If Evelyn Waugh wrote a series of the most memorable books about the Second World War, then so did Spike Milligan. It can't be emphasised enough how differently they came at the same subject. Born in 1918, Milligan was fifteen years younger than Waugh. Which goes part of the way to explaining why in 1939, after the declaration of war with Germany, 36-year-old Evelyn Waugh vainly (at first) tried to use his contacts to get taken on as a trainee officer, while 20-year-old Spike Milligan just as vainly tried to ignore the call-up papers that kept being delivered to his parents' home in London.


In their respective attitudes, it's clearly a case of officer versus private soldier; upper-middle class, home-counties man versus working class London lad. It doesn't quite fit to see/hear Evelyn in the role of major in the following piece of dialogue from Spike's
Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall, but it nearly does:

"This is Gunner Milligan sir," said the B.S.M..

When they'd both finished laughing, the major spoke.

"Whair hev yew been, and why are yew wearing civilian clothes?"

"They wouldn't let me on the train naked sir."

"I mean, whai aren't you in uniform?"

"I'm not at war with anybody sir."

Spike soon would be. But before we get into that, let's have an overview.

First, Evelyn's WW2 writing:

Book title…………………..When written……………….Period concerning

Put Out More Flags………..1942……………………….1939/1940

Brideshead Revisited………1944……………………….1944/ but really 1924-1930

Men at Arms…………………1950……………………….1940/41

Officers and Gentlemen…….1954………………………1941/42

Unconditional Surrender……1960/61……………………1944/45

Second, Spike's series of books about WW2, written much later and published off the back of his success as
a comedian, first with the Goons on the radio in the 1950s, and then as a solo comic on TV in the 1960s:

Book title………………………When written……………Period concerning

Adolf Hitler:
My Part in His Downfall
………1971…………………….1939 - January, 1943

"Gunner Who?"
………………. 1974…………………….Jan - May, 1943

His Part in My Victory
………….1976……………………June - September 1943

His part in my Downfall
………..1978…………………….September 23, 1943 - March 9, 1944

Where Have All the Bullets Gone?..1985………………..February, 1944 - June, 1946

Was Milligan aware of Waugh's writing when he embarked on his series of books? He may have been. Page 53 of the second volume contains the following exchange:

LORD ALANBROOK: "…Any news of Randolph?"

HON. W. CHURCHILL: "He's out in Yugoslavia with that Piss-Artist Evelyn Waugh."

How did Spike Milligan know this? Well, I'm not quite sure.
"Rommel?" "Gunner Who?" Came out in 1974, while The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh didn't come out until 1976. It's those Diaries that lay bare the relationship between Evelyn Waugh and Randolph Churchill, but clearly Spike Milligan already knew about it. The dates do not hang together in another way, because the scene takes place on Feb 14. 1943, while Waugh and Churchill didn't fly to Yugoslavia until July 1944. I will come back to all this.

I'm going to adopt a chronological approach. I have it in the back of my mind that both Spike Milligan and Evelyn Waugh ended up in hospital in Italy in 1944. So it will be of interest to find out how close their paths came to actually crossing. Why of interest? Evelyn Waugh was one of Britain's most influential novelists of the 20th Century. Spike Milligan began a new kind of comedy that was developed by Monty Python's Flying Circus and by the whole absurdist, stand-up comic scene. Comedians as different as Python's Michael Pallin and Alexi Sayle have made public statements about how much they were influenced by both Waugh and Milligan. Yet nothing has been made of their shared WW2 history and writings.

Let me warm up by putting it this way:


Missing from the above photo is
Put Out More Flags, which was written in 1942, while Evelyn Waugh was coming back to Britain in a troopship. It concerns Britain in 1939, when the 'phoney war' was in full swing, whereby educated Englishmen were juggling for prime position in the armed forces and the civil service. Also missing is Brideshead Revisited, which was written in 1944 and is a war book only in the very limited sense that Charles Ryder is a Captain of Infantry when he comes across Brideshead Castle, a place which he'd once known really well.

Missing also from the above photo are volumes six and seven of Milligan's 'war' memoirs, as they deal with post-war life, from June 1946 onwards.

Adolf Hitler: My part in His Downfall, Monty: His Part in My Victory, Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall. How would those have done as titles for Men At Arms, Officers and Gentlemen, and Unconditional Surrender, respectively? And vice versa. Time will tell, dear reader. Time will tell.


Men at Arms and Adolf Hitler, My Part in his Downfall, were the first volumes in what were first conceived as trilogies about WW2 itself. In fact, it took Milligan five books (neither three nor seven) to do justice to his experience. But these two books, pictured below, are where we can make a start.


As I've already said in this essay, Waugh joined the Royal Marines in late 1939. He received basic officer training at the regimental HQ at Chatham, just south of London, then moved to the old holiday camp at Kingsdown House, north of Dover. It was here, effectively, that Guy Crouchback's fellow trainee officer, Apthorpe, had his tussle with Brigadier Ritchie Hook over use of Apthorpe's 'thunderbox'.

In that last paragraph, dear reader, I've switched from Waugh's actual experience to his fictional portrayal of the situation. I will try and be clear each time I do this.

Meanwhile, Milligan had gone to the HQ of 56th Heavy Regiment Royal Artillery. His 'D Battery' was stationed in an evacuated girls' school in Bexhill-on-Sea (see the green trumpet player between Eastbourne and Hastings on the south coast of England in the map below). Here he made a life-long friend in Harry Edgington ("Ying-tong, Ying-tong."). A band was formed with Spike, on trumpet, Harry on piano, and two other soldiers on guitar and drums. In Spike's training there was a far greater sense of co-operation compared to the competitive situation Waugh/Crouchback and their fellow trainee officers found themselves in.


However, both Spike Milligan and Evelyn Waugh were unusually aware of the sense of absurdity that dominated everyday army life. In the summer of 1940, by which time Waugh had been promoted to Captain and moved to Cornwall to 'defend the coastline', Milligan explains his own situation. His battery had a 9.2 gun howitzer, thanks to Winston Churchill, in 1918, insisting these guns be dismantled, put in grease and stored in case of 'future eventualities'. But in 1940 there was no ammunition to be found in the UK. This didn't deter Spike's commanding officer who soon had all the gun crews shouting 'BANG' in unison. By great good luck, a 9.2 shell was discovered in Woolwich Rotunda. Southern Command made an application to fire the shell, and the day settled on for this performance was July 2, 1940. The day before, Spike and his unit went round Bexhill carrying placards reading:


On the day itself, Spike was a trainee signaller at one of three local Observation Posts. Let me quote his book:

'A Distant 'BOOM'. At the OP we heard the whistle as the rare projectile passed overhead into the Channel, a pause, a splash, then silence… it was a dud. How could the Third Reich stand up to this punishment!'

At the end of Men at Arms, which is to say in August, 1940, Guy Crouchback' Halberdiers gets the train north to Liverpool (Evelyn Waugh's unit goes to the neighbouring Birkenhead) and then both set off for a brief action on the West Coast of Africa, involving Dakar and Freetown.

Spike's lot are still being trained. It's a full year later before his regiment is on a troopship from Liverpool to Algiers. So let's bear that in mind as we continue with this parallel analysis. In other words, we are going to stay with
Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall as we move onto consideration of Officers and Gentlemen.


Impatient Evelyn has now joined the newly formed Commandos. They head north to Largs and receive their training on the island of Arran. I made a site visit to Arran in order to get the most out of the first half of
Officers and Gentlemen. Once trained, they embarked at Liverpool and sailed all round the continent of Africa in order to take part in the debacle of Crete…but I'm getting ahead of Spike Milligan.

In February, 1941 (
Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall tells us), Spike's lot were moved to Hailsham. This is not far inland from Bexhill. Meanwhile all the action in the second half of Officers and Gentlemen takes place in Crete in May of 1941. Evelyn does well as his unit's intelligence officer, while all around him fellow officers were losing their nerve or their sense of honour. For Spike, the next few months were given over to training, but as far as Milligan's account of it is concerned, it was series of riotous gigs played at Hailsham and Eastbourne. The unit was moved again in January 1942, to Larkhill Artillery Camp, near Salisbury. They were to practise a new speedy method of bringing a twenty-five pound gun into action. In October, 1942, they were alerted for a practice shoot at Sennybridge Camp in Wales. Then in January 1943, they finally got their posting to Algiers. There was no need to go round the whole of Africa, such was the relative success of the Allies by this time that the ship was able to pas through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean. Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall ends with these words:

'Sanitary Orderly Liddel was learning the trade of maintenance on the outdoor hole-in-the-ground latrines. The lime powder that is normally used to 'sprinkle' the pit, had not arrived. He, being of an inventive turn of mind, mixed petrol and diesel and used that. Dawn! Enter an R.S.M. pleasure bent! He squats on a pole. Lights pipe, drops match. BOOOOOOM! There emerges smoke-blackened figure, trousers down, smouldering shirt tail. Singed eyebrows, second degree burns on bum - a sort of English loss of face. He was our last casualty before we actually went into action.'

It's a scene that brings to mind Apthorpe's demise at the hands of Ben Ritchie-Hook in
Men at Arms.


The third book in Evelyn Waugh's trilogy doesn't get going until October, 1943. So we can focus exclusively on Spike Milligan's war for a bit, as he has only got to January, 1943 with his first volume. Besides, the pace of his account slows drastically once the action begins.


Well, when I say slows drastically, Spike's war is a constant stream of bawdy humour, irreverent and cartoon-like 'Hitlergrams', together with anecdotes of misery and fear in the desert. Except, what comes across in an almost hysterical way, is a lust for life: a desire to go on living and to survive the boredom, the bodily humiliations and the bombing.

The map below shows several of the places mentioned in the narrative. Spike's battery unit starts in Algiers and vaguely works its way east, with the big gun he was attached to being fired at the enemy for the first time on page 71.


The initials CP and OP come up a lot. Basically there is a large gun, manned by gunners. Orders for it to be shot are communicated from CP (Command Post). But information about where the enemy is to be found (and shot at) comes from OP (Observation Post). Lines of radio communication have to be laid and maintained between these positions. Gunner Milligan spends much of his time with headphones on, transmitting signals.

There is a lot of dick jokes going on in Spike's desert campaign. There is none of that in Evelyn's 'Sword of Honour'. Why not? Partly because the gunners were living cheek by jowel, without privacy or dignity for much of the time. Spike is constantly fantasising about the girls he knows in London. But as the action heats up, his daydreams turn to nightmares as his body gets bombed and bit of him get blown off in front of his eyes. Actually, Spike does not get injured in this book. But others do:

'24 April, 1943. Fighting on Long Stop at crescendo all day. OP under murderous fire - support group at bottom of hill also under heavy shell fire. Gunner Collins hit in hand. At about 11.10 I heard the dreadful news, Lt. Goldsmith had been killed… I went back to my cave and wept. I remember calling his name. After a few minutes I straightened up, but the memory of that day remains vivid.'

Shortly after this, Evelyn Waugh and Randolph Churchill crop up for the second time and almost in the same way as earlier in the pages of "Rommel?" "Gunner Who?", only this time the reference covers much of a page:


What accounts for such contempt? Well, I now realise that bits of Waugh's Diary were serialised in
The Observer in spring, 1973, and it was in September 1973 that Spike Milligan tells us that he was on the 13th Floor of the Eurobuilding in Madrid writing "Rommel?" "Gunner Who?",.


I suspect these Diary extract were all that Spike Milligan knew of Evelyn Waugh's writings. In particular, I now don't think he'd read the War trilogy. Which is a shame, as Waugh and Milligan were surely coming from the same place - army stupidity - albeit from opposite ends of the officer/soldier divide. Surely Spike would have loved the realistic detail and the characterisation of Men At Arms. Surely, he would have recognised the living Hell that was the shambolic retreat across Crete in Officers and Gentlemen.

Just before the end of
"Rommel?" "Gunner Who?", a whole British gun section is destroyed. But the sheer barrage of artillery fire on the Germans wins the day for teh Allies. Spike's Battery's Diary suggests that '600 guns in two hours dropped 17,000 rounds atop the Baddies'. On May 12, 1943, the fighting ceased. The war in Tunis was over. And so was the second volume of Milligan's war biography.


Spike Milligan's third volume deals exclusively with the army's celebration of the victory in Tunis, May to September, 1943. The aftermath of survival:


The sense of relief, morphing into triumph, was underlined by an extract from the battery orders written by the commanding officer. It set out how from April 22, to May 6, 1943, 19 Battery fired a total of 2340 rounds from their 7.2" gun, the next highest figure being 1564. No wonder Gunner Milligan seems to have been obsessed with the size of his own big gun.

This news is overtaken by the decision to form a concert party. From June to August, Spike and his colleagues have a great time entertaining the troops.

'When our turn came I announced "Now! From the fabulous star-studded 56 Heavy Regiment! The 19 Battery Jazz Quartet!" We started by my putting my trumpet through the curtains, beginning on a low C then dinging up to play "Softly as in Morning Sunrise"… very loudly…Then Kidgell sings 'Tangerine', we feature Snatch on violin in 'Stardust', we round off with Nagasaki (Back in Naga-saki where the fellers chew tobaccy and the women wiggy-waggy-woo).'

Immediately after this, Spike feels he has to add:

'You can't describe a show, you have to be there, at that time with that audience, that's what made it come alive. Come alive it did; troop audiences went into hysterics at the antics, and we got the sort of applause that would usually only be heard at a Promenade Concert.'

The concerts at Setif went so well that Spike and the boys were asked to tour Tunisia: Bougie, Djelli and Phillipville. At Bougie the piano was lined with whisky and gin the consumption of which had a devastating impact on the band members, all being incredibly ill the next day. At Djelli one of the band members wrote in his diary:
'Success again! Crazy Gang looking half nuts in insane selection of dressing up gear. Spike on Harry's shoulders, trombone case on head.'

Spike's Diary for Aug.10:
'Since the Concert Party terminated, there had been an unending demands from all regiments for its return, so lucky, lucky, lucky, we start re-rehearsing. We are to do two more shows.'

The life of semi torpor and lotus eating comes to an abrupt end with a 20 mile route march in full battle order. Also, the whole band are put on guard duty, with Spike as guard commander. That comes as a shock to.

So what's next? 56 Heavy Artillery is needed in Italy. Italy may have surrendered by this time (September, 1943), but there were Axis troops in the country, especially Germans, that need to be pushed back. So it's everyone into HMS Boxer at Bizerta Docks. And it's off to Salerno on Italy's west coast, south of Naples.

Let's pause before going onto the fourth volume in Spike Milligan's memoirs. The following map shows where Evelyn Waugh (binoculars in red circle) experienced what defeat feels like in Crete in May/June 1942. A full year later, the war had changed course (Germany had stupidly attacked Russia, which had become an ally of Britain and the United States), purely so that Spike Milligan was able to experience the joy of bombing the hell out of the Germans in Tunis.


Spike Milligan was having a good war. So far. Evelyn Waugh, and his fictional alter ego, Guy Crouchback, were having a bad one. Not least because, ideologically, they couldn't stand the fact that communist Russia was now fighting on their side. And for Evelyn and Guy, they were not going to be given a chance to do anything about it.
The plot thickens.



I am going to move from book to book, chronologically.

On 20 September 1943, Gervase Crouchback writes to his son, Guy, unhappy about a conversation they'd had when Guy had visited him. 'Quantitative judgements don't apply. If only one should had been saved that is full compensation for any amount of loss of 'face'.'

Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall begins with a diary entry for September 23, 1943, as Spike's regiment lands in Salerno. The diary entry is much extended by Spike Milligan's narrative from 1978. Indeed, it's apparent that he has seriously upped his game as a narrator. This book is nearly 300 pages long and is much less broken-up with visual jokes and Hitlergrams than previous volumes are. On the other hand, there is not much happening. There is camaraderie, as the gunners cope with poor food, worse weather and the usual boredom - and occasional terror - of military life.

Milligan's entry for October 27, 1943 echoes the one in
Officers and Gentlemen for October 29, 1943, insofar as Stalin gets a mention. Spike reads that Winston Churchill has been entertaining a Russian delegation and that they'd been served venison shot in the Scottish Highlands. Cue jealous talk about food. While Waugh's scene covers the Sword of Stalingrad at Westminster Abbey. Nearby, Guy Crouchback and Jumbo Trotter share a huge quantity of oysters.

Milligan sends letters home to his parents and brother. He also keeps a number of girl friends informed of his progress. The equivalents in
Officers and Gentlemen are the death of Guy's father, his trip to the funeral in the West Country, plus Guy gradually getting closer to his ex-wife, Virginia.

The map below summarises Spike's progress up the west coast of Italy, past Naples and slowly approaching Rome. There is intermittent fighting with the Germans and progress is very slow.


In November of '43, the weather in Italy is unrelentingly wet and much of the narrative consists of Spike trying to keep dry and to keep his pecker up. His old chum, Harry Edgington is always good for banter. As is fellow Jazz Band member, Alf Fides. In fact, both Harry and Alf contribute their own diary entries and remembrances that Spike Milligan weaves into his narrative. This is typical from Milligan:

'Emerging from holes in the ground are mud-caked troglodytes. I recognise Edgington.

"Why lacks a mercy," he said in Southern Negro tones, "welcome home massa Milligan, de young massa am home, praise de laud and hide the silver."

"Good God, Edgington, what are you wearing?"

"Mud, it am all de rage."

"I can't tell how good it is to be back, mate," I said.

"Oh, what a pity - now we'll never know."

This last comment is absolutely typical of Spike Milligan himself, who continually throws peoples' words back at them in a literal way. Some officers and soldiers can take this, while the wordplay goes over others' heads, like a Fool's speech in Shakespeare.

I was surprised to come across the following on page 175. A funny visual joke on the left-hand page ("British soldier forcing officer to paint his portrait at gunpoint") and a third reference to Evelyn Waugh on the right-hander.

Double page from Spike Milligan's Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall.

What does the Waugh quote say?

'I know now that Evelyn Waugh was a Catholic, and in Yugoslavia, pissed out of his mind, went all out for medals by standing up during bombing raids and shouting to poor Randolph Churchill under table, "Come out, you yellow swine." Well, I wasn't that good a Catholic.'

Why this again? It's such a pity that no-one seems to have told Spike Milligan between 1974, when "Rommel?" "Gunner Who?" came out, and 1977, when Mussolini, His Part in My Downfall was written, that Evelyn Waugh was the author of three marvellous books about the Second World War. If Milligan had been told, and had followed that up, then maybe he could have done some of what I'm about to do: compare and contrast both individuals progress through Italy in 1944.

In November/December 1943, Waugh attended a parachute course, as did Guy Crouchback. Waugh spent Christmas with Maimie Lygon, his old Madresfield chum, but he didn't enjoy her company as of old because he so disliked the Russian that she'd married. On Boxing Day, Spike and the lads were on leave and went to Amalfi, a rest camp. After Xmas was the calm before the storm as far as Spike Milligan is concerned:

The phone goes. "Command Post…it's for you, sir." I hand the phone to Mr. Wright.

"Wright here…yes…yessss." He hangs up. "That was Regimental OP…they were checking that the line was through."

"Of course, I couldn't have told them that, sir."

Wright grins. He's one of the lads. "Well, Milligan, that's one of the perks of being an officer."

"One day I'll be an officer, sir," I said in shining tones, "and I'll be able to pick up the telephone and say 'Yes, I can hear you.' That will be a wonderful day."

The phone buzzes, I snatch it up and shout, "I'm not an officer but I can hear you and that means that the line is through!"

Okay, now for it. January 20, 1944. Concerning Mount Domino and its Observation Post (OP).

It starts with a couple of the men calling in at the Command Post (CP) in some distress. Things are terrible at Domino OP and they need a replacement signaller. They need a volunteer. There is an embarrassing silence, which Spike breaks by saying, "I'll go, sir." He was the only NCO in the room and felt he had to speak up. Having said that, Spike knew as well as anyone that in the British Army you never volunteer for anything.

On the way over by jeep, he asks Alf (one of the band) how their intensely disliked commanding officer has been behaving.

'I didn't fancy being in any way mixed up with Jenkins, he was humourless. I didn't understand him at all, no one did; God help me, I was soon to find out what a lunatic he was.'

Once they arrive at the HQ, Spike is told to put on the headset and to begin transmitting.

Immediately Jenkins sends RHQ a series of pointless messages. "It's very stuffy in the room." "There are eight ORs, two NCOs and myself." "The Germans are shelling us." "The Germans have stopped shelling us."

I would suggest that was just this particular individual's way of trying to keep calm and in control of the situation. Such plodding and repetitive behaviour can be irritating to those whose nervousness pulls them in another direction, that of being hyper-critical. Anyway, the pace of the narrative is urgent at this point, which is unusual for such a whimsical writer as Spike Milligan.

'From the time I arrived (about 4pm) the bastard kept me on the set all night, a total of seventeen hours with the headset on. It was my third night without sleep, just the noise of the interference was enough to drive you potty.'

Back in Major Jenkins 'Salon for the Morose', Spike went back to work following a short break to relieve himself. (He'd been told to make it quick.)

'I continued to relay our lunatic's messages. "The Germans have started shelling us." "There's an interval of two minutes between each round.", this his most unbelievable one. "Every time we transmit a message - he shells us." The idiot was implying that Jerry had a device that made it possible to locate the position of a wireless set by its transmission. Of course, there was absolutely no truth in his statement… so how did he become a Major? Mens' lives were in his hands. Like all lunatics he had unending energy - as dawn came he got worse. I was almost numb with fatigue, and my piles had stared to bleed. I should never have volunteered.'

When Spike is having breakfast, the Major tells him that he has to take four men to the OP with fresh batteries. This involves carrying a 50lb battery to the top of a mountain. On the way there, they meet a 35-year-old soldier who has been ejected from the OP because he keeps falling asleep. He reaffirms the route that the gunners must take, and tells them that if they're in the gully when enemy mortaring starts, they've had it.

Spike and this men are just through the gully, and climbing a stepped terrace, when the bombing starts. They hit the deck. But when they try and move again the mortaring resumes. Which means they can be seen by whoever is shelling them.

'The mortars rain down on us. I'll have a fag, that's what. I am holding a packet of Woodbines, then there is a noise like thunder. It's right on my head, there's a high-pitched whistle in my ears, at first I black out and then I see red, I am strangely dazed. I was on my front, now I'm on my back, the red was opening my eyes straight into the sun. I know if we stay here we'll all die… I start to scramble down the hill. There's shouting. I can't recall anything clearly. Next I am at the bottom of the mountain, next I'm speaking to Major Jenkins, I am crying, I don't know why, he's saying, "Get that wound dressed."

"Why did you come back?" He is shouting at me and threatening me, I can't remember what I'm saying. He's saying "You could find your way back but you couldn't find your way to the OP", next I'm sitting in an ambulance and shaking, an orderly puts a blanket round my shoulders, I'm crying again, why why why?'

This is what you call a harrowing first-person account. It brings to mind the way Evelyn Waugh treats Major Hound in the retreat from Crete in
Officers and Gentlemen. Waugh writes about 'cowardice' from the outside, in the third-person, from observing the conduct of his fellow officer. Then he uses his imagination, not to empathise with the poor individual, but to take him further down the path of disintegration and loss of self-esteem. It could be said that Waugh crucifies Major Hound in the same way that Major Jenkins crucifies Spike. Well, not in the same way, but related.

Let's get back to Spike Milligan's story:

'He's putting sticking plaster on the wound, he's telling me its only a small one. I don't really care if it's big or small, why am I crying? Why can't I stop? I'm getting lots of sympathy, what I want is an explanation.'

I'll try and provide one. It's such a shock to be in the middle of your one and only life and realise there is the very real danger that this so precious possession is about to be taken away from you. It doesn't matter how young and bright and brilliant you are, death comes as the end.

'Suddenly we are passing through our artillery lines as the guns fire. I jump at each explosion, then, a gesture I will never forget, a young soldier next to me with his right arm in a bloody sling put his arm around my shoulder and tried to comfort me. "There, there, you'll be alright mate."'

Spike is taken to see a psychiatrist who tells him that it takes 100,000 shells before one soldier is killed. He ends by telling him "You are going to get better.

'I am going to be sent back to the regiment. I suppose they know what they are doing. Time was to prove that they didn't.'

From Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall. Caption: Sgt. J. Wilson, Bdr.Sainsbury and gun-crew filling in football coupons, Monte Santa Maria, apple orchard position, November 17, 1943.

Meanwhile, how is Evelyn Waugh doing? Well, he is in a sort of crisis as well. Only he has social resources to call on that Spike Milligan simply doesn't. Evelyn has injured himself while making a parachute jump. He writes to the 'Officer Commanding, Household Cavalry Training Regiment at Windsor', with copies going to the Secretary of State for War and to Brendan Bracken, who has the ear of Winston Churchill himself. OK, Evelyn, let them have it:

'I have the honour to request that, for the understated reasons I may be granted leave of absence from duty without pay for three months

1. I have reached the age of 40 and the rank of Lieutenant in the Royal Horse Guards. My service since 1939 has been with: a) The Royal Marines b) Number 8 Commando, c) Lay Force, d) Special Service Brigade Headquarters, e) Combined Operations Headquarters, f) SAS (Parachute) Regiment

2. I have no longer the physical agility necessary for an operational officer in the kind of operations for which I have been trained.

3. I have not the administrative experience necessary for the type of appointment normally given to a regular officer of my age.

4. I have not the knowledge of foreign languages necessary for an appointment in the Intelligence or paramilitary Departments

5. In civil life I am a novelist and I have now formed the plan of a new novel which will take approximately three months to write.

6. This novel will have no direct dealing with the war and it is not pretended that it will have any propaganda value. On the other hand, it is hoped that it may cause innocent amusement and relaxation to a number of readers and it is understood that entertainment is now regarded as a legitimate contribution to the war effort.

7. It is a peculiarity of the literary profession that, once an idea becomes fully formed in the author's mind, it cannot be left unexploited without deterioration. If, in fact, the book is not written now it will never be written.

8. On the completion of the writing I shall be able to return to duty with my mind unencumbered either by other preoccupations or by the financial uncertainty caused by the necessity of supporting a large family on the pay of a lieutenant. I shall be able to offer myself in the hope that some opportunity will then have arisen in which I can serve my regiment.

How could the powers that be say no? Meanwhile, back in the real world, Spike has returned to duty.

January 27, 1944. The Battery is still at Lauro in the same position.

'I'm a zombie. Anyone can do or say anything to me. I hear those that had been with me on the OP fiasco had all been given seven days' leave. Why not me? As soon as our guns start to fire, I start to jump. I try to control it, I run to my dug-out and stay there. I suddenly realise that I'm stammering. What a bloody mess! The Major thinks I'm a coward, perhaps I am? If so why didn't I run from the line the first day in action in North Africa? I am aware that the date is January 27. A whole week? Where have I been? I'm on duty in the Command Post and I really shouldn't be. I manage to stop crying, but I am now stammering very badly, so I can't be of any use passing wireless messages or Fire Orders; I just copy down Sit-reps.

'To add to my misery I am "Court Martialled" by the Major. I'm told I had been due for second stripe but owing to my unreliable conduct I am to relinquish my stripe. I suppose in World War 1 the bastard would have had me shot. Mind you, he had had it in for me for a long time. I didn't represent the type of empty-minded soldier he wanted. I had been a morale-booster to the boys, organising dances and concerts, and always trying to keep a happy atmosphere, something he couldn't do. Now he was letting me have it. So I was Gunner Milligan, wow, what a world-shaker.'

I can't stop quoting this stuff. I will try harder to paraphrase…

Spike sees the Medical officer. When the latter hears the debilitating stammer, Spike knows that his is going to be sent away from the Battery for good. He feels an incredible sense of loss. For, unlike the Major, a regular soldier, used to hopping about from one unit to another as he pursues a career, Spike is deeply bonded to his fellow men.

'The feeling of togetherness was something he never participated in, but we still have it. We have two reunions a year. No other mob has that going for them; we were unique. We've never heard from Jenkins. He lived on that one narrow plane and everyone had to be judged by that; he didn't know of deeper or higher feelings, those were areas that he could never enter. The bloody fool had got rid of someone who was deeply attached to the Battery and the lads, yet the bastard had made me stay at the gun position. "The noise of the guns will boost your morale." It didn't, the noise drove me mad. Came one of the saddest days in my life, I had to leave. I got up very early, I didn't say goodbye to anyone. I got in the truck. As I drove back down that muddy road, with the morning mists filling the valleys, I felt as though I was being taken across the Styx. I've never got over that feeling.'

What can one say? Well, how about this? It's a letter that I've helped Spike write. Correction, it's a letter that Evelyn and I have helped Spike write, because we three are all on the same side. Correction, it's a letter that Harry and Alf and the rest of Battery 19 of the 56th Heavy Regiment have written collectively…


The joint work goes straight to the top brass:

I have the honour to request that, for the understated reasons I may be granted leave of absence from duty without pay for three months

1. I have reached the age of 25 and the rank of gunner in the 56th Heavy Regiment Royal Artillery. I was promoted to bombardier for a while but that single stripe soon went tits up.

2. I have no longer the succinct vocal delivery necessary for an operational gunner in the kind of operations for which I have been trained.

5. In civil life I am a musician and I have now formed the plan of a new solo trumpet piece which will take approximately three months to compose and perform.

6. This trumpet solo will have no direct dealing with the war and it is not pretended that it will have any propaganda value. On the other hand, it is hoped that it may induce poignant feelings in a number of listeners and it is understood that entertainment is now regarded as a legitimate contribution to the war effort. In so far as such a lengthy dose of hardcore melancholy might be described as entertainment.

7. It is a peculiarity of the trumpet profession that, once an infinitely downbeat solo becomes fully formed in the musician's mind, it cannot be left unexploited without deterioration. If, in fact, my lament is not blown now it will never be blown.

8. On the completion of the trumpet solo I shall be able to return to duty with my mind unencumbered either by other preoccupations or by the financial uncertainty caused by the necessity of supporting a large number of London-based girlfriends on the pay of a gunner. I shall be able to offer myself in the hope that some opportunity will then have arisen in which I can serve my regiment.

Way to go, Spike, way to go.

We have reached the end of
Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall. But I repeat: throughout 1944, Spike will be in Italy. And for much of the year so will Guy Crouchback and Evelyn Waugh. Hitler must be quaking in his boots.


HITLER: "Oh, Jesus, ze trumpet-blowing goez on and on. Can nothing stop him?"

GOERING: "If only ve could get Evelyn Vaugh to write
Brideshead Revisited simultaneouly, zat would surely knock his trumpet playing into ze cocked hat."

HITLER: "I don't think so. The solo is called
Bridesarse Retooted."

Whose side am I on here? I'm on the private soldier's side. I'm on the gifted creative's side. I'm on the honourable man's side.

How many sides are there? At least two:


HITLER: "Now Evelyn and Spike are torturing poor Randolph Churchill."

GOERING: "Vat are zey doing to Vinston's boy?"

HITLER: "First, Evelyn gets drunk and buggerz him, but it takes Spike's big gun to bring him to orgazm."

GOERING: "Ve will never beat zese Tommy-Englanders. Not in a million years."


This is where we've got to in the battle of the 'trilogies':


I think the thing to do at this stage is to keep an eye on the exact whereabouts of three individuals: Evelyn Waugh, Spike Milligan and Guy Crouchback. Not necessarily in that order.

In February and March, Evelyn was in Chagford, Devon, writing
Brideshead. In Officers and Gentlemen, Guy Crouchback was in Italy, in a city called Bari which is the same latitude as Naples but on the east rather than the west coast of Italy.


There is a couple of pages set in Bari, military background mostly, which ends with:
'In this limbo Guy fretted for more than a week while February blossomed into March…Every day he reported to headquarters. 'No news yet,' they said.

Not the most exhilarating pages of
Unconditional Surrender, perhaps because Evelyn was making it up. So let's switch to Naples to see what's going on there. Spike has been transferred to a camp for the 'bomb-happy'. In Afragola, a suburb of Naples. At the beginning of March he is moved to 92 General Hospital, Naples. Then another move to a camp on the Salerno-Naples road on the south side of Vesuvius. Spike was having recurring bouts of depression. He was missing the Battery. He even wrote a grovelling letter to Major Jenkins asking to be forgiven and to be given another chance. 'It demanded a reply if only on humanitarian grounds. He never replied. He was an officer and a gentleman, so fuck him, he was a good soldier and a pain in the arse…all over.'

Spike throws himself into romances with local women and to getting back to his music. He starts up a band and they get gigs. A colonel takes an interest in him and gives him a job. When this officer goes so far as to try and grope Spike, he is told to:
"Look here, sir, fuck off…sir." His assailant is sorry. It will never happen again. Apart from that, the summer of 1944 seems to have been idyllic, involving a lot of sketching, fancying a local called Maria, and making murals at a tumbledown farm. He is at a place near Naples called Maddaloni. The landscape reminds him of Van Gogh's Arles.

Meanwhile, Evelyn had finished B
rideshead in June, 1944, and received a well-timed call from Randolph Churchill who wanted Evelyn to help him with a military mission in Yugoslavia. Why? Just so that Spike Milligan could take the piss out of them thirty-odd years later?

On Saturday, July 8, Evelyn and Randolph flew from Algiers to Catani to Naples (close to Spike?) to Bari. Then further east, across the Adriatic. It was when landing in Croatia that the plane carrying Evelyn and Randolph crashed, though both survived. Evelyn was back in Bari, in hospital, by July 18. After a couple of weeks he was able to leave his hospital bed and travel to Rome. A week or two was spent between Rome and Bari before he made the following Diary entry:

'On Tuesday 29th August, after luncheon at the Vatican with D'Arcy Osborne, Randolph and I drove in a jeep to Naples through a devastated countryside. At Cassino there were notices everywhere forbidding traffic to stop. Here we stopped while Randolph made water before a group of women. When asked why he chose this place he said, 'Because I am a member of parliament.' We spent that night and the next at Harold MacMillan's villa, a house of peculiarly vicious design.'

This 'house of peculiarly vicious design' is a palace made for the Bourbons. It is enormous, and its grounds dominate Caserta. So where is this? Caserta is right next to Maddaloni. For a couple of days at the end of August, Spike Milligan and Evelyn Waugh were living very close to each other.



HITLER: "Now is our chance to get both Evelyn Waugh and Spike Milligan at ze one time. Two birds, one bomb."

GOEBBELS: "Don't forget about Randolf Churchill, Mein Fuhrer. Three birds, one bomb!"

HITLER: "Fool! Randolf is a nincompoop. I don't care about him."

GOEBEELS: "Yes, but…"

HITLER: "Zey are getting away! Where is a Stuka bomber when you want one?"

Evelyn Waugh was soon in Croatia, and that's where Guy Crouchback can be found in the summer of 1944. But Spike stayed around Naples, and eventually, in October, he enjoyed a day in the grounds of Harold MacMillan's fabulous palace. There are pictures of the water feature included in
Where Have All the Bullets Gone:

Page from Spike Milligan's Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall.

One turns over, and there is Spike himself, enjoying the waters with his soldier-chums. X marks the Spike:

Page from Spike Milligan's Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall.


HITLER: "Get those Stuka bombers in the air. We vill get rid of Spike's flashing cheekbones once and for all!"

GOEBBELS: "That vill leave only Evelyn Waugh and Randolph Churchill to hunt down like pigs."

HITLER: "How often do I have to tell you? Randolph is of no account. He makes water in front of Italian women."

GOEBBELS: "Isn't that what all soldiers do?"

HITLER: "It's what all members of ze British parliament do.
Zat is why ve are at war with them."

GOEBBELS: "I knew there had to be a reason."

Evelyn Waugh assisted Randolph Churchill with his pro-Partisan mission in Yugoslavia, helping 100-odd Jews reach Italy as a by-product. In December, Randolph already having left, Waugh travelled back to Bari which he reached on December 6. Waugh spent much of December on the east coast of Italy then sailed back to Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, Spike had gigs with his band in Rome, then went back to Naples for Xmas.

I'm going to round this off now.
Unconditional Surrender ends with Guy Crouchback feeling frustrated with the inhumanity of a fellow officer in Bari. Well, no, there is an epilogue set in London during the Festival of Britain, 1951. Waugh runs through what has happened to his characters since the end of the war. Guy Crouchback has inherited from his father and is raising the child of his ex-wife and a dreadful soldier called Trimmer. Actually, on second thoughts, Trimmer is a bit like Spike Milligan. This son of Trimmer's, Gervase Crouchback, will inherit Guy's estate in due course.

To finish off Spike Milligan's war story I'm going to jump ahead to the mid-fifties. By this time
The Goons have become a cultural sensation in the UK, thanks to Milligan's scripts and his ability to talk in utterly relaxed, bizarrely voices with Peter Sellers, both of them making it up as they go along, if that's what either felt was needed. Harry Secombe, who Spike met during the North African campaign, added his versatile vocals and energy to the team. In 1956. The Goons released a novelty single called 'The Ying-Tong Song'. It did very well, and I liked I when it was re-released in 1971, but it's only now I realise the serious themes behind it. Not only is Ying-Tong derived from Edg-in-ton's name, the song features Spike's playing of a single trumpet which is followed by the banging of drums sounding like the exploding of bombs. A rifle is mentioned. "LOOK OUT!" Is shouted. Twice, a single haunting line from a classical song sung by a soprano emerges (Take me back to Vienna) as it might have done when Spike Milligan was exploring what he could call up on his radio while on duty near Naples. The first time the line crops up, it's immediately undermined by the extended blowing of a raspberry, trumpet-style. The second time, it's ended by a huge explosion.

The song can be listened to at
this link which was put there by LOL Jukebox. The conclusion of the song has the sound of many people's feet running away, then running back again. Then away again. Then back again. Then a bomb falls: BOOMMMMMM!. After which the Ying Tong singing is falsetto. Bloody brilliant.

Who would have thought that the 'Sword of Honour' trilogy and 'The Ying Tong Song' came from the same place? Experience transformed into art of the highest order.
Bravo, both.