Biffing: A History

Today’s Times notes the issuance of the UK paperback edition of a WWII history which has Wavian overtones. This is The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: Churchill’s Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat by Giles Milton. In his brief notice, Lawrence James explains:

The Castrator, a small explosive device placed under a lavatory seat, which detonated when raised, was one of the least known British weapons of the Second World War. A similar booby trap was contrived by Brigadier Ben Ritchie-Hook to destroy Apthorpe’s “thunderbox” in Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy. A bit caddish perhaps but, as Ritchie-Hook was forever insisting, war was about “biffing” the enemy and the latrine was as good a place as any to do it. Ritchie-Hook’s pugnacious philosophy and devilishly inventive spirit runs through Giles Milton’s wonderful book about the mavericks who were employed by the government to devise original ways of killing Germans. Milton gives a fascinating and lively account of their activities and contraptions and of how Churchill overrode objections made by what one inventor called Whitehall’s “abominable no-men”.

Alas, neither Ritchie-Hook nor Apthorpe (nor Waugh for that matter) are mentioned in the book’s index.

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