Waugh’s Cities

Evelyn Waugh’s descriptions of two cities he had visited have been quoted in recent profiles. The first is Bari in Italy which was the staging point in WWII for missions to Yugoslavia such as that to which Waugh was assigned in 1944-45. In an “armchair travel” article about New Bari (i.e., that portion constructed outside the old city beginning in the early 19th century) posted on the Weblog erenow, Waugh’s account of the city in WWII is quoted:

Evelyn Waugh came here and (in “Unconditional Surrender”) says … that there was an agile and ingenious criminal class consisting chiefly of small boys. Yet he comments, too, that the city regained the “comsopolitan martial stir” which it had enjoyed during the Crusades. Allies soldiers crowded the streets and the harbour was full of small naval vessels. For in late autumn 1943 Bari became one of the three main ports of the “British Italy Base”.

Waugh adds that the city “achieved the unique, unsought distinction of being the only place in the Second World War to suffer from gas.” On the evening of 2 December a hundred German planes from Foggia attacked the harbour, sinking seventeen ships. Among those that blew up was the USS John Hervey with a secret cargo of mustard-bombs; over 600 Allied personnel were gas casualties besides those killed by German bombs, together with all too many Baresi. ‘Many of the inhabitants complained of sore throats, sore eyes and blisters’, says Waugh: “They were told it was an unfamiliar, mild, epidemic disease of short duration” (Unconditional Surrender, Little Brown, 2012, pp. 213-17).

In The National, a Scottish daily newspaper affiliated with the Glasgow Herald, there is a profile of Djibouti, a city and country in east Africa that is home to military contingents of several larger nations with sometimes conflicting interests in the area. Waugh passed through there sevreal times in the 1930s on the way to and from Abyssinia where he was covering news stories of that era:

HOW MUCH IS THE RENT?

IT’S a good question as Djibouti takes in around £50 million a year in rent from the US alone – not bad for a country once described by novelist Evelyn Waugh as one of “dust and boulders utterly devoid of any sign of life”.

Now, the military bases are hubs of activity because of Djibouti’s strategically important position at the mouth of the Red Sea.

This quote comes from Waugh’s 1931 travel book Remote People. It was cited in a recent posting on the same topic in The Daily Beast.

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