After thirty years in close contact with Peter Skala, as friend and business partner, I knew little of his complicated early life. Intimations of mortality and the urgings of his family finally caused him to talk to me – at first hesitantly and then in a flood. I had intended to write a simple story of a twenty year old war hero but digging into the background of this unlikely GI proved even more interesting than his acts of bravery, causing me as it were to write backwards. His adventures in Patton’s 3rd Army as France was liberated, followed adolescent years in New York at high school and college. In turn these were preceded by a year in a cold English prep school. Before that lay a carefree boyhood in Austria. His early life in Vienna, one of security and material comfort, helped no doubt to fortify him for the rigours ahead. Scraps of letters and faded photograhs in turn took me back to his forbears, some with rather rackety lives. Setting down these episodes from the days of the vanished Austro-Hungarian empire, so different from Anglo-Saxon experience, somehow helped to catch the essence of Peter himself and what made him. And because Peter has always been attracted to women, the journey from Vienna to England, on to the US and back to wartime Europe was scattered with engaging encounters – innocent, fleeting, passionate, raffish, sometimes all at the same time. So what started out as a simple soldier’s tale, turned into a glimpse of a lost civilisation, near to us in time, and yet gone for ever.
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