Today marks the 80th anniversary of the beginning of WWII when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. The attack fulfilled Evelyn Waugh’s expectations that a war was imminent after Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact the previous week. See earlier post. After hearing the news relayed from the radio, Waugh continued his preparations for a tea to benefit the local orphanage to be held at the Roman Catholic church in nearby Nympsfield. Most of his comments revolve around the expectations for accommodating refugees in Stinchcombe:
…at 6 we went to receive the evacuated children at the village hut. Most of the village notables were there; no children, but Mrs Barnett had changed all the reception arrangements. Meanwhile we listened to wireless in a Mrs Lister’s motor car. It said the evacuation was working like clockwork. Still no children. Then some empty buses. Finally a police officer in a two-seater who said the children had come 400 short and there were none for Stinchcombe. Rain came on so we dispersed… (Diaries, p. 439).
He was to return to the theme of evacuated children in his novel Put Out More Flags (1942).
When the Soviets a few weeks later in the month attacked the parts of Poland unoccupied by their German allies, Waugh commented (24 September 1941):
The papers are all smugly jubilant at Russian conquests in Poland as though this were not a more terrible fate for the allies we are pledged to support than conquest by Germany. The Italian argument that we have forfeited our narrow position by not declaring war on Russia seems unanswerable (Diaries, p. 443).
Most of the entries for the succeeding weeks relate to Waugh’s attempts to acquire war work in the Ministry of Information or a place in the Armed Forces. He became so bored that he went to Chagford (23 October) and resumed work on his new novel which he hoped to finish before his call up. His work continued until the middle of November, resulting in about 10,000 additional words, but it was interrupted by the birth of his first son, Auberon (17 November). The novel was never finished and was later published in December 1942 as Work Suspended.
After several rebuffs from the military he finally struck lucky from an approach to Winston Churchill and Brendan Bracken who helped him secure a commission in the Royal Marines. This occurred shortly after Auberon’s birth. After fearing he had flunked the medical, Waugh was pleased to find when he reported for duty that this was because of his eyesight and that he needn’t worry because, according to the officer to whom he reported, most of his work would be in the dark (p.451). He was accepted into the Royal Marines and reported to his post at Chatham in early December.