Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 573
Clive Briggs, a British private. An illegitimate child and a product of the slums, he nevertheless has a good mind and is a deep thinker. After heroic conduct in the rear-guard action at Dunkirk, he is given a furlough and meets Prue Cathaway, the daughter of an upper-middle-class family. They fall in love and go on a ten-day holiday together. Clive is extremely bitter because of the disparity in opportunity among the English classes and decides that he will no longer fight for an England whose citizens are not equal. After his furlough, he fails to return to his military unit and is hunted as a deserter. Slipping into London to meet Prue, who has become pregnant, he is caught in an air raid and suddenly loses his idealistic rebelliousness. As he tries to rescue a woman trapped in the rubble, he is fatally injured by a falling wall.
Prudence (Prue) Cathaway
Prudence (Prue) Cathaway, a member of the W.A.A.F. and the daughter of an upper-middle-class family. When her fiancé proves to be a conscientious objector, her ideals and belief in English tradition impel her to join the women’s army. Educated, refined, and privileged, she is nevertheless strongly attracted to the intense but lower-class Clive. Although she is a virgin, she gives herself to him on their second date. She becomes pregnant during their holiday. After Clive’s heroic death, she draws great comfort from the thought of bearing his child.
Monty Montague, Clive’s army buddy, also a product of the slums, a wise and reckless private from World War I. He is with Clive in the harrowing rear-guard action at Dunkirk. He joins Prue and Clive for part of their holiday. Although his crude manner is offensive to Prue’s sensibilities, she insists that he tell her the details of Clive’s heroism, to Clive’s disgust. Monty greatly admires Clive’s intelligence and courage and delights in giving Prue some insight into her lover’s personality.
Dr. Roger Cathaway
Dr. Roger Cathaway, Prue’s father, a famous brain surgeon. He operates on Clive after the air raid, but even his skill is insufficient to save the doomed man.
Diane Cathaway, Prue’s mother, a self-satisfied, nagging woman.
General Hamish Cathaway
General Hamish Cathaway, Prue’s grandfather, a typical upper-middle-class Englishman. He is frustrated because he is too old to fight in World War II.
Willfred Cathaway, the general’s second son, an influential politician.
Hamish Cathaway, the general’s youngest son, an attorney. He gives up his practice to join the war effort and is happy to get away from his waspish wife.
Iris Saintby Cathaway
Iris Saintby Cathaway, Hamish’s wife, a cold, vicious woman. She uses her accidentally acquired knowledge of Prue’s indiscretions to force Willfred to arrange for her and her children to flee to the safety of the United States.
Prentiss Saintby, Iris’ brother, a procurement officer in America. The author uses this character to give a somewhat distorted view of the United States just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Joe Telson, a drinking acquaintance through whom Clive meets Prue, a blind date.
The Reverend Mr. Polkingthorne
The Reverend Mr. Polkingthorne, who temporarily shelters Clive and tries to persuade the fugitive to return to his army unit and face the charge of desertion.