Waugh’s Christmas, 1942

In a letter to his wife, Evelyn Waugh describes his Christmas 75 years ago in 1942. At the time, he was stationed with his brigade in Sherborne School, Dorset, where his father and brother Alec were students but from which he had been barred due to disapproval of Alec’s book Loom of Youth that mentioned schoolboy homosexuality:

Dearest Laura,

Christmas was rather better than was feared but very exhausting and I find it difficult to hold the pen which behaves rather like an ouija board. There has been much heavy drinking.

…I went to Daphne Weymouth’s for one night. Duff, Diana, Conrad [Russell], the Cavendish boys [sons of Duke of Devonshire]–an excellent pair–Debo [Mitford], Rex Whistler and many nameless foot guards. Great drunkeness. I went to call next morning on your cousin Olivia Greene & and found her with no trousers on completely drunk and Gwen blacking the grate. Then I came back to Sherborne again, to a great dinner party given by Bill Stirling & Peter Milton. Last night I suffered the delusion that black rooks were flying round and round my room…

Daphne Weymouth, then married to Henry Weymouth, was living at Sturford Mead, a house on the Longleat Estate in Wiltshire that Henry was later to inherit when he succeeded to the title of Marquess of Bath. She subsequently married Xan Fielding and wrote several books under the name Daphne Fielding. Deborah Mitford married the younger of the two “Cavendish boys” mentioned in Waugh’s letter; in her own memoirs, she recalled this event when she met Waugh for the first time (Deborah Devonshire, Wait For Me!, New York, 2011, Chapter 9). He was much the worse for drink when she arrived but then:

…he poured a bottle of Green Chartreuse over his head and, rubbing it into his hair, intoned, ‘My hair is covered in gum, my hair is covered in gum,’ as the sticky mess ran down his neck.

Waugh was not proud of his performance that night, and Deborah records that, as recompense, he gave her a hat he bought in Paris soon after the war had ended.

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