Hetherington was the son of Sir Hector Hetherington, professor of logic and philosophy at University College, Cardiff and later Principal of the University of Glasgow. He was educated at Gresham's School in Holt, Norfolk, from 1933 to 1937 and then at Corpus Christi College, Oxford from 1938 to 1940, but his time at Oxford was interrupted by the Second World War. Though his myopia initially kept him from duty in a combat regiment, eventually he joined the Royal Armoured Corps and subsequently transferred to the Northamptonshire Yeomanry. Shortly after the Normandy landings he was a tank captain advancing towards Vire when his tank was destroyed. He later took part in the relief of Antwerp and ended his army career as a major in the Intelligence Corps, during which time he wrote a Military Geography of Schleswig-Holstein.
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