Sherborne School Posts Record of Waugh’s Wartime Residence

The Sherborne School and the Old Shirburnian Society have posted a detailed and annotated account of Waugh’s six month residence at the school while stationed there in the Army: 5 October 1942-12 April 1943. This was a little over a year after his return from Crete during which he was posted from one training course to another. Here’s the introduction (footnotes omitted):

On the 5 October 1942 Captain Evelyn Waugh arrived in Sherborne having been sent ahead by Colonel Laycock to prepare for the relocation of the Special Service Brigade (Commandos) Headquarters to Sherborne Castle.  Evelyn remained in Sherborne for the next six months until the 12 April 1943, a time revealed in his diaries and letters – and possibly also in his novel Brideshead Revisited.

The Waugh family and Sherborne had history. Evelyn Waugh was well-aware of this when he arrived in Sherborne in October 1942. Evelyn’s father, the publisher Arthur Waugh (1866-1943), had attended Sherborne School (School House) from 1879 to 1885 and, after the birth of his sons Alec and Evelyn, decided ‘there could be no pleasanter prospect than to see our sons at my old school, in my old house, and, as seemed likely, doing the things that I would have given my soul to do some 30 years before.’

Throughout their childhood Alec and Evelyn Waugh knew they were destined to follow their father to the hallowed grounds of Sherborne School. Alec, who was five years older than Evelyn, came to Sherborne School in 1911 and joined his father’s old house (School House), with Evelyn down to follow in September 1917.  Alec’s time at Sherborne School allowed Arthur Waugh to re-live his own very happy schooldays, coming down most weekends to stay at the Digby Hotel to watch Alec play cricket or rugby or to visit his former school masters.

But Evelyn’s fate never to follow his father and brother to Sherborne School was sealed on the 19 July 1917 with the publication of Alec’s semi-autobiographical novel The Loom of Youth. The novel was perceived at Sherborne as being critical of the School and resulted in the Old Shirburnian Society, in a fit of righteous indignation, officially removing Alec’s name from their roll and Arthur Waugh resigning from the Society in protest. Although Alec and his father were reinstated into the Old Shirburnian Society in 1933, 25 years after the publication of The Loom of Youth Evelyn was still keenly aware that he and his family had been snubbed by Sherborne School.

The posted account identifies the lodgings Waugh occupied and several non-military events he attended while stationed at the school. He was billeted there for most of the stay at a sort of lodging house called Westbridge House which had a somewhat eccentric landlady whose relations with Waugh and fellow officer, Basil Bennett, who also lived there, are the subject of some of the comments. Waugh wrote several letters to his father while stationed at Sherborne, only one of which apparently survived and which is cited in the school’s archive (footnotes omitted):

Although only one letter written by Evelyn to his father from Sherborne survives, Arthur Waugh’s diaries reveal that Evelyn wrote him several letters during this time. On the 12 December 1942, Arthur writes that he has received a letter from Evelyn offering to send them a turkey for Christmas and mentioning a visit he had made to Arthur’s recently widowed friend Littleton Powys (1874-1955) at his home Priestlands Cottage in Sherborne. When the author Elizabeth Myers (1912-1947) wrote to Littleton Powys on the 14 December 1942 she mentioned that Arthur had read this letter to her. Arthur’s diaries also reveal that Evelyn met Littleton Powys on at least three occasions during his time in Sherborne, and that on Christmas eve Littleton had shown Evelyn around Sherborne School.

At a time when wartime rationing would have meant a meagre Christmas for Arthur and his wife, on the 18 December 1942 Evelyn sent his parents two dozen half bottles of white Burgundy and on the 23 December Evelyn’s batman arrived from Sherborne with a small goose. Alec later described this incident as a ‘highly irregular operation which touched my father as much as the goose delighted him.’ On Christmas Day, Arthur and his wife dined on Evelyn’s goose followed by plum pudding and, no doubt, a glass of Evelyn’s white Burgundy!

Several of Waugh’s letters to his wife written during this sojourn have been published, but they make little comment on the incidents described in the Sherborne archive. The file also contains several photographs illustrating some of the sites and events Waugh visited during his stay. The school and society are to be congratulated for preparing this document and posting it for public access. It can be read at this link.

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