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A little later, Henry and his friends were on a road that led to a river. There was a column of abandoned carts and trucks and the bridge across the river was blown up. Henry remembered that up the lane was a railway bridge. Aymo and Bonello wondered if the bridge was mined. Henry volunteered to step on the bridge to test it. Just up the river, there was another bridge and as they were looking, a yellow, mud-colored car crossed it. The passengers in the car wore German helmets. Henry and the others crossed over, and he informed them that he had just seen a German staff car. Just a little later, they saw bicycle troops crossing the upper bridge. Then, Henry was animated and spirited, because he felt that it was just crazy to leave the bridge intact for the enemy to use. It was his duty to take three ambulances to Pordenone but he had failed to do it. He might reach there if he kept calm and was not killed or captured. Meanwhile, they started walking and saw another group of bicycle troops. They saw Henry and the others but did not do anything. Henry surmised that the soldiers were not after them, but something else. They wondered why there should be a German staff car at the scene. They heard firing ahead of them. Henry saw a side road to the south that skirted round the town of Udine and he decided that they could walk along it. Just then, some shots were fired at them from a bush. One of the shots killed Aymo. Since there were no Germans or Austrians, the Italians, wearing German helmets, must have hit them. Henry took a last look at Aymo and decided that he would write to his family to tell them of his death.
Across the fields was a farmhouse. Henry went into it first and found that it was deserted. They searched the house and found a long sausage, a jar of something, and two bottles of wine. If the Germans saw them, they would kill them. On the other hand, if the Italians saw them, they would mistake them for Germans and kill them too. Therefore, Henry decided to hide in the barn. Meanwhile Bonello, anticipating trouble, took off, preferring to live as a prisoner rather than to die. It was a strange night they spent in the barn, as nothing happened though they expected it. Henry and Piani walked throughout the night, past the line of the retreat and toward Tagliamento.
The retreat was so gigantic that it looked as if the entire country was moving. There was no apparent danger now and Henry felt that it was silly for Bonello to be taken prisoner. He decided to view Bonello’s action leniently and not report the matter to the authorities. Some soldiers in the retreat threw away their rifles and pretended that they were going home. With the Germans swarming all over the place, it did not seem as if the war would come to an end at all. Just before daylight, Henry and Piani reached the bank of the river, near the bridge where all the traffic was crossing. Several people were crossing the bridge when Henry and Piani joined them. After crossing the bridge Henry wondered what it would be like if a plane bombed it during the day.
At the other end of the bridge were Italian officers and soldiers carrying flashlights. They were checking everyone crossing the bridge, particularly those who looked like officers. They scrutinized a lieutenant colonel and then one of the soldiers took Henry by the collar and started dragging him. Henry hit him in the face so more soldiers came running towards him and Piani. He warned the soldier that he, as an officer, should not be touched. He was told that he would be shot if he resisted. They were military police and were checking officers to see if they had deserted their posts. The lieutenant colonel was found to be away from his troops. This was not because he abandoned them but because of the confusion of the retreat. Turning a deaf ear, the Italian soldiers shot the lieutenant colonel dead, claiming that Italy was robbed of its victory because of cowardly people like him.
Henry, more or less, was in the same situation as the lieutenant colonel. Moreover, the Italians thought that he was a German in Italian uniform. It was raining steadily and the soldiers were taken, one at a time, to be questioned and then shot. Not one soldier was spared. Henry had to take a quick decision: to stand there and be killed or jump into the river and take whatever comes. Instantly, he jumped into the swirling river and stayed under water as long as he could. Shots were ringing out behind him. A little later, he surfaced, found a piece of timber, and drifted along with it. There were no more shots from behind him and the he was soon out of their sight.
This chapter is the most crucial in the novel because it contains the climax, Henry deserting his post. In this fairly long chapter, Henry is shown as a duty-conscious officer and an able leader. He does not desert his post voluntarily; the military police push him into it.
This chapter also describes the retreat in very realistic terms. The retreat at Caporetto was one of the most notable and bloody events in World War I. The inhumanity and apathy of the soldiers and the pathos of the retreat are captured in these passages.