We begin by witnessing a WWI army officer, our narrator, Alexander Moore, awaiting his execution, pondering about the opinions and the thoughts of his family and his CO. Just before his imminent death, a priest visits him. However, we are forced back to the officer’s childhood.
Alexander, or Alec, lives with his parents, Frederick and Alicia, who are not on the friendliest of terms with one another. His mother did not allow him to go to school as she doesn’t want to ever be alone with her husband and he is instead educated by a tutor. This makes Alec rather antisocial, being a lonely boy. However, he finds enjoyment and escape in his hobbies: writing and horse riding.
It is the latter of these interests that allows Alec to begin a friendship outside of the few adults at home, a companionship with a boy named Jerry. The two first meet when Jerry accidentally trespasses on Alec’s land but they quickly discover a kinship, especially over their equine interests. The two then begin to dream and fantasise about owning a stud.
Alec’s mother, however, does not approve of his friendship with Jerry, believing him to be of the lower classes, making Alexander promise that she won’t see or speak to him ever again. She then offers to take Alec on a trip around Europe.
Alec returns from his travels with his mother and finds that he feels a small bit more interested in their family estate. Frederick then buys young Alec a horse, which he names Morrigan. Alec then meets Jerry again when he is handing out a prize for a horse race, which Jerry won. However, Alicia suggests that Jerry is a criminal involved with the Irish Republican movement.
Alicia then insists that Alexander must join the fight when WWI begins but Frederick is against it, believing he is more fit and suited to take over the family business. Alicia, however, finds herself becoming wrapped up in the romance of having a son going off to war when she sees other people in the area singing up.
She reckons she will be seen as making sacrifices. Alec does not want to fight, though, but Alicia manipulates her son by saying that he is not the biological offspring of Frederick, which infuriates Alec and causes him to leave, his disdain targeted at his mother.
Alec meets Jerry, drunk, and Jerry informs him that he is joining the fight in order to give extra wage money to his mother as his father is already in the army. Alexander, after hearing this, decides to enlist. Frederick desperately wants him to stay but selfish Alicia is prideful.
When going off to war, Alec finds that he cannot remain on the same ‘level’ as Jerry because of his class. Being higher up in the social hierarchy, Alexander is made to train to be an officer. They are stationed together in France and manage to keep their friendship going despite being divided by rank.
Bennett, another officer, manages to wrangle up three horses and he, Alec, and Jerry set off to go riding. Whilst on their ride, Jerry states that he is learning how to shoot in order to aid the republican fight in Ireland.
Major Glendinning commands the men and harbours a potent hatred of friendliness between ranks, disapproving immediately of the relationship between Alexander and Jerry.
Jerry then leaves his post after he receives a letter from his mother, begging him to find his father who has gone missing in the war. When Jerry returns, he is arrested for desertion, punishment being death.
Major Glendinning, sadism personified, orders that Alec be the one to lead the firing squad. He wants him to personally oversee the death of his old friend. Alec visits Jerry in prison, without permission, and implores him to talk about their childhood.
Jerry begins to reminisce, lost in those happy days of yore where he and Alec had innocent fun together. Alec then shoots him, wanting his final moments to be ones where he thought of those better times, rather than spent fearing death. Alec is then sentenced to death, and we are back at the beginning of the narration, Alec’s death imminent again.
How Many Miles To Babylon?
Alec and Jerry shouldn’t have been friends: Alec’s life was one of privilege, while Jerry’s was one of toil. But this hardly mattered to two young men whose shared love of horses brought them together and whose whole lives lay ahead of them.
When war breaks out in 1914, both Jerry and Alec sign up – yet for quite different reasons. On the fields of Flanders they find themselves standing together, but once again divided: as officer and enlisted man.
And it is there, surrounded by mud and chaos and death, that one of them makes a fateful decision whose consequences will test their friendship and loyalty to breaking point.