My father’s family, the Carvers, came from a poor background in northwest England. In the nineteen-century, they seized upon the opportunity of the new steam technology to build a cotton mill and within thirty years had become wealthy ‘cotton kings’. My grandfather, Oswald Carver, growing up in the Edwardian Age, attended Trinity College Cambridge. He rowed for Cambridge University and in 1908 represented Great Britain in the Olympics, winning the bronze medal.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Oswald volunteered for the army and in 1915, he landed with his troops in Gallipoli. He was killed within three weeks, shot while trying to capture a line of Turkish trenches on the cliffs above the beach. He left behind my grandmother Betty, as well as my father and his brother who were both under five.

After Oswald’s death, Betty my grandmother moved to London, hoping to make a living as an artist. In 1926 during a skiing holiday in Lenk in Switzerland, she encountered a bumptious army colonel called Bernard Montgomery who was 39 and in search of a wife. My father’s first childhood impression of ‘Monty’ was of a energetic character willing to try anything and utterly confident in his abilities.

Monty and Betty’s marriage came to a tragic end after ten years when Betty was bitten by an insect while on a beach holiday in Devon. She contracted blood poisoning and died. Monty, absorbed by the prospect of imminent war with Hitler and the training of his soldiers, had not seen it coming. He was devastated. 

My grandmother was the one person that Monty had truly and unequivocally loved. After her death he threw himself into the army even more fanatically; however, his abrasive manner did not endear him to his superiors and by 1942 he was in the south of England far from the front line. It was the freak death of General Gott that gave Monty his opening. He was ordered to North Africa to replace him as the commander of the Eighth Army. Six weeks after he arrived, he arranged for my father – his stepson – to join him in his headquarters at el Alamein.

During the battle of el Alamein, my father spent most of the time at the main Allied HQ several miles from the fighting. But as Monty pushed Rommel back, he ordered his stepson to go forward to reconnoitre a new position for the headquarters. In the early hours of 7th November 1942, my father, driving Monty’s staff car, ran into a German patrol and was captured. What happened to my father over the next year forms the basis of the book, “Where the Hell have you been?”.