October, 2018. I'm travelling by boat from the west coast of Scotland to the Isle of Arran, as Evelyn Waugh did back in December, 1940. I'm thinking that this hour-long crossing will be a good place to give an overview of the author-cum-officer's position nearly eighty years ago.

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As described in
Men At Arms, the previous book in what turned out to be a trilogy, Waugh almost saw action on the west coast of Africa with the Royal Marines in September 1940. The ships involved in the aborted mission then came back to the UK, and in particular to the Clyde estuary where most of the present essay will be set.

Waugh and his Royal Marines sailed from the west coast of Africa via Gibralter to Gourock. From there he went by train to camp at Kilmarnock, about twenty miles south of Glasgow. (A map is coming shortly.) From there by train to Pixton, Somerset, to spend a week's leave with Laura, which included a day trip to Piers Court to see how the house and garden were getting on under the stewardship of the nuns.

Then back up to Kilmarnock. But by this time Waugh was following up the possibility of being posted from the Marines to the newly formed Commandos. Having been told that their colonel, Robert Laycock, was in London, Waugh immediately travelled south again, only to discover that Laycock himself was in the west of Scotland. So back up north again.

Having berthed at Gourock on October 27, by November the 13th, Waugh was at Largs with 8 Commando. Here he stayed for three weeks at the Marine Hotel, where many of his fellow officers were billeted.

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Evelyn learned how different the Commando set-up was from conventional regiments such as the Marines. The officers were roughly equally divided into professional soldiers and 'dandies'. There was little administration or discipline, but this was supposed to be balanced by greater flexibility and initiative. Which begs the question: Is panache an important quality in an army?

8 Commando consisted of ten troops of 50 men, each led by a captain aided by two subalterns. Subaltern just means an officer under the rank of captain, commonly a lieutenant. It's what Evelyn was, having been a captain in the Marines. Actually, he was a liaison officer because by the time he joined 8 Commando there was no position for him in the most appropriate troop, which was Troop 10, consisting of soldiers drawn from the specialist regiments: Royal Engineers, the Royal Artillery and the Royal Marines.

Randolph Churchill was another subaltern. Several wives were also staying at the Marine Hotel, including Randolph's. The dandy officers and their wives went up to Glasgow to dinner most nights, which Evelyn could not afford to do. The dandies also gambled heavily in the hotel. Waugh set up a table of his own, where the stakes were much lower.

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Randolph Churchill and Pamela Digby on their wedding day.

Clearly, Evelyn had a perverse respect for Randolph Churchill. The latter's monthly bill at the hotel was enormous; he lost a fortune to fellow officers at cards; he refused to serve under one officer who referred to the dandies as 'scum'; he was expelled from a three-week course on field training for heckling the trainers; and he wanted to bet people that he could swim out to the island that loomed large from the beach at Largs. The island that Winston Churchill's only son wanted to swim to is marked with a question-mark on the map below. Also marked is the aforementioned Gourock, Glasgow, Kilmarnock, and two spots on the Isle of Arran, which I am slowly making my way to by CalMac Ferry over the Firth of Clyde from Ardrossan (on the coast north-west of Kilmarnock).

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Evelyn: "How much have you lost at the table in the three weeks that I've been here?"

Randolph: "£50... But so what? - easy come, easy go... I bet you £50 I could swim to that island."

Evelyn: "Great Cumbrae is two miles away. You would be unlikely to make it, but you just might. Instead, I'll bet you £50 you can't swim from here to Arran."

Randolph: "Done."

Waugh had known Randolph since the success of
Vile Bodies in 1929. The first mention of him in The Diaries is on Sunday June 15, 1930. 'A delightful day. There was one row. Randolph Churchill threw a cocktail in Wanda's face.' The second mention of Randolph was later that June at a party given by Diana Mitford (who Randolph and Evelyn had both been in love with). Evelyn wrote: 'I enjoyed the party, became very drunk and fought Randolph in the servants' hall.'

Evelyn meant to start writing
Officers and Gentlemen (aka Professional Soldiers and Scum Dandies) as soon as he finished Men at Arms in February 1952. But it wasn't until a year later that he actually made a start. I wonder if the procrastination ended because of two things: first, he was invited to Glasgow to give a lecture in March, and, second, he was in touch with Randolph Churchill that month. He reported to Nancy Mitford that Randolph had become an 'angelic character - hugely fat and jolly', and that he was writing a book about country houses. Evelyn had asked Randolph which houses and had received the replied: "Well, I thought Longleat, Chatsworth, Blenheim, etc." Evelyn had suggested that these houses had already been written to death, and anyway what did Randolph know about architecture, genealogy or decoration? Randolph had replied casually: "Oh, it's going to be a popular book." I can see why Evelyn was fascinated by the guy. A bit like Dick Young who was the perverted inspiration behind Captain Grimes in Decline and Fall, Randolph was of the immortals.

Officers and Gentlemen was actually called Happy Warriors to begin with. 'Happy Warriors' ended up being the title of Book One of the novel (the second in a trilogy, if that's not too confusing). And it's this part that this essay is exclusively concerned with. 'Happy Warriors', then. In ten chapters that I have plenty time to get stuck into while travelling to Arran.



A scene set in Piccadilly where there is an air raid. Many military people are in Bellamy's club, including Guy Crouchback and Tommy Blackhouse. Air Marshal Beech takes cover under a billiard table until the All Clear is sounded. Setting things up for more significant acts of cowardice later in the book?


Guy makes his way to the Royal Marines barracks in south London. He's at a loose end until Brigadier Ritchie-Hook calls on his services, so asks if he can do what he'd promised to do for the now dead Apthorpe. That is, collect his gear and deliver it to 'Chatty' Corner.


Meanwhile, Guy's 70-year-old father is teaching at a prep school in Matchet, though the boys run rings round him. He is warned that his landlords are plotting to oust him from his set of rooms at the hotel. And he receives a puzzling letter from Guy's sister and a pleading one from his grandson, Tony, who is now a prisoner-of war. Only Mr Crouchback's ingrained sense of honour allows him to rise above the near-chaos that surrounds him on all sides.


At RM barracks, an order to report to Hazardous Operations comes for Guy. An elderly RM officer called 'Jumbo' Trotter volunteers to take it to him. In a case of mistaken identity, Jumbo travels the 150 miles to Matchet in Somerset and arrives at the Marine Hotel where old Mr Crouchback is based. Jumbo gets on well with Guy's father, sees what's brewing re his hotelier landlord, and sorts things out with the Quartering Commandant. Again the old man's selflessness protects him from the grasping everyday world.


On November 2, 1940, Guy puts an advert in
The Times in an effort to trace 'Chatty' Corner. It's the sixteenth day since he left barracks. The first few days had involved going to Cornwwall, where Apthorpe had jettisoned essential stores. Much more was left in a bedroom of the Yacht Club in Southsand, Kent, and three trips of a taxi were needed to transfer the stuff to the vaults of the Grand Hotel, Southsand, where Guy is staying.

Jumbo turns up just in time to organise a lorry and get the gear and Guy back to London, where Guy learns that he's been transferred to X Commando on the Isle of Mugg, where he has to report to Colonel Blackhouse (last seen at Bellamy's; one of Virginia Troy's ex-husbands, as is Guy). So Guy, Jumbo, car and lorry head off north.

Waugh has started the book in a leisurely way, deliberately allowing Guy to revisit the places that he worked his way through a year before, when training with the Royal Marines. This tribute to
Men At Arms makes the second volume in the trilogy less directly autobiographical. Or, rather, it's still autobiographical, but overlaid on the 1940/41 war diary is the 1951/52 novel. All the Jumbo Trotter business with Apthorpe's gear is a fiction and soon it will achieve satisfying closure with conventional soldiering.


Waugh describes Mugg as follows. It can rarely be seen from Rum, where it appears as two cones. From Muck it appears as a single misty lump on the horizon. And Mugg has never been seen from Eigg. How does that fit into the actual geography of the Western Isles? It doesn't. Rum, Eigg and Muck make up the Small Isles, marked by the green tack on the map below. This is well north of the places Waugh experienced in November and December, 1940. But he is trying to write fiction, after all, so he is entitled to introduce a few red herrings.

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Evelyn Waugh very much had Arran in mind as he went on with his manuscript, as we'll see. That's the island I'm presently approaching in a boat made of steel plate, throbbing with the thrust of unseen engines.


Waugh doesn't talk about his time in Arran. He wrote two letters to Laura from the Marine Hotel in Largs, but none (in the presently published
Letters of Evelyn Waugh, anyway) from Arran.

Moreover, the last diary entry Evelyn wrote covered the period 13 November to December the 1st, the time he was stationed in Largs, immediately pre-Arran. It's to the slightly retrospective 'Memorandum on Layforce', an overview of what happened between July 1940 and July 1941, that we must look for a few words about Arran.

Evelyn travelled from Largs to Arran in the
Glenroy, which had been converted into a troop ship.

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For all I know that's the ship I'm on today, converted once more into a passenger ferry!

Between Arran and the much smaller Holy Island was a deep water channel which could readily be defended. The British navy used it both as a safe haven and place from which the industrial Clyde could be defended. 11 Commando (drawn from Scottish regiments) and 8 Commando (Evelyn's lot) used the conjunction of shipping and the terrain of Arran to train for operations planned for the Mediterranean.

As Waugh says in his Memorandum, the plan was for each Commando to go ashore alternately for two weeks, while the other did boat training on Holy Island and Arran. So for two weeks Evelyn was on the
Glenroy doing boat training and for two weeks on Arran doing field training.

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Waugh tells us that the
boat training consisted of packing into ALCs (Assault Landing Craft) 'which the military seemed to consider an esoteric art requiring great practice', and letting the naval officers mess up the navigation. Again and again ALCs were run aground and got left by the tide.

Landing Craft Training

Evelyn (middle column, somewhere): "Do you know the ALC has run aground?"

Randolph (middle column, somewhere): "You hum it, Evelyn, I'll play it."

Such a conversation is not entirely appropriate, as Waugh and Churchill were not in the same troop of fifty men. But I'm going to persist with it.

Randolph: "I bet you £50 my bladder holds out longer than yours does."

Evelyn: "Haven't you noticed that neither of us is drinking anything? We should both be fine."

The field training consisted of... Well, we'll come to that.

8 and 11 Commando were supposed to have been billeted in Lamlash rather than the main village of Brodrick. Though Evelyn doesn't state that in his Memorandum, and it's one of the things I'm going to investigate today. The map below shows where the deep water harbour was, marked by three ship symbols between Lamlash and Holy Island. Though the main pier was in Brodick Bay just north of the intervening headland.

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It's to Brodick Bay my own ship is heading.


From time to time I get an inkling of how terrifying it must have been to serve in the Second World War. Dressed as a soldier, with a gun in your hands, travelling on a huge boat, a tiny cog in a World War wheel, constantly wondering what on earth was going to happen next.

Evelyn: "Christ, we'll be here all night at this rate."

Randolph: "I can't possibly sleep in this position. Might be able to organise a game of cards though."

Landing Craft Training


Where was I? In Officers and Gentlemen, Chapter VI of Book One.

VI (cont.)

Landing at Arran, Guy Crouchback is directed from the quay to the hotel. This is empty except for a Captain of the Blues (transferred into the newly formed Commandos) reclining on a sofa. His head is wrapped in a turban of lint, his feet shod in narrow velvet slippers. Beside him is a glass of white liqueur.

I think we can safely say this is a 'dandy' officer. The description goes on to say that the sofa he was reclining on was upholstered in a Turkish carpet. The table which supported the glass was octagonal, inlaid with mother of pearl. Guy recognises the officer to be Ivor Claire, a young show-jumper of repute.

Upon asking where his quarters are to be, Guy is told by the insouciant Ivor that Colonel Tommy Blackhouse and most of the officers are living in the hotel, but that's now full, and new arrivals are being quartered at the coastguard station. However, news comes of an officer having had a climbing accident while training and being taken to hospital on the mainland, so there is a free room at the hotel which Guy manages to bag. Trimmer is one of the officers that Guy meets at reception, one of his batch of Royal Marine trainee officers of the year before, a man that Guy didn't really get on with. Now he's called MacTavish, and as luck would have it, he's able to tell Guy that 'Chatty' Corner is on Mugg.

Guy walks to where Chatty is living in the 'Old Castle' (a building which is described in some detail but which I don't plan to research into) and persuades him to sign a chit for the gear that is awaiting him in a lorry on the mainland. This chit is signed on 7 November, 1940, which places it just a few days before Waugh actually arrived at Largs, never mind Arran.

To some extent Waugh is conflating his experience of Largs and Arran into one 'Mugg'. I wouldn't be surprised if the hotel accommodation scenario is taken from Largs. On the other hand, there is a large old hotel within a short distance of the quay at Brodick and I walk to that.


The receptionist (who is not wearing a turban of lint, nor drinking a glass of
Kummel) cannot tell me if the hotel was requisitioned in the War. I do a little Googling and read on the Commando Veterans Association website that 11 Commando rented The White House in Lamlash from the Duchess of Montrose while they were on Arran for their command centre. Given that 11 Commando and 8 Commando alternated being on shore and on board, does that mean 8 Commando would have used the White House as well? I don't know.

What I do know is that the Duchess of Montrose's daughter was on Arran during the war and that in her 2001 book,
Feet on the Ground: From Castles to Catastrophe, she writes: 'Randolph Churchill and his wife, Pamela, and five or six others, were billeted in the house I now live in, which used to be the Agent's House.'

I ask in the estate agent where Lady Jean Fforde's house used to be (she died in 2017) and I get an answer. It's a house close to Brodick Castle, her childhood home. It's still privately owned so I may not get a close look at it today. Besides, I've got other stops to make.

The Isle of Arran Heritage Museum is about a mile north of Brodick Quay and I walk to it. There is a display to commemorate Arran during wartime: a wall of images and text.


The modest display provides some useful overviews. Much of the British fleet was based in the west of Scotland and in the Orkneys. The display also answers some basic questions:


I think it's likely that Evelyn Waugh (and 8 Commando) may have been billeted at Lamlash rather than Brodick, notwithstanding the info about Randolph Churchill. The map below tells me that the White House, just north of the middle of Lamlash, has been demolished.


For sure, EW would have spent much of his time in and around Lamlash while on Arran, because that's where the all-important ships were. Below is a view of those ships during WW2, looking towards Holy Island from Lamlash:


This next piece of information is also essential to understanding the set-up.


But the following information panel is of particular interest. It explains why, online, I've come across so few photos of commandos on Arran.


Miraculously, however, there is the picture below, though not in Arran Heritage Museum. It's reproduced in Selina Hastings biography of EW, where the caption reads:
'Evelyn and the "smart set" of 8 Commando training on Arran':


I would have captioned it slightly differently:

Anonymous Officer: "No photography of military personnel!"

Randolph: "But it's only our Evelyn. Besides, my father's Winston Churchill and it should never be forgotten that I can do what I fucking well like."

Arran Heritage Centre also has an Archive room that is open to the public on Wednesdays. There is a file of cuttings about 11 Commando, mostly newspaper interviews over the years. But nothing on 8 Commando. Perhaps, once it's finished, this essay will contribute to the Arran Archive. After all, Evelyn Waugh was here, Randolph Churchill too. Though who cares?

I'm not unsympathetic to that viewpoint. Why pay more attention to Waugh and Churchill than to anyone else? Wasn't each anonymous Arran crofter or commando every bit as important as that pair of Oxford-educated jokers? Nevertheless it's to the island's most glamorous building that my steps are now taking me.


Where have I got to? Must try and keep track. Officers and Gentlemen, chapter seven of Book One, the long castle scene.


Before Guy Crouchback gets a chance to settle down for the evening, Tommy Blackhouse asks him to accompany him to the 'New Castle' (as opposed to the Old Castle which 'Chatty' Corner is holed up in). They enjoy a strange evening which I'm going to reconstruct as I walk around Brodick Castle, which Waugh certainly had in mind when he wrote the chapter, a comic set-piece, the equivalent of which in Men At Arms would have been the thunderbox episode.


First I should quote Lady Jean Fforde. She was a 21-year-old in December 1940, living with her parents at Brodick Castle.

'We had four officers billeted up at the Castle. Many others were spread round the village in cottages where they had no inside baths. So my mother let several of these men keep a bath towel upstairs in the castle, and they were free to come in at any time to have a bath and refresh themselves.'

I would have thought that would have interested Evelyn Waugh. After all, the year before, when billeted at the former holiday camp at Kingsdown, Kent, he joined the Deal and Walmer Union Club so that he had access to a decent bathroom.

Jean Fforde's Evelyn Waugh anecdote begins in this promising way:
'Having never considered myself to be well read, I have made quite a few faux pas during my lifetime.'

You'll be curious to know what she says next. Well, let's set the scene:


On one occasion I was running down the front stairs in the Castle and found a man seated on a chair in the hall. Thinking that he had come for a bath, I asked if he would like a towel. Looking puzzled, he stood up and said, "I am Evelyn Waugh."

"Really!" I replied, and continued on my errand.

He must have left such an uneducated house in a hurry, for he was not seen again!'


Perhaps the scene etched itself on Evelyn's mind, antlers and all. Because in 1953 he did come back to the castle, if only in fiction. In the dining room scene all the furniture is made of stags' antlers. And though Jean Fforde knew nothing of Evelyn Waugh, he would have known her all right. After all, in late 1940, six officers were staying at the Castle while another six, including Randolph and his wife, were staying in another property belonging to Jean's parents, the house known as the Agent's House which I've been told is not far from the castle.

Today and until Easter 2019, the castle is closed for renovation. But as a National Trust property its splendid grounds are open and visitors can walk around them.


This part of the world is kept warm by the Gulf Stream. Hence the palm trees. Mid-October, yet its warm enough to sit outside and read. Paradise!


The meal scene at the castle. Waugh describes Colin Campbell (Mugg) and Mrs Campbell, the first dressed up to the nines, the second nondescript. Mugg talks obsessively about gelignite and blowing things up. So perhaps Evelyn had in mind Lord Glasgow who he met in 1942. There is a letter from Evelyn to Laura gleefully describing how Lord Glasgow persuaded the military to blow up an old tree for him, with the side-effect that every pane of glass in his castle was shattered by the blast.

But here today at Brodick Castle, the windows are benignly soaking up autumn sunshine.


I have found another bench to sit down on and read in. A strange sort of library this, but it's working for me.


We have to wait a while for the comic character to be introduced to Waugh's castle scene. That's Katie Carmichael, the niece of the Campbells, a woman of about the same age as Jean Fforde would have been in 1940.

Katie sits between Colin Campbell and Guy Crouchback. She is at pains to assure Guy of her Scottish credentials, and her mother feels the need to reassure her niece of this.
"No-one is questioning your being a true scot, Katie," said the great-aunt; "eat your dinner."

The wine served by Mugg is surprisingly good; the soup and the fish ordinary. The piece de resistance is a haunch of venison that Mugg hacks away at while the butler turns up with a tray of redcurrant jelly and unpeeled potatoes. Katie observes of Guy that he "wasn't doing very well," with his food. So rebuked, Guy puts a fibrous lump of the stuff into his mouth and begins desperately chewing. Katie takes a gold pencil from her bag and, guarding her message with her forearm, writes on the tablecloth for Guy's benefit: 'POLLITICAL PRISNER'.

As it happens, Jean Fforde, in the first of her two memoirs, discloses that she had problems with spelling. She had her own garden up near the castle in which she grew pansies. The garden was finally taken away from her and grassed over as a punishment for poor work in the schoolroom. Her spelling was bad, and she admits that it never improved. It seems that Evelyn Waugh knew about that. Poor Katie. I mean poor Jean Fforde.

What a view though. Down over Brodick Bay.


Officers and Gentlemen, Katie is on Mugg because she has become unwell while studying in Edinburgh. The great aunt suggests the exams were too difficult for her. However, in her memoir, Jean Fforde writes as follows:

'I'm sure many people will be wondering why I had not found something to do other than stay in Arran for so long. It has to be remembered that the drug Rimafen, which eradicates the germ of tuberculosis from the system had not yet been discovered. Neither had antibiotics.'

In other words, Jean was an adult woman living with her parents because she was an invalid.

'I was busy enough running the Voluntary Services in Arran, but my feelings were that like other young people I should be away from home. I was still at home here for my 21st birthday in November 1941, and had a lovely party, held in the big hall of the Lamlash Secondary School. The Naval ships gave me a dressing case and clock, and I had some of the Commandos over from the mainland to the dance.'

Evelyn Waugh arrived at Largs on November 13th. Randolph was already ensconced there. Surely they both went to the dance! It may even have been where Evelyn picked up the bits and pieces of information and/or gossip about Jean Fforde that he chose to gently mock Katie Carmichael with.


Randolph: "What do you think, Evelyn?"

Evelyn: "Shhhh. I'm listening..."

Katie: "It is a terrible thing to see the best of our lads marched off, generation after generation, to fight the battles of the English for them. When the Germans land in Scotland, the glens will be full of marching men come to greet them, and the professors themselves at the universities will seize the towns. Mark my words, don't be caught on Scottish soil that day."

That's a quote from the dinner-table conversation in chapter seven of Waugh's novel. Is there any evidence that Jean Fforde was a fanatical Scottish nationalist? There's not much to that effect in her memoirs. I'd describe her, primarily, as unaware of her upper-class privilege. But there is the following when she was getting divorced in London:

'In court I was very nervous, and when asked, "Were you married in this country?" cautiously replied "No!"

I was remembering that under Scottish law a woman's rights of possession normally end when she gets married, and in view of this my father had got a special document signed so that John could not claim my estate.

"Then what country were you married in?" came the next question.

"Scotland," I replied.

"Just the sort of answer I might have expected from a member of your family."

The judge who made this remark must have remembered that Father was very keen on the idea of devolution for Scotland, and only gave up his political interest the moment separation was mentioned.'

At the end of the meal, Tommy Blackhouse and Guy are piped out of the castle. As they get into their car they see a storm-lantern waving wildly from an upper window, presumably being waved by Katie who had been sent from the table before the end of the meal for 'going too far'. Tommy salutes the piper who turns around and blows his way back up the corridor. The front doors shut.
'The lantern continued to wave and in the silence came the full and friendly challenge: "Heil Hitler."'

Can you picture the scene? The piper... the storm-lantern... Or do the cannons and the pot plants by the front door distract your eye?


When Tommy and Guy are being driven back to the hotel, they can't stop laughing at the recollection of their evening's entertainment. The food, the silences, the cold, the conversation, the girl, the drink, the sheer 'Scottishness' of it all. It's a bonding moment between Guy Crouchback and Tommy Blackhouse. The latter no longer so much the man Guy lost his wife to, and not quite yet the colonel who is going to lead him into battle. Just a couple of contemporaries who have experienced the same bonding experience. I strongly recommend reading the whole of chapter seven of Officers and Gentlemen while in the vicinity of Brodick Castle. Not that reading it in Lamlash or Timbuktu would be a complete waste of time.

The next day, Guy has to deal with a bundle of leaflets that say:


You can see Katie's put her all into this. The spelling is correct and the punctuation very nearly so. What's an apostrophe or two between friendly neighbours?


Let's zoom through the rest of the Happy Warriors part of
Officers and Gentlemen while I'm on Arran.


The scene switches to Glasgow where Trimmer (as MacTavish) is on leave. He meets Guy's ex-wife Virginia and they strike up an acquaintance. Indeed they spend a few days and nights together.


Back on Mugg, a night exercise is planned. Tommy Blackhouse and Guy (as his liaison officer) are waiting for the various troops to scramble inland and achieve the map references they have been given. A flare is seen after an unfeasibly short twenty minutes. The explanation is that Ivor Claire, the dandy in command of D Troop, captured some transport and drove twelve miles along the coast road instead of tramping with his men over four miles of moorland. He gets away with it. This endears him to his own troop but not to the rest of Commando. Ivor Claire's leadership philosphy will be an important issue in the climax of the book.

Guy spends time tramping over the island with Colonel Campbell being shown things that the laird would like to blow up. A strange scene as it doesn't seem to lead to anything later in the novel.

A Dr. Glendinning-Rees arrives on the island. He is an expert on foraging and has orders to take six soldiers inland without rations. He will bring them back stronger and fitter than before. Watch this space.


Guy and Ivor Caire note the arrival of a yacht on Mugg, the
Cleopatra which is owned by Julia Stitch, a Waugh character from Black Mischief who will crop up in person to perform a significant act at the end of Officers and Gentlemen. But it's only military people who are on board, and Guy is updated with what's planned by the War Office. The next morning a troopship appears sure enough, and the commandos get on board with Guy in charge of sorting out accommodation, a thankless task. Jumbo is given the news that the brigadier (Ben Ritchie-Hook has been largely off stage) thinks he's too long in the tooth for the mission. So he's left behind.

The last paragraph reads:
'On his desert island Mugg crept out to pilfer the sapper stores, and the sappers themselves, emaciated and unshaven, presently lurched in carrying Dr Gendinning-Rees on a wattle hurdle.'

A typical Waugh touch this last. Boffin-types with fancy ideas tend to get their comeuppance in his fiction. (Think of Tony Last's guide, Dr. Messinger, in
A Handful of Dust.) Whereas in reality, Waugh's 'Memorandum on Layforce' tells us that a Roger Courtenay had his enterprising idea re a canoe section integrated into 8 Commando.

I say the last paragraph of chapter X, but I've just checked with the final version of the
Sword of Honour trilogy that Waugh edited in 1964, eleven years after the publication of Officers and Gentlemen, as a stand-alone novel, and Waugh actually added a sentence onto the end of the equivalent of this chapter. Which makes sense of what was puzzling me about chapter IX. The sentence reads:

'The great explosion which killed Mugg and his niece was attributed to enemy action.'

Alas, poor Katie. I knew her, Horatio.

A few interim thoughts on
Officers and Gentlemen at this half-way stage in the book, it's Guy's relationship with three officers that dominates things. Tommy Blackhouse, the reliable leader; Ivor Claire the effortless aesthete; and Trimmer/MacTavish, the happy-go-lucky charmer.

Strange that Waugh didn't make room for a Randolph Churchill character when writing in 1953, as ten years earlier Waugh the soldier was clearly fascinated by him. Most letters to Laura mention Randolph's gambling losses. Whereas in the first half of
Officers and Gentlemen there is no big loser on the card table, just a winner - Ivor Claire. While Guy Crouchback echoes Waugh himself by making small wins at a lesser table.

Waugh tells us in his 'Memorandum on Layforce' that at the beginning of January, 1941, a rehearsal of a planned operation was conducted using troops from 8 Commando and 3 Commando, which was observed by senior officers from the Admiralty and the War Office. Arran was supposed to be like the island of Pantellaria, in the Med., and each party was given a march and climb of about the size that would be required for real.

'This practise was a failure due to 3 Commando having bunks to sleep in while we sat up in the anteroom drunk but awake.'

I think Evelyn is saying there that as the operation got underway, 3 Commando (well-rested, sober) were at an advantage over 8 Commando (tired, drunk) .

'Number 3 Commando could not be woken, were late and without equipment in the boats and entirely disorganised on the shore.'

If that's what the commandos that had enjoyed some kip were like, how crap must the pissed and sleepy ones have been? Waugh doesn't say. But it reminds me of a passage from Jean Fforde's book,
Feet on the Ground:

'Another episode occurred when my mother was sorting out seeds in her rock garden beside the Bavarian Summer House. This lovely little building stood - and still stands - on a mass of rock overlooking Brodick Bay. Suddenly all hell was let loose, with guns firing and people shouting. Men suddenly appeared, climbing up the rocks beside her. She looked in utter amazement and asked the officer in command what he was doing. He replied...'

"I am Evelyn Waugh." Sorry, I couldn't resist that. Back to the quote:

'He replied that it was the only thing he could find that resembled in any way a target they were due to capture on the Island of Pantelleria (Isola di Pantelleria) in the Mediterranean.'

As Jean Foorde wrote in 2001, so is the case in 2018. The sweet little building still stands.


Back to Waugh's Memorandum. Later in January, the Pantellaria operation was cancelled. A ban on having wives on Arran was removed, and for a week there was a series of parties.

Did Laura join Evelyn on Arran? On November 30th she'd given birth to a baby girl who died the next day. Evelyn had been travelling down and got to his wife's side on December the 1st. Perhaps by January, Laura would have been ready for a party with the commandos and their wives (but I doubt it). In one of his two published letters from Largs, written in November 1940 (before his baby daughter's birth and death), Waugh wrote:
'It will be lovely for us because as soon as you are well (Pam Churchill was here three weeks after the birth of little Winston) you can join me and we can live together in rooms exactly as you have always wanted to.'


In the spirit of this, I have asked Kate to join me in Lamlash. She is always up for a party and I relish the opportunity to communicate the excitement that Evelyn and the commandos must have felt back in 1940.
That's Lamlash in the background, while Holy Island is behind me. In other words we are smack bang in the middle of where the fleet would have been in WW2.


It was entirely due to Kate that we have been invited onto one of the many yachts that now inhabit the harbour where the British fleet used to be. One at a time we were taken by Dave Cooke in a rubber dinghy onto the 40-foot yacht, Silmaril. Dinner is being prepared down below by Dave and his crew, Tim, as we cavort up top.


Kate reminds me of a Waugh character. Katie Carmichael you might be thinking. But no, it's Randolph Churchill, actually. Not a character in a Waugh war novel but an acquaintance in his life. The fact that Kate detests Evelyn Waugh (and has done for five years now) and despises Randolph Churchill (now that I've told her about his gambling, drinking and womanising) doesn't disguise the fact that Randolph and her have much in common: charming chancers both.

Waugh wrote to Laura from the
Glenroy, each time mentioning Randolph's gambling:

February 18, 1941: Waugh tells Laura that
chemin de fer was being played most nights with the banks never being lower than £50. Randolph lost £400 in one evening.

February 23, 1941: Waugh tells Laura that the commandos get more and more like the Russian cavalry of Tolstoy's
War and Peace. At the last settling day, Randolph was £800 down. 'Poor Pamela will have to go to work.'

May 7, 1941: Waugh tells Laura that a commando was found to have written on the troop-deck wall:
'Never in the field of human endeavour have so few been buggered about by so many'. Evelyn explains that it is funnier if you are as familiar as Randolph makes everyone on board with Winston's speeches. Poor Randolph has had a letter from Pam about his losses and she is most annoyed with him. She has let out her house so Laura will not be able to go and stay with her.

Randolph had put together his father's speeches from May 1938 to November 1940 and published them as Into Battle, which was published as a 300-page hardback in February 1941, and so no doubt Randolph would have had his own copy of the book aboard the Glenroy.


In particular, this book contains the speeches Winston made in the House of Commons as Prime Minister. Churchill stood up in front of his peers, outlined the situation at home and abroad, described the contribution of the Air Force, the Army and the Navy to what was going on in various theatres of war. He spoke directly to fellow MPs, but also, via radio-waves, to the British people and to English-speaking people all around the world. He educated, he moralised, he spoke from the heart as well as the head, he inspired. The line that Evelyn alludes to in his letter to Laura was delivered in August 1940 in tribute to the Air Force.
'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many by so few.' It's just one line in the middle of a paragraph in the middle of a forty-minute speech. Here is a three-minute extract from Youtube.

Randolph must have been crushed by his father's reputation, his gravitas, his importance, his humanity, his relevance, his statesmanship, his nerve. What else explains the son's irresponsible behaviour on board the
Glenroy? 'Never in the field of human gambling was so much owed by a single officer to so many of his fellow officers.' Ha! - Evelyn was right - it's impossible not to make a joke out of it.

Kate's badge says
'NOT DEAD YET.' A quote from one of Winston's speeches? Randolph's philosophy of life in a nutshell? Actually, a spin-off of what she recently contributed to Glasgow International. See here.


Anyway, the War. Let me attempt an overview, Winston Churchill-stylie. For Evelyn Waugh, a period of training with a regiment in 1940 culminated in getting in a troop ship and sailing to west Africa, which led to
Men At Arms. Book one. Then a period of training with the Commandos in 1941 culminated in getting in a troop ship and sailing round the whole of Africa to get to the Mediterranean, which led to Officers and Gentlemen. Book two. Gerry may not be on the run but at least the British were on the move. One of the main motifs of both books is the troop ship. The romance (forget the boredom and the stress for a moment) of travelling in a large motivated team from one part of the world to another.

'We shall go on to the end. We shall gamble in France, we shall gamble on the seas and oceans, we shall gamble with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall stake our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall bet on the beaches, we shall bet on the landing grounds, we shall bet in the fields and in the streets, we shall bet in the hills; we shall never throw in our cards.'

No wonder Waugh volunteered for active service. It gave him material for books that he couldn't have got any other way. It made sure he truly lived the Twentieth Century. Whereas if he hadn't taken part in the Second World War, that simply wouldn't have been the case.


There is an Interlude in
Officers and Gentlemen, between 'Happy Warriors' and 'In the Picture'. It takes place in Cape Town where the three ships carrying the commandos have dropped anchor. It starts like this:

"I must say," said Ivor Claire, "the local inhabitants are uncommonly civil."

Ivor and Guy are sitting in the bar of a hotel at sundown. The commandos have had a splendid reception committee, all the men are being well looked after. Ivor has spent the day riding horses at a 'very decent stable'. Guy has been at the zoo with fellow officers, Bertie and Eddie, who persecuted the ostriches. Bertie and Eddie then went to vineyards and sampled wine all afternoon while Guy went to an art gallery.

"It's odd," said Ivor Claire, "I feel absolutely no urge to get tight now I'm allowed to. In that ship I hardly drew a sober breath."


Yes, maybe Kate combines the class of Ivor Claire with the risk-taking of Randolph Churchill.

Guy and Ivor Claire walk into town and back to the hotel. Waugh tells us its February 1941 and that it's nine weeks since X Commando sailed from Mugg, though they stopped for some time at Scapa Flow for more training.

By the time Ivor and Guy get back to the ship, they have been joined by Tommy Blackhouse. They come across Eddie and Bertie who are walking circuits of the ship in an effort to sober up. Unfortunately, they have a bottle of brandy with them, a product called Kommando that they were unable to resist buying on shore. Though, in due course, on soliciting their colonel's advice, they throw the bottle overboard before it makes them sick.

'There was heroic simplicity in Eddie and Bertie', thinks Guy. But his warmest thoughts are reserved for another. 'Ivor Claire, Guy thought, was the fine flower of them all. He was quintessential England, the man Hitler had not taken into account, Guy thought.'

Notice the doubling up of 'Guy thought'. Evelyn is setting up Ivor and Guy for falls. I see a horse called Dishonour approaching a high log fence. I see a ship called
Disillusion coming into harbour. And I see why Evelyn didn't introduce a Randolph Churchill to the first half of Officers and Gentlemen. For the final dishonour to hit home, the army has to seem to have moral fibre as it sets out, it must seem to have potential to succeed in its crusade. No place for a wrecking ball like Randolph in such a scenario.


What a lovely evening! I don't want to leave Arran, but I'm going to have to, just as Evelyn and Randolph did. 8 and 11 Commando left Arran for Suez on January 31 1941.

They finally saw action on Crete from May to July 1941 and so it's to Crete I must go, possibly in June 2019. That would seem to be the most exciting way to complete my engagement with
Officers and Gentlemen.

As Winston Churchill said, more or less:
'Good night then: we must sleep to gather strength for the morning. For the morning will come. Brightly will it shine on the brave and true, kindly upon all who suffer for the oeuvre of my son's friend, glorious upon the tombs of heroes.'


1) A plan to visit Crete in 2019 was voiced in the News section of
Evelyn Waugh Studies 54, which I'll paste here for convenience.

Dominic Green (see, inter alia, this recent article: https://www.weeklystandard.com/dominicgreen/from-memory-to-myth-the-adventures-of-patrick-leigh-fermor), contacted the editors to gauge interest in a possible group trip to Crete, in 2019. He has been kind enough to sketch out two options: An eight-day tour with a close focus on Waugh, The Sword of Honour, and the Battle of Crete; and an eleven-day tour which also includes the other literature of wartime Crete (Xan Fielding, Patrick Leigh Fermor, William Moss, Dilys Powell), and the major Minoan site (Knossos) and museum (the Heraklion Archaeological Museum). On experience, Dominic would recommend the eleven-day option, for two reasons: The Leigh Fermor Society tours attracted PLFS members from the US, Australia & New Zealand. Some of them were making their first and probably only visit to Crete. There’s much more to the island than the events of 1941, and visitors may want to see as much as possible. Knossos, despite Sir Arthur Evans’ generosity with the concrete, is a major site, and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum’s Minoan collections are unparalleled. Arguably, no other theatre of war produced so much literature per capita. Adding Dilys Powell, Xan Fielding, Billy Moss and Leigh Fermor allows us to cover the bigger story in which Waugh landed in May 1941. Specifically, this will allow us to contextualize some of his judgments on the Battle of Crete itself. Generally, he has found that even obsessives and experts appreciate a bit of variety now and then.

Dominic’s job as Tour Leader would be to make sure that everything happened on schedule. He would also do general guiding, but the specialists would do the military and historical sides, and any government-owned sites: Chris White, the leading battlefield historian of Crete, and Costas Malamakis, who has identified hundreds of 1941-related sites and directed the Historical Museum of Heraklion. Maria Ververakis is a wonderful guide to the Minoans. Ten is enough to benefit from minimal economies of scale, and twenty is the maximum before things become unwieldy and impersonal. If there’s a very strong response, it would be preferable to run successive groups of fifteen, rather than one group of thirty. The Society will contribute to defray the cost. If you are interested in reserving a place, please let Antony Vickery (admin@evelynwaughsociety.org) know so an estimate can be assembled.

2) Evelyn Waugh's letters and diaries are referred to in the above piece. The existing publications are
The Letters of Evelyn Waugh and The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh. Both were edited decades ago and are incomplete, especially the letters volume. Alexander Waugh is currently editing volumes of Personal Writings containing both letters and diaries. Volume 36 of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh will be Personal Writings (1949-1951). The first volume of Personal Writings, volume 30 of CWEW, covering years 1903-1921, was published in 2017. As far as I know, OUP does not yet have a publication schedule for subsequent volumes. When volume 36 appears I will update this essay accordingly.