Right from the opening line of the novel it is clear that Alec is rich and privileged.

He refers to himself as “an officer and a gentleman” and the rest of his narration shows he is the son of an Anglo-Irish landlord who grew up on an estate in Ireland.

The fact that Alec trains to be an officer also reveals his class.

At the beginning of World War One only those men from the upper classes could become officers in the army, although this changed as the war went on.

Alec’s wealth growing up is presented through the grand setting of his parents’ house - “the pictures, the polished banister” - and the fact that servants do most of the labour in the house.

Tutors are brought in to teach him Latin and piano, studies typical of the cultured education a young man of his class would receive.

Alec’s mother takes him with her to Europe - supposedly to further his education - at a time when travelling like this was only for the very wealthy.

He comes home to a chestnut mare that the groom comments cost a “queer price”.


Despite the material wealth Alec is born into, he does not portray his childhood as being particularly happy.

Most of the time he is very lonely due to the lack of children his own age and parents who are cold and unaffectionate.

His experience of relationships is limited to his parents' unhappy marriage and while he says that “I never minded being alone” because “I had never known anything else”, he admits himself to “being rather short on team spirit”.

His friendship with Jerry is therefore all important in his life.

The significance of this is shown in Johnston’s use of short emphatic sentences, “I had a friend. A private and secret friend.”

Having a companion is such a new and exciting experience for him that in his memories “it all seems idyllic". The subsequent friendship is so strong that it continues throughout their short lives.