The British Army in North Africa accommodated every strata of British society and some unique characters. Quite clearly at the aristocratic end but equally unique was Myles Hildyard. His gossipy letters home provide a remarkably fresh insight into the outlook of his class, who partly treated the war as all a bit of a game.
But his war was not so very far away from the front line as his letters home tried to suggest. As a German speaker Hildyard was employed as his Divisional Intelligence Officer, where he engaged in very trusting methods for dealing with prisoners. Yet it would seem that the enemy could be equally trusting on occasions:
22 January 1943, near Tripoli
We are sitting on the side of the road lined with blue gum trees south of Tripoli, with people walking on ahead.
We could have moved on Tripoli, but for political reasons they want the New Zealanders to get there first. General Montgomery said we’d be in Tripoli on the 21st. He is slightly uncanny. The battle was over yesterday, bar the shouting.
Last night Donny returned. We dined in our tent and Donny, Flash and I went to bed luxuriously in it. Donny is extremely well. He was a prisoner three days, escaped near Tripoli and walked 200 miles by night without a compass. The Arabs were extremely good to him.
He was taken as you know by an armoured-car patrol, sent back to Afrika Corps HQ and lodged in a tent next to Rommel’s. He asked to see Rommel but he was away. He had a big talk to his Chief of Staff and was extremely impressed not only by the smartness of the Germans but by their kindness and charm.
He was then handed over to the Italians who drove him up the coast potting at Arabs like rabbits as they went. They were extremely ill mannered and gave him no food and a stone floor to sleep on. However, he demanded some wine and made his guards fairly tiddly and bunked.
He said the German food was superb and the intelligence people all charmers who had been at Oxford or Cambridge. They don’t like Russia and they said, why on earth were we two people fighting? They hoped they’d meet in London after the war and Donny (of all people) gave them the name of his club.