes, Mentone. Just before we reached Genoa we turned up to the north through Parma until we reached Este, our detraining station.
At any Italian station of any size, great crowds of Italians greeted the arrival of the train. Gifts of fruit, flowers, and postcards, favours composed of ribbons of the Italian colours etc were pressed on the troops. There was no doubt that the Italians were glad to see us.
We arrived at Este about 3 am on the morning of the 6/7th December. It was bitterly cold and freezing hard. Here we were billeted in an old barracks. We did not stay long, however, for 12 hours later we fell in on the square and marched to Noventa Vicentina arriving there about 9 pm. Next morning at 10 am we set forth once more and about 1 pm arrived at the village of Sossano about 12 miles from Vicenza. Here we remained for 7 days. At this place an unfortunate incident took place. It was very cold and 3 men who were billeted in a small room, lit a brazier of coal and shut all the doors and windows to keep warm. Next morning all were ill and subsequently one - Pte G.R. Sweeting - died.
On the 15th we marched to Lumagnano and on the 17th to Arlesega (?). Both these marches were very trying as snow had fallen and the Transport had a difficult job to keep their horses from falling. The next day, 18th December 1917, we marched to Villa Del Conte where we met the other half of the Battalion. Half the Battalion were in a large empty house and the other half in the village school. The Officer's Mess was in another empty house. Each morning the Battalion paraded to the Roll of the Drum in the village square. We remained in this village about 5 weeks, during which time we constructed a rifle range and an assault course. From this village parties were sent up to the mountains, for we were told to hold the Brenta valley near Bassano should the Austrians break through. A good deal of training was done and the battalion thoroughly reorganised.
The Officers were now:
Lieut-Col. H.A. Colt, MC
2nd i/c Major W.G. Chapman, MC
Adjutant Capt. Maywood
"A" Coy. Capt. Petheram, MC
"B" Coy. Capt. Kirby
"C" Coy. Capt. Bray
"D" Coy. Capt. Taylor
On Christmas Day the troops enjoyed themselves well thanks to the generous gift of 60 pounds odd subscribed by the citizens of Bristol and sent to us through the Lord Mayor. Concerts were also held during this period, though the make-shift concert hall was a poor place and very cold.
On 22nd January 1918 we again set forth, much to the disgust of the inhabitants, and after a 2 days march arrived at the village of Visnadella, from where we sent reconnoitring parties to the Piave. About the middle of January Capt. R.C.A. Beckett (now attached 4th Liecesters) and Acting-RSM Bailey were awarded the Military Cross - New Years Honours. At the same time Sergt. Watkins, Signalling Sergt, was awarded the Belgian Crois de Guerre for good work at Ypres. This reward was the more remarkable as being the only foreign decoration bestowed on the Battalion during the whole campaign.
On 26th January the Battalion relieved in the trenches on the River Piave no less than 4 Italian Battalions. In order to deceive the enemy as to the relief having taken place, we all had to wear Italian helmets. A very comical effect was then produced. It was questionable as to whether the CO or his Orderly (Cpl. Hudson) presented the quaintest appearance. Our machine-gunners did not relieve until the following night and the Italians had no less than 40 Machine Guns in the part of the line we were to take over. In consequence, had the enemy raided our front line that night, they would not have known that any relief had taken place for there were at least as many Italians as English there.
Our line here ran in front of the small town of Spresiano along the southern bank of the Piave. They were not at all bad trenches and were protected by some of the best wire we had ever seen. The country was very flat on our side excepting for a hill. A curious feature was the square plots of ground planted with mulberry trees, along wires connecting which are trained the vines. Thus do the silk and wine industry go hand in hand. The river was not full and in consequence, its bed consisted of a series of channels intersected with pebbly islands. On these at night we sent out standing patrols, in addition to those who attempted to cross to the enemy side of the river.
We did 8 days in the line here and another 8 in support. The latter was more trying as a Hun bombing squadron that had followed us from Ypres made the night hideous. At the end of this time we spent a peaceful 8 days in the village of St. Andra some 7 miles behind the line. From here we went in the line again, this time to the north of our first place. Here we had a splendid time. On going in we had been told that there was positively no ford across the river. In consequence of this for the first 2 nights boating operations were carried out. The boat was a crazy old craft that would capsize if one of the crew as much as winked his eye. In addition to this, the current was so strong that one could not row against it. Attempts were made to swing the boat over by a rope, using the current as motive power. In each case the boat failed to reach the opposite shore by some 6 feet. In the meantime the voice of Lieut. Waddy, MC from the boat and the CO from the embankment must have aroused all Austria.
Next night, however, Lieut. Fitzgerald, MC, Sergt. Pegg, DCM, 12th Gloucesters, Lieut. Montarano, MC, and 1 NCO of the 1st East Surreys, found a ford. Wading across and going some 300 yards inland on the enemy beach they found an enemy post. Rushing it, they brought back the 2 occupants. On reaching our trenches they parted the 2 prisoners. "Algy" falling to the lot of the 1st East Surreys and "Herbert" to the Gloucesters. (Their proper names were unpronouncable).
The next night Lieut. Fitzgerald and Sergt. Pegg again waded over and brought back 2 more prisoners from the same post. The next night Lieut. Hale and 10 men went over. After rushing several posts and finding them empty they were set on by a party of about 100 men. A fight ensued, but under cover of a pre-arranged Machine Gun barrage, the party returned in safety excepting 1 man who was left for dead. (We afterwards learned that he was captured and eventually recovered). For this encounter Lieut. Hale was awarded the MC.
As another Brigade was going to carry out a large raid here, we were then told that we were attracting too much attention to the spot. The R.E. also complained that our activity interferred with the bridge they were building across the Piave. In consequence we had to confine ourselves to suddenly switching on the searchlight and opening a hot fire at varying times during the night.
At the end of February we were relieved and went back to St. Andra. While here the Division was relieved and we went back to a village outside Camposanpiero. Here a week was spent during which battalion sports were held on Back Badge Day.
Our next move was to Barchella, 2 days later we went to Campodoro. Fom here we marched to Longare and Seculu, 2 adjacent villages. Here we spent a quiet week, but the men were reverse of elated as it was known that we were leaving Italy. On April 2nd we marched to Vicenza where we entrained for France.
This time we took 4 days on the journey; going by tunnel instead of the Riviera route. Nothing of any importance happened on the journey.