"Time at War," the autobiography of Nicholas Mosley is one of the most philosophically influenced accounts of WWII. Mosley became quite a prolific writer after the war; he published many books and the style in which "Time at War" is written is both sophisticated and unique, reflecting the author's literary background and skills. As an original writer, Mosley did not mold his story of combat in Italy around traditional modes of storytelling; like the eccentric he is, his tale is constructed to show both the gritty facts of war and the thinking man's reaction to involvement in a situation which he believed was both utterly stupid yet highly necessary. This basic contradiction is central to Mosley's thoughts about the war; in the many letters he includes in the text the reader sees the introspective soldier after combat, coming to terms with the enormous burden of soldiery and the scars it leaves upon the psyche.
Mosley is definitely not the typical English officer and his story reflects this. Coming from a prominent upper class family, his father was the infamous pro-fascist rebel rouser Oswald Mosley. After the outbreak of war, Oswald was imprisoned as a risk to national security. The early stages of the book include many passages about the author's ambivalence toward his father; as a British teenager he was in many ways of a like mind with his contemporaries in the need to defend England, but there also exits a slightly anarchist tendency in his personality which relates to his father. As a student of philosophy he sees the war as futile and stupid but he still believes it to be his duty to serve. This is an interesting contradiction which is one of the major themes throughout the book. Despite this subversive nature, Mosley is swept up in the spirit of patriotism and uses family connections to enlist in Officer training school.
After training to be part of the Rifle Brigade, Mosley is transferred to the 2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles upon his arrival in Italy during the end of 1943. As a platoon commander in the 78th Infantry Division, Mosley finds himself on a thin part of the line, dug into the snow banks of a ridgeline at Christmas of 1943. His first experience in war almost proves to be his demise as both his inexperience and subconscious dislike for the war result in disaster. His platoon is surrounded by Germans and taken prisoner, but Mosley is miraculous saved by his friend Mervyn Davies. With the loss of his platoon, Mosley is deeply shamed, as he is disgraced both by his father and by his poor leadership.
Mosley does not let this discourage him for too long as his new platoon is moved to the rocky Cassino sector in March of 44. As the spring offensive down the LIri Valley begins in May, Mosley is wounded prior to the start of the assault and avoids serious combat. After leave in the hospital he returns at the end of the summer at the newly defended Gothic Line. It is here Mosley receives his redemption for both his father's mistakes and his own with a successful assault on Monte Spaduro. The attack was observed by the 78th's General who awarded Mosley the Military Cross. These scenes are the best part of the book and rank among the best descriptions of mountain combat in Italy.
As in a style typical of the whole book, Mosley follows up the combat portions with introspective letters he wrote to friends and family in his down time. In these his philosophical reflections on both the war's stupidity and it's necessity are laid forth, giving the book a nice balance between combat narrative and the personal side of a junior officer's psyche. The book ends with the brief advance through Northern Italy in April of 45. Though Mosley sees his share of combat, he is very selective about which events to expound upon and uses them to contrast his philosophical letters. A unique thinking man's memoir.