What Italy Has Overcome

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
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What Italy Has Overcome is an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in the Daily Mail on 29 june 1916.


What Italy Has Overcome

Daily Mail (29 june 1919, p. 7)

"A Grand People with a Soul."

My second day was devoted to a view of the Italian mountain warfare in the Carnic Alps (between the Trentino and the Isonzo fronts). Far up in the Roccolana Valley I found the Alpini outposts, backed by artillery which had been brought into the most wonderful positions. They have taken 8 in. guns where a tourist could hardly take his knapsack. Neither side cat ever make serious progress, but there are continual duels, gun against gun, or Alpini against Jäger.

In a little wayside house was the brigade headquarters, and here I was entertained to lunch. It was a scene that I shall remember. They drink to England. I raised my glass to Italia irredenta — might it soon be redenta ! They all sprang to their feet and the circle of dark faces flashed into flame. They keep their souls and emotions, these people, I trust that ours may not become atrophied by self-suppression.


The Italians, with the deep instinct of a very old civilisation, understand that the liberty of the world and their own national existence are really at stake. But there are several forces which divide the strength of the nation. There is the clerical, which represents the old Guelph or German spirit, looking upon Austria as the eldest daughter of the Church, a daughter who is little credit to her mother. Then there is the old nobility. Finally, there are the commercial people, who through the great banks or other similar agencies have got into the influence and employ of the Germans.

When you consider all this you will appreciate how necessary it is that Britain should in every possible way, moral and material, sustain the national party. Should by any evil chance the others gain the upper hand there might be a very sudden and sinister change in the international situation. Every man who does, says, or writes a thing which may in any way alienate the Italians is really, whether he knows it or not, working for the King of Prussia. They are a grand people, striving most efficiently for the common cause, with all the dreadful disabilities which an absence of coal and iron entails. It is for us to show that we appreciate it. Justice as well as policy demands it.

The last day spent upon the Italian front was in the Trentino. From Verona a motor drive of about 25 miles takes one up the valley of the Adige. The attitude of the people behind the firing line should give one confidence. I had heard that the Italians were a nervous people. It does not apply to this part of Italy. As I approached the danger-spot I saw rows of large fat gentlemen with long, thin, black cigars leaning against walls in the sunshine. The general atmosphere would have steadied an epileptic. Italy is perfectly sure of herself in this a quarter.


Finally after a long drive of winding gradients, always beside the Adige, we reached Ala, where we interviewed the commander of the sector, a man who has done splendid work during the recent fighting. "By all means you can see my front. But no motor-car, please. It draws fire, and others may be hit besides you." We proceeded on foot, therefore, along a valley which branched at the end into two passes. In both very active fighting had been going on, and as we came up the guns were baying merrily, waking up most extraordinary, echoes in the hills. It was difficult to believe that it was not thunder.

There was one terrible voice that broke out from time to time in the mountains — like the angry voice of the Holy Roman Empire. When it came all other sounds died down into nothing. It was — so I was told — the master gun, the vast 17 in. giant which brought down the pride of Liège and Namur. The Austrians have brought one or more from Innsbruck. The Italians assure me, however, as we have ourself discovered, that in trench work beyond a certain point the size of the gun makes little matter.

When we arrived at the spot where the two valleys forked we were halted, and we were not permitted to advance to the advance trenches, which lay upon the crests above us. There was about 1,000 yards between the adversaries. I have seen types of some of the Bosnian and Croatian prisoners, men of poor physique and intelligence, but the Italians speak with chivalrous praise of the bravery of the Hungarians and of the Austrian Jäger.

(*) Copyright 1916, by A. Conan Doyle in the United States of America.