In 1939, Myles Hildyard was aged twenty-four, living in London and about to take his Bar finals. There were many aspects to Hildyard that made him unusual: he came from a family of Nottinghamshire landowners, the inheritors of Flintham Hall, a large country house; he spoke fluent German and French, and had been a great sportsman at Eton; his uncle William was the Archbishop of Canterbury; he had intelligence, courage and a thirst for adventure; and he was a homosexual at a time when to practise homosexuality was a crime. For many, if not all, of these reasons, pre-war England must often have been frustrating for him, and one senses, at the start of these letters and diaries, that the war – or at least the prospect of fighting in it – came as a distinct relief. Hildyard joined up immediately, recruited into the Sherwood Rangers, the local Nottinghamshire regiment, by a friend who was the heir to the Duke of Westminster.
Myles Hildyard was a gentleman soldier of a familiar British type: brave, paternalistic, reaching out across class barriers while also preserving them, yet never an absurdly innocent clot like the figures in the haunting ‘Aristocrats’, a poem by his brother officer, Keith Douglas. Parts of this book seem timeless in