Evelyn and Randolph in WWII Yugoslavia

In the new issue of the collected lectures of the British Studies seminar at the Unversity of Texas, there is a lecture entitled “Evelyn Waugh and Randolph Churchill in Yugoslavia”. This is by biographer and literary critic Jeffrey Meyers who has written biographies of writers such as F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell and Edmund Wilson. The lecture was delivered in the Fall Semester 2017 and appears in the collection entitled Serendipitous Adventures with Britannia, edited, as are the previous 10 volumes, by Prof Wm R0ger Louis.

Meyers begins by promising new insights into Waugh’s military career from previously unavailable material:

One hundred and twenty pages of unpublished material from the National  Archives and the Public Record Record Office in Kew, England, and from Churchill College, Cambridge University, cast new light on British policy in Yugoslavia, its military contacts with Tito and the contrast between his Communist Partisans and the pro-Nazi Ustashe; on Randolph’s work, constant complaints and offensive behavior as well as his courage under fire; on Waugh and Randolph’s near-fatal air crash, their English comrade Stephen Clissold and Waugh’s support of the Catholic Ustashe in opposition to official policy. This archival material explains why these tragicomic adventurers wound up in wartime Croatia, why they quarreled bitterly in an isolated village and why their important mission was doomed to failure.

What follows is however mostly a retelling of the story of Randolph’s mission, accompanied by Waugh, as it appears in Waugh’s diaries as well as memoirs of Fitzroy Maclean, their commanding officer, and Freddy Birkenhead, who joined them briefly, in addition to biographies of Randolph, Waugh and Maclean. The narrative is well told and accurately reported but adds little to what has already been written in published material.

There are a few nuggets which apparently come from the newly available records. These include reports (pp. 57-58) by British agents from Yugoslavia in the months 0f 1944 before Waugh arrived. They reflect attitudes of the Yugoslavs at the time but do not mention Randolph’s mission or the role of Waugh. There is also a report (p. 60) of Randolph’s actions during and after the German raid on Drvar during May 1944 for which Randolph was awarded an MBE. That may well come from the archives. There is also a quote (p. 66) that may emanate from those records; this is about Randolph’s bad behavior toward a journalist named Robert Murray. Neither of these reports, which relate to Randolph, are cited as implicating Waugh. One problem with determining what previously unknown material is cited from the newly opened records is that the discussion appears in the form of a lecture in which detailed citations to sources are not provided.

The published lecture concludes with this assessment of Waugh’s role in the mission:

The pro-Catholic anticommunist Waugh was supposed to entertain Randolph and support the Partisans but constantly fought with him and made three disastrous mistakes. He openly courted the Ustashe fascists, publicly insulted Tito and endangered his comrades by flaunting his whitecoat during [an] air attack.

While there is ample evidence adduced for the last two errors, it comes not from the newly available public records but from previously published sources. As to Waugh’s open support for the Ustashe, that may well have been the case. But again, there is no new support for this cited from the unpublished public records. Previous commentators have focused on Waugh’s support for the Roman Catholic clergy and believers against their persecution by the Communists. They have, at least so far as I can recall, stopped short of citing any evidence that he openly supported the Ustashe. He did before the war support Mussolini’s Fascists as well as, somewhat less vigorously, those of Franco, but the Ustashe were an altogether nastier piece of work. If the new sources provide evidence of such open support, hopefully Mr Meyers will cite it specifically in his future writings on the subject.

UPDATE (27 December 2019): Jeffrey Meyers’s article discussed above is included in the latest issue of Evelyn Waugh Studies (No, 50.2).

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