A Miscalculated Demolition: Evelyn Waugh’s 1942 Wartime Letter to His Wife

Some Modern Catholic (or Neo-Modernist) Churchmen have advocated –at least since Pope Pius XII’s 1950 Encyclical, Humani Generis, or soon thereafter — “the demolition of the bastions,” seeming to refer to a timely removing of the barriers between the Catholic Church and the Modern World—outside (as well as inside) the gates and windows of the Church, as it were. We need not mention their names, nor here discuss their specific and nuanced religious ideologies of “convergence.” For, we now only want to consider how, symbolically and actually in 1942, a British Commando troop of Sappers used its own demolitions rather shortsightedly, and quite destructively. As we shall see, this 1942 vignette also involves the partial shattering of a Scottish Lord’s own historic Castle and all of its windows. Commando Evelyn Waugh was then present to see some of the immediate consequences of all these rash miscalculations. He was attentively present at least as an observer and associate of “Number 3 Commando” along with its then-current Commanding Officer, Colonel John Durnford-Slater.

After having been himself a combatant officer in West and North Africa and the Isle of Crete in 1940-1941 with Number 8 Commando, Evelyn Waugh had gradually arrived back in Scotland by May of 1942. From Glasgow, Scotland — 33 miles from the Commando training center on the southeast seacoast of the Firth of Clyde, in Largs, Ayrshire — he wrote, on 31 May 1942, a short, but vivid, letter to his wife Laura that contains some memorable words and examples about demolitions and their hoped-for effects. That is to say, about the Number 3 Commando Sappers, and about their professedly useful and helpful explosives, as well as their unmistakable rashness and consequential presumption.

Click here to download the PDF file.