Magazine article The Spectator

Fighting Free of Father

Magazine article The Spectator

Fighting Free of Father

Article excerpt

TIME AT WAR by Nicholas Mosley Weidenfeld, £14.99, pp. 180, ISBN 10029785240X . £11.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

When the second world war began, Nicholas Mosley, the distinguished novelist son of the fascist leader Sir Oswald, who thought that Britain should not fight Germany and whose second wife, Diana Mitford, counted Goebbels and Hitler as friends, was a 16-year-old schoolboy at Eton. 'At this time, ' he writes in his new book, in which he reconsiders and reflects on his wartime experiences, 'I thought my father was a politician less lunatic than most.' It was a help, he adds, that many Eton boys knew what it was like to be connected to 'maverick politicians'. Even so, he felt self-conscious when in June 1940 his father was locked up under regulation 18b. However, 'there were glances, but not much was said'. This note of understated, wry honesty characterises Mosley's account of his war. Perhaps because his father was such a posturer and performer, he never strikes attitudes; and he never complains, although his position was often difficult and his inner struggles painful.

There was never any question that, like his contemporaries, he would go to war when he left school at 19.

As an upper-class public schoolboy in the 1930s he had no knowledge of girls apart from his sister, and his emotional life was focussed on other boys. Joining the army meant exchanging one all-male group for another: Mosley writes with engaging frankness about the cheerful camping around that ensued during training, and the pseudo-sophisticated cynicism they all affected. His social horizons were equally limited, but despite knowing nothing about the men from non-public school backgrounds he was expected to lead, he got on with them surprisingly well. There were two obvious impediments to his becoming an officer: the severe stammer he had developed at the age of seven, and the little matter of his father being in Holloway. It is interesting that although Mosley knows that strings were pulled to get him his commission, and that the matter of how to deal with his war service must have been discussed by the authorities who had put his father in prison, he does not appear to have investigated the matter. …

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