Aged twenty, and with no war experience, Nicholas Mosley found himself in charge of a platoon of men positioned along the Italian front during the Second World War. With his father in prison on charges of treason, he had enlisted primarily in an effort to improve his family image. But the war left Mosley a radically changed man: he had gone in out of personal convenience, and left with a sense of greater purpose.
Saved from death by one of his men, holed up in barns and trenches and tents, and marching across Europe, Mosley found in war a certainty that eluded him in peacetime. “War is both senseless and necessary, squalid and fulfilling, terrifying and sometimes jolly,” he writes. “This is like life. Humans are at home in war (though they seldom admit this). They feel they know what they have to do.”
In an interview conducted between 1977 and 1978, Nicholas Mosley said, “When I was young William Faulkner was my great love, not just because of the density of style, but because he seemed to be dealing with the question not of what will happen next but what is happening now. The first Faulkner novel I read was The Sound and the Fury, which I got hold of when we liberated a POW camp in Italy in 1944 and I liberated the Red Cross Library. I was about twenty. . . . What in god’s name, after all, was I doing aged twenty in Italy in a war?”