Evelyn Waugh makes an appearance in a new book Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre that is excerpted in The Daily Beast. This is a history of the Special Air Service brigade (SAS) and its founder David Stirling. Waugh knew Stirling from the Commandos in which they both served in North Africa. The excerpt describes Waugh’s 1941 visit to Stirling in a Cairo hospital where Stirling was recovering from a leg injury suffered in a parachute jump. This was in the period before he organized the SAS:
The writer Evelyn Waugh, a fellow officer in the commando force, came to visit Stirling about three weeks after his admission to the hospital. Waugh had been misinformed by the matron that one of Stirling’s legs had already been amputated, and he would likely lose the other. “I can’t feel a thing,” Stirling told his friend. Embarrassed, as Englishmen tend to be when faced with disability, Waugh kept up a steady stream of meaningless small talk, perched on the edge of the bed, and studiously avoided the subject of his friend’s paralysis. Every so often, however, he would sneak a surreptitious glance to where Stirling’s remaining leg ought to be, and whenever he did so Stirling, with extreme effort, would wiggle the big toe of his right foot. Finally, Waugh realized he was being teased, and hit Stirling with a pillow.
“You bastard, Stirling, when did it happen?”
“Minutes before you came. It takes a bit of effort, but it’s a start.”
Stirling was regaining the use of his legs. Others might have cried for joy; for Stirling, however, the first sign of his recovery was an excellent opportunity to play a practical joke on one of Britain’s greatest novelists.
Stirling left the Commandos shortly after Waugh’s visit to organize the SAS, whose first mission was to send small, specially trained units to attack the Germans behind their lines. The success of the North African operation led to the spread of the SAS to other theatres of war and its ultimate survival after the war. It is not mentioned in the excerpt that Stirling was a cousin of Shimi Lovat, the officer who was instrumental in Waugh’s dismissal from the Army after his return from North Africa. Waugh returned to active duty, during which he suffered a leg injury in parachute training prior to joining a mission in Yugoslavia. That operation was headed by Randplph Churchill; it was not conducted by the SAS.