My Dearest Olive,
Here we are in April. The war still continues, but the news from Russia is very hopeful. They seem to be able to keep the offensive going and I feel there is a reasonable prospect of finishing the war this year provided the Second Front is not too long delayed. Here in Italy, as you have no doubt gathered from the news, the fighting is still very desperate and bitter and the German is taking a tremendous amount of dislodging from the high ground to which he clings.
It is curious in a way how, each time one goes forward after a break, it takes a little time to settle down again. The whistle as the shell comes through the air always has a distinctly unpleasant sound and it never really improves in one sense, as one does tend to become slightly more nervous, to wince as shells land near at hand, and not to feel quite so calm and collected as when first under fire. At first, I felt no sense of fear and did not know when to duck and when one can carry on. The Trigno experience and being wounded was rather shocking and I have never felt quite as comfortable since. However, in some ways, one’s perceptions are sharpened and one’s judgement improves enormously.
Fortunately, I am always at my best when I have others around me and there is a need to set a good example. We were having a discussion on this question the other day and I think the CO expressed the position very ably when he said, “When we are being shelled or mortared I feel just frightened now, if not more so, as I ever have but a couple of minutes after it is over, I have completely recovered”. That is the crux of the matter: the question as to whether nerves are good or bad. While the shelling is on, there is an uncomfortable sinking feeling in the stomach and a rather dry taste in the mouth, but the moment it is over I feel perfectly happy and comfortable again.
One night recently, we were shelled fairly heavily when the four Coy Commanders were going forward to meet the CO for a recce : the splashes of light as the shells landed were an eerie sight, and the dull crump as the sound went echoing through the Valley made us all feel somewhat uneasy but, once we reached our destination, all that went and one felt quite happy again with a job on hand. Of course in an attack, it is rather different as there is so much to be done that one has no time to think about personal safety.
The other day I had to go to Bttn HQ in broad daylight. Douglas (Room) was with me as he was out on patrol that night and was coming down for extra information. It was an uncomfortable journey made partly in full view of the Germans and they eventually decided to shake us up a bit and started to drop a few shells round about. It was not a particularly cheering time and neither of us unduly enjoyed it but we managed to preserve our sang froid. Bttn HQ got quite a few near misses that afternoon and when we were leaving, the CO said to me, “You can sympathise with poor Bttn HQ so close to the front, Lawrie”, and I replied, “When I am back and sitting cosy and safe in my rock cave, I will provide you my heartfelt sympathy, Sir,” and he laughed heartily and said, “You are a sod, Lawrie”.
Douglas is very cool and steady and is a great contrast to what Edward was like. Poor Edward was rather a trial up at the front, as he was always worrying and would keep on worrying me and asking questions. Douglas, on the contrary, keeps very calm and collected, but does not worry at all and takes things very much as they come. A good man to have around in a tight spot. My Coy HQ is in a very deep cave on the side of a mountain and it very cosy and safe, and it’ll take a lot to get us out of here.
Do not worry, darling, if letters are a bit more erratic. The service is naturally not quite so good from here, and also to make matters worse, most unfortunately in coming forward, I left my small reserve stock of airmails behind and consequently have to rely on issue which is only three a fortnight and although we get them alright the supply problem sometimes makes the distribution difficult and we may have to wait. I will send you some airgraphs if I cannot get hold of any airmails. They are not, of course, nearly as good but sometimes appear to arrive in reasonable time. I received two from you a couple of days ago dated 22/3 and 24/3.
Curious that my letter of the 6/2 should have been so long delayed. The same has occasionally happened with letters of yours, sweetheart, but never to quite that length of time. I got an airgraph from Mother dated 27/2 – they were very pleased over my promotion. Apparently, it has been a very hot summer with plenty of bush fires. Helen seems extremely happy, Tapley is somewhere in the north of Australia. I am hoping there will be some letters from you when the rations come up tonight.
All my love and kisses to you both, most precious and adorable of wives. I miss you both a tremendous lot.