When Evelyn Waugh was 12-years-old and attending Heath Mount School in north London, he wrote:


‘At Heath Mount there are some people who belong to a small country called England which we are given to understand carries on its small existence somewhere south of Scotland.’

Odd, don’t you think? Was wee Evelyn implying that he was a Scot?

Evelyn’s father was English, and had taught Evelyn a respect for the patriarchy. Young Evelyn may have been aware (he was when he wrote
A Little Learning towards the end of his life) that of his eight male great, great grandparents, two of them were Scottish, one being responsible for the handing down of the Waugh name, the other being Lord Cockburn. More on that teasingly named individual in a few paragraphs.

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While at University, Evelyn fell in love with a young man called Alastair Graham. The Grahams’ family seat was Netherby Hall, ten miles north of Carlisle. The Grahams were a border clan and I suspect Alastair identified as Scottish. Certainly, when Evelyn wrote about him towards the end of his life in A Little Learning, he gave him the very Scottish pseudonym of Hamish Lennox.

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In 1926, Alastair and Evelyn went on a car trip with Alastair’s mother up through Graham territory and across Scotland, as far north as Aberdeen. Along the way they enjoyed a great deal of traditional Scottish hospitality. In particular, Evelyn attended the Lomach Games and witnessed the so-called March of the Highlanders. Only about a dozen men took part, all of them over 50 and most of them over 80 years old. At this time in his life, Evelyn Waugh’s diary was still ambiguous, nevertheless I think I can detect a little cynicism in these words:
‘They trailed spears behind them and shuffled along in a depressed sort of way. All the young men who had not emigrated preferred to wear ill-fitting serge suits rather than the kilt and had nothing to do with the march. Mrs Faulkner Wallace lay swathed in tartan on a chaise lounge with an enormous man called Lumsden of Balmedie to carry her about.'

In 1940, Evelyn trained to be an officer in the Royal Marines. When he came to write this up as the novel
Men At Arms, he stuck closely to the places in southern England he was posted, but then added a fictional posting to ‘Penkirk’ near Edinburgh. Why did he do that? Well, in 1951, when he was in the middle of writing the book, he was asked to stand for election as Rector of Edinburgh University. This is a poster that was produced at the time:


In his acceptance of the invite, Evelyn went into his Scottish ancestry. He mentioned the Waughs as being of unmixed lowland Scot until the late mid-Eighteenth Century, and that Alexander Waugh, his great, great, great grandfather on his paternal side was Doctor of Divinity at Edinburgh. On his mother’s side, a rather more illustrious great, great grandfather was Henry Lord Cockburn of Edinburgh, author of
Memorials of His Time. Lord Cockburn was painted by Henry Raeburn and his image appeared on £1 notes of the Commercial Bank of Scotland. Author, know thyself. Yes, Evelyn had done his research.

While writing
Men at Arms, Evelyn would have had Lord Cockburn at the back of his mind, for in January 1942, Waugh was invited to a company commander’s course at Bonaly Tower, five miles south of Edinburgh. There he recognised the Cockburn coat of arms on the staircase and realised, to his delight, that he was in his great, great grandfather’s house.

Bonaly Tower, rebuilt in the Scottish baronial style by Evelyn Waugh's ancestor in 1839, and the place that Evelyn went every day for a month in 1942 as a captain in the Royal Marines. All circular towers and steep slate roofs and crenellated walls and little windows. Predominantly solid stone.

The opening paragraphs of the Penkirk section of Men at Arms are hilarious, concerning Bonnie Prince Charlie and the gathering of the Clans. I must quote:

'Once Guy saw a film of the Rising of '45. Prince Charles and his intimates stood on a mound of heather, making a sad little group, dressed as though for a Caledonian Ball, looking, indeed, precisely as though they were a party of despairing revellers mustered in the outer suburbs to meet a friend with a motor-car who had not turned up.

‘An awful moment came when the sun touched the horizon behind them. The prince bowed his head, sheathed his claymore and said in rich Milwaukee accents: “I guess it’s all off, Mackingtosh.” (Mackingtosh from the first had counselled immediate withdrawal.) At that moment, suddenly, a faint skirl of pipes rose and swelled to an unendurable volume, while from all the converging glens files of kilted extras came winding into view. “’Tis Invercauld comes younder.” “Aye, and Lochiel”, “And stout Montrose”, “The Laird of Cockpen”, “The bonnets of bonnie Dundee”, “The Campbells are coming. Hurrah, hurrah…” until across the crimson panorama the little bands swept together into one mighty army. Unconquerable they seemed to anyone ignorant of history, as they marched into the setting sun; straight, as anyone knowledgeable in Highland geography could have told them, into the chilly waters of Loch Moidart.'

After the war, Evelyn got embroiled with another scot, Moray McLaren. My distant relation? My great, great grandfather? Or just my grandfather with none of the great-greatness?

Moray had been under stress in the war and had taken to the bottle at the end of it. He wrote a novel about his guilt-induced alcohol addiction, and sent it to Evelyn, who he vaguely knew. Evelyn took an interest in the manuscript, partly because Moray was a fellow Oxford man, Roman Catholic and soldier. And because he was a fellow Scot?

Evelyn helped Moray bash the novel into shape. He even appears as a major character in the finished version.
Escape and Return was published by Evelyn Waugh’s father’s firm, Chapman and Hall, the company that had then just published Brideshead Revisited. Another book that might have been called Escape and Return. Indeed, perhaps Evelyn donated a title he’d considered for his own novel.

OK, back to the war. In 1941, Evelyn transferred from the Royal Marines to the Commandos. He did his training on the Isle of Arran, off the west coast of Scotland, enjoying the company of the likes of Randolph Churchill and visiting Brodick Castle.

When he wrote
Officers and Gentlemen in 1953, Waugh set a scene in such a castle on his fictional Isle of Mugg. At a meal in the castle, Colin Campbell (known as Mugg) talks obsessively to Guy Crouchback, the trilogy’s protagonist, about gelignite. So perhaps Evelyn had in mind Lord Glasgow who he met in 1942. There is a letter from Evelyn to his wife gleefully describing how Lord Glasgow persuaded the military to blow up an old tree for him, with the side-effect that every pane of glass in his castle was shattered by the blast.

We have to wait a while for the truly comic character to be introduced to Waugh's castle dinner scene in
Officers and Gentlemen. That's Katie Carmichael, the niece of the Campbells, a woman of about the same age as Jean Fforde, daughter of the owners of the real Brodick Castle and who stayed with her parents while the war was on.

In the novel, Katie sits between Colin Campbell and Guy Crouchback. She is at pains to assure Guy of her Scottish credentials, and her mother feels the need to butt in.
"No-one is questioning your being a true scot, Katie," said the great-aunt; "eat your dinner."

Katie takes a gold pencil from her bag and, guarding her message with her forearm, writes on the tablecloth for Guy's benefit: 'POLLITICAL PRISNER'.

Later in the meal she tells Guy:
"It is a terrible thing to see the best of our lads marched off, generation after generation, to fight the battles of the English for them. When the Germans land in Scotland, the glens will be full of marching men come to greet them, and the professors themselves at the universities will seize the towns. Mark my words, don't be caught on Scottish soil that day."

At the end of the evening, as Guy gets into his car, he sees a storm-lantern waving wildly from an upper window and hears Katie’s full and friendly challenge:
"Heil Hitler."'

The next day, Guy has to deal with a bundle of leaflets from Katie that say:


How to sum up these three messages from a ‘true Scot’ to a bewildered Englishman? Let me suggest Katie writing with a gold pencil:

“There are some people who belong to a small country called England which we are given to understand carries on its small existence somewhere south of Scotland.”

So maybe that’s what Evelyn had been doing in his 12-year-old diary. Making notes towards something he would one day write.

Writers start young. And they never stop. At least, Evelyn started young. And he only stopped for the periodic intake of large amounts of alcohol. Some would say that you can't get any more Scottish than that. I would say: what about this:

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"Oor Evelyn! Your Evelyn! A'body's Evelyn!"

The 1915 diary entry that inspired this piece was published in 2017 as part of
The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. It appears in Volume 30, Personal Writings, 1903-1921, edited by Alexander Waugh and Alan Bell.