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By Evelyn Waugh
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Unconditional Surrender is the third novel in Waugh’s brilliant Sword of Honor trilogy recording the tumultuous wartime adventures of Guy Crouchback (“the finest work of fiction in English to emerge from World War II”-Atlantic Monthly), which also comprises Men at Arms and Officers and Gentlemen.
To my daughter Margaret
Child of the Locust Tears
Synopsis of Preceding Volumes
‘The enemy at last was in plain view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off. It was the Modern Age in arms. Whatever the outcome there was a place for him in that battle.’
This was the belief of Guy Crouchback in 1939 when he heard the news of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Treaty. What follows is the story of his attempt to find his ‘place in that battle’.
He is 35 years old, rising 36, the only surviving son of his father, Gervase. For some years he has lived alone in Italy in the villa built by his grandfather. Of his brothers one was killed in the war, the other died insane. He has a sister Angela married to an MP, Arthur Box-Bender. The Crouchbacks are a family of old-established, west-country, Catholic gentry allied to most of the other historic recusant families of the country. One of them was martyred under Elizabeth I. Their estates have been sold. The family house, Broome, remains in their possession but is let to a convent. Gervase Crouchback lives in a small seaside hotel at Matchet. He has a bachelor brother, Peregrine, a notorious bore.
Guy married a wife named Virginia who quickly deserted him for a soldier, Tommy Blackhouse. At the time the story opens, she is in process of separation from a third husband, an American named Troy. For eight years she has lived in the world of rich, gay, cosmopolitan society. Guy has grown lonely and joyless. His Church does not allow him to seek a second wife. He sees the war as an opportunity to re-establish his interest in his fellow men and to serve them.
After many difficulties he is commissioned in the Royal Corps of Halberdiers, an unfashionable regiment of infantry, proud of its achievements and peculiarities; he proves himself a reasonably efficient officer. In the Halberdiers he serves under Ritchie-Hook, a ferocious hero of the first war. Among his batch of officers in training are De Souza, a cynic, and Trimmer, a former hairdresser, whose probationary commission is speedily terminated.
Virginia has returned to England at the moment when many are leaving it. One evening on leave Guy attempts to make love to her in Claridge’s Hotel but is repulsed with mild ridicule.
He sails on the Dakar expedition, comes under official disapprobation for an escapade arranged by Ritchie-Hook and is indirectly responsible for the death of another officer, by the injudicious gift of a bottle of whisky when he is down with fever. All this time he has ludicrously aroused the suspicions of a secret department of counter-espionage presided over by Grace-Groundling-Marchpole. He returns to England, and becomes attached to the newly formed Commandos, one of which is commanded by Blackhouse. Here he makes friends with Ivor Claire, a dandy. ‘Jumbo’ Trotter, an ancient Halberdier, deeply versed in service lore, is also temporarily attached to the Commando. Claire has a Corporal of Horse named Ludovic, a mysterious reservist recalled to the regiment, who keeps a volume of pensées. Ludovic rises to be Brigade Corporal Major. The Commando, as part of ‘Hookforce’, sails to Egypt. Here a brigade-major is attached to them from the staff pool named ‘Fido’ Hound. Mrs Stitch, a beauty, is in Alexandria with her husband, who holds a cabinet appointment in the Middle East.
Hookforce – without Blackhouse, who has broken his leg – goes to Crete at the moment when the defence is falling. ‘Fido’ Hound and Ludovic severally desert and meet in a cave on the south cast where an irregular body of Spanish refugees have taken shelter. Nothing more is ever heard of Hound. It is to be supposed that Ludovic perpetrated or connived at his murder. Blackhouse’s commando is ordered to provide the rearguard for the disembarkation and surrender on the following morning. That night Claire deserts his troop and insinuates himself into the disembarkation. On the morning of the surrender Guy meets Ludovic on the beach. They join a small party escaping by boat. They suffer acutely from privation and exposure. Ludovic alone remains capable. The delirious sapper officer who was originally in command, disappears overboard during the night. It is to be supposed that Ludovic precipitated him. Finally they reach the African coast. Ludovic carries Guy ashore, and while he is half-conscious in hospital, is sent back to England to be decorated and commissioned. Ludovic believes that Guy knows the truth of the disappearance of ‘Fido’ Hound. He does know, and has the proof in the written orders to the rearguard, the full culpability of Claire’s desertion. Mrs Stitch, in order to save Claire’s reputation, gets Guy sent back to England by slow convoy to rejoin the Halberdier Depot.
Virginia meanwhile is in difficulties. Troy no longer remits her allowance. Trimmer is used by Lord Kilbannock, who is Press Officer in Hazardous Offensive Operations HQ, an organization which from small beginnings becomes one of the busiest departments of war, to carry out a raid for publicity purposes. He becomes a national hero and falls deeply in love with Virginia, whom he knew professionally, and with whom he had a brief affair in Glasgow. At Kilbannock’s instigation, in order to keep Trimmer in heart for his public appearances, Virginia falls into a prolonged and, to her, distasteful liaison with Trimmer.
As Guy, in the late autumn of 1941, rejoins his regiment he believes that the just cause of going to war has been forfeited in the Russian alliance. Personal honour alone remains.
‘The hallucination was dissolved, like the whales and turtles on the voyage from Crete, and he was back after less than two years’ pilgrimage in a Holy Land of illusion in the old ambiguous world, where priests were spies and gallant friends proved traitors and his country was led blundering into dishonour.’
When Guy Crouchback returned to his regiment in the autumn of 1941 his position was in many ways anomalous. He had been trained in the first batch of temporary officers, had commanded a company, had been detached for special duties, had been in action and acquitted himself with credit; he had twice put up captain’s stars and twice removed them; their scars were plainly visible on his shoulder straps. He had been invalided home on an order direct from GHQ ME and the medical authorities could find nothing wrong with him. There were rumours that he had ‘blotted his copybook’ in West Africa. When he was commissioned in 1939 his comparative old age had earned him the sobriquet of ‘uncle’. Now he was two years older and the second batch of officers in training were younger than those who had joined with him. To them he seemed a patriarch; to him they seemed a generation divided by an impassable barrier. Once he had made the transition, had thrown himself into the mêlée on the ante-room floor, had said ‘cheerioh’ when he drank with them, and had been accepted as one of themselves. He could not do it a second time. Nor were there any longer mêlées and guest nights, nor much drinking. The new young officers were conscripts who liked to spend their leisure listening to jazz on the wireless. The first battalion, his battalion, followed Ritchie-Hook biffing across the sands of North Africa. A draft of reinforcements were sent out to them. Guy was not posted with them. Hookforce, all save four, had been taken prisoner in Crete. He had no comrades in arms in England except Tommy Blackhouse who returned to raise another Special Service Force. They met Tommy in Bellamy’s and he offered him a post on his staff, but the shadow of Ivor Claire lay dark and long over Commandos, and Guy answered that he was content to soldier on with the Halberdiers.
This he did for two blank years. A Second Brigade was formed, and Guy followed its fortunes in training, with periodic changes of quarters from Penkirk in Scotland to Brook Park in Cornwall. Home Forces no longer experienced the shocks, counter-orders, and disorders of the first two years of war. The army in the Far East now suffered as they had done. In Europe the initiative was now with the Allies. They were laboriously assembled and equipped and trained. Guy rose to be second-in-command of his battalion with the acting rank of major.
Then in August 1943 there fell on him the blow that had crushed Jumbo at Mugg: ‘I’m sorry, uncle, but I’m afraid we shan’t be taking you with us when we go to foreign parts. You’ve been invaluable in training. Don’t know what I should have done without you. But I can’t risk taking a chap of your age into action.’
‘Am I much older than you, colonel?’
‘Not much, I suppose, but I’ve spent my life in this job. If I get hit, the second-in-command will have to take over. Can’t risk it.’
‘I’d gladly come down in rank. Couldn’t I have a company? Or a platoon?’
‘Be your age, uncle. No can do. This is an order from brigade.’
The new brigadier, lately arrived from the Eighth Army, was the man to whom, briefly, Guy had been attached in West Africa when he encompassed the death of Apthorpe. On that occasion the brigadier had said: ‘I don’t want to see you again ever.’ He had fought long and hard since then and won a DSO, but throughout the dust of war he remembered Guy. Apthorpe, that brother-uncle, that ghost, laid, Guy had thought, on the island of Mugg, walked still in his porpoise boots to haunt him; the defeated lord of the thunder-box still worked his jungle magic. When a Halberdier said: ‘No can do’, it was final.
‘We shall need you for the embarkation, of course. When you’ve seen us off, take a spot of leave. After that you’re old enough to find yourself something to do. There’s always “barrack duties”, of course, or you might report to the War House to the pool of unemployed officers. There’s plenty of jobs going begging for chaps in your position.’
Guy took his leave and was at Matchet when Italy surrendered. News of the king’s flight came on the day the brigade landed at Salerno. It brought Guy some momentary exhilaration.
‘That looks like the end of the Piedmontese usurpation,’ he said to his father. ‘What a mistake the Lateran Treaty was. It seemed masterly at the time – how long? Fifteen years ago? What are fifteen years in the history of Rome? How much better it would have been if the Popes had sat it out and then emerged saying: “What was all that? Risorgimento? Garibaldi? Cavour? The House of Savoy? Mussolini? Just some hooligans from out of town causing a disturbance. Come to think of it wasn’t there once a poor little boy whom they called King of Rome?” That’s what the Pope ought to be saying today.’
Mr Crouchback regarded his son sadly. ‘My dear boy,’ he said, ‘you’re really talking the most terrible nonsense, you know. That isn’t at all what the Church is like. It isn’t what she’s for.’
They were walking along the cliffs returning at dusk to the Marine Hotel with Mr Crouchback’s retriever, ageing now, not gambolling as he used but loping behind them. Mr Crouchback had aged too, and for the first time showed concern with his own health. They fell silent, Guy disconcerted by his father’s rebuke, Mr Crouchback still, it seemed, pondering the question he had raised; for when at length he spoke it was to say: ‘Of course it’s reasonable for a soldier to rejoice in victory.’
‘I don’t think I’m interested in victory now,’ said Guy.
‘Then you’ve no business to be a soldier.’
‘Oh, I want to stay in the war. I should like to do some fighting. But it doesn’t seem to matter now who wins. When we declared war on Finland…’
He left the sentence unfinished, and his father said: ‘That sort of question isn’t for soldiers.’
As they came into sight of the hotel, he added: ‘I suppose I’m getting like a schoolmaster. Forgive me. We mustn’t quarrel. I used often to get angry with poor Ivo; and with Angela. She was rather a tiresome girl the year she came out. But I don’t think I’ve ever been angry with you.’
Matchet had changed in the last two years. The army unit for whom Monte Rosa had been cleared, had gone as quickly as they came, leaving the boarding-house empty. Its blank windows, and carpetless floors stood as a symbol of the little town’s brief popularity. Refugees from bombing returned to their former homes. Mrs Tickeridge moved to be near a school for Jenifer. The days when the Cuthberts could ‘let every room twice over’ were ended and they reluctantly found themselves obliged to be agreeable. It was not literally true, as Miss Vavasour claimed, that they ‘went down on their knees’ to keep their residents, but they did offer Mr Crouchback his former sitting room at its former price.
‘No, thank you very much,’ he had said. ‘You’ll remember I promised to take it again after the war, and unless things change very much for the worse I shall do that. Meanwhile my few sticks are in store and I don’t feel like getting them out again.’
‘Oh, we will furnish it for you, Mr Crouchback.’
‘It wouldn’t be quite the same. You make me very comfortable as I am.’
His former rent was now being paid as a weekly allowance to an unfrocked priest.
The Cuthberts were glad enough to accommodate parents visiting their sons at Our Lady of Victories and obscurely supposed that if they antagonized Mr Crouchback, he would somehow stop their coming.
Guy left next day and reported to the Halberdier barracks. He had little appetite for leave now.
Three days later a letter came from his father:
20 September 1943
My Dear Guy,
I haven’t been happy about our conversation on your last evening. I said too much or too little. Now I must say more.
Of course in the 1870s and 80s every decent Roman disliked the Piedmontese, just as the decent French now hate the Germans. They had been invaded. And, of course, most of the Romans we know kept it up, sulking. But that isn’t the Church. The Mystical Body doesn’t strike attitudes and stand on its dignity. It accepts suffering and injustice. It is ready to forgive at the first hint of compunction.
When you spoke of the Lateran Treaty did you consider how many souls may have been reconciled and have died at peace as the result of it? How many children may have been brought up in the faith who might have lived in ignorance? Quantitative judgements don’t apply. If only one soul was saved that is full compensation for any amount of loss of ‘face’.
I write like this because I am worried about you and I gather I may not live very much longer. I saw the doctor yesterday and he seemed to think I have something pretty bad the matter.
As I say, I’m worried about you. You seemed so much enlivened when you first joined the army. I know you are cut up at being left behind in England. But you mustn’t sulk.
It was not a good thing living alone and abroad. Have you thought at all about what you will do after the war? There’s the house at Broome the village calls ‘Little Hall’ – quite incorrectly. All the records refer to it simply as the ‘Lesser House’. You’ll have to live somewhere and I doubt if you’ll want to go back to the Castello even if it survives, which doesn’t seem likely the way they are bombing everything in Italy.
You see I am thinking a lot about death at the moment. Well that’s quite suitable at my age and condition.
Ever your affec. father,
When Hookforce sailed without him, Jumbo Trotter abandoned all hope of active service. He became commandant of No. 6 Transit Camp, London District, a post which required good nature, sobriety, and little else except friends of influence – in all of which qualities Jumbo was rich. He no longer bore resentment against Ben Ritchie-Hook. He accepted the fact that he was on the shelf. The threat of just such a surrender of his own condition overcast Guy.
Jumbo often took a drive to the Halberdier barracks to see what was on. There in late September he found Guy disconsolately installed as PAD officer and assistant adjutant.
‘Put in to see the Captain-Commandant,’ he advised. ‘Say there is something coming through for you any day but you have to be in London. Get posted to the “unemployed pool” and come and stay at my little place. I can make you quite comfortable.’
So Guy moved to Jumbo’s little place – Little Hall? Lesser House? – No. 6 Transit Camp, London District, and for a few days looked into the depths of the military underworld. There was a waiting-room in an outlying dependency of the War Office where daily congregated officers of all ages whose regiments and corps had no use for them.
There had been a ‘Man-power Directive’ from the highest source which enjoined that everyone in the country should be immediately employed in the ‘war-effort’. Guy was interviewed by a legless major who said: ‘You seem to have done all right. I don’t know why they’ve sent you to this outfit. First Halberdier I’ve had through my hands. What have you been up to?’
He studied the file in which was recorded all Guy’s official biography of the last four years.
‘Age,’ said Guy.
‘Thirty-nine, just rising forty. Yes, that’s old for your rank. You’re back to captain now of course. Well all I can offer at the moment is a security job at Aden and almoner at a civilian hospital. I don’t suppose either particularly appeals to you?’
‘Well, stick around. I may find something better. But they don’t look for good fellows in my office. Look about outside and see what you can find.’
And, sure enough, one evening early in October, after his third attendance on the legless major (who offered him, with undisguised irony, an administrative post in Wales at a school of air photography interpretation) he met Tommy Blackhouse once more in Bellamy’s. Tommy now had a brigade of Commandos. He was under orders to sail shortly for Italy to rehearse the Anzio landings and was keeping dead quiet about his movements. He only said, ‘Wish you’d decided to come to me, Guy.’
‘Too late now?’
‘Far too late.’
Guy explained his predicament.
‘That’s the hell of a mess.’
‘The fellow at the War Office has been very civil.’
‘Yes, but you’ll find he’ll get impatient soon. There’s a flap about man-power. They’ll suddenly pitch you into something awful. Wish I could help.’
Later that evening he said: ‘I’ve thought of something that might do as a stop-gap. I keep a liaison officer at HOO HQ. God knows what he does. Anyway I’m taking him away somewhere else. There are a few odd bodies that have got attached to me. They came under HOO. You could liaise with them for a bit if you liked.’
When Jumbo heard of it, he said: ‘Strictly speaking I suppose you aren’t “in transit” any more.’
‘I hope I am.’
‘Well, anyway, stay on here as long as you like. We’ll find a way of covering you in the returns. London District is never much trouble. All stock-brokers and wine-merchants from the Foot Guards. Awfully easy fellows to deal with.’
But it was not for this that he had dedicated himself on the sword of Roger of Waybroke that hopeful morning four years back.
In all the hosts of effigies that throng the aisles of Westminster Abbey one man only, and he a sailor, strikes a martial attitude. The men of the middle ages have sheathed their swords and composed their hands in prayer; the men of the age of reason have donned the toga. A Captain Montagu alone, in Flaxman’s posthumous statue, firmly grips his hilt, and, because they had so many greater treasures to protect, the chapter left him to stand there throughout the war unencumbered by sand bags, gazing across the lower nave as he had gazed at the ships of revolutionary France in the waters of Ushant on the day of victory and death.
His name is not well remembered and his portrait, larger than life and portly for his years, has seldom attracted the notice of sightseers. It was not his sword but another which on Friday, 29 October 1943, drew the column of fours which slowly shuffled forward from Millbank, up Great College Street, under a scarred brick wall, on which during the hours of darkness in the preceding spring a zealous, arthritic communist had emblazoned the words, SECOND FRONT NOW, until they reached the door under the blasted and bombed west window. The people of England were long habituated to queues; some had joined the procession ignorant of its end – hoping perhaps for cigarettes or shoes – but most were in a mood of devotion. In the street a few words were exchanged; no laughter.
The day was overcast, damp, misty, and still. Winter overcoats had not yet appeared. Each member of the crowd carried a respirator – valueless now, the experts secretly admitted, against any gas the enemy was likely to employ, but still the badge of a people in arms. Women predominated; here and there a service man – British, American, Polish, Dutch, French – displayed some pride of appearance; the civilians were shabby and grubby. Some, for it was their lunch hour, munched Woolton pies; others sucked cigarettes made of the sweepings of canteen floors. Bombing had ceased for the time being but the livery of air-raid shelter remained the national dress. As they reached the abbey church, which many were entering for the first time in their lives, all fell quite silent as though they were approaching a corpse lying in state.
The sword they had come to see stood upright between two candles, on a table counterfeiting an altar. Policemen guarded it on either side. It had been made at the King’s command as a gift to ‘the steel-hearted people of Stalingrad’. An octogenarian, who had made ceremonial swords for five sovereigns, rose from his bed to forge it; silver, gold, rock-crystal, and enamel had gone to its embellishment. In this year of the Sten gun it was a notable weapon and was first exhibited as a feat of craftsmanship at Goldsmith’s Hall and at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Some few took comfort at this evidence that ancient skills survived behind the shoddy improvisation of the present. It was not thus that it affected the hearts of the people. Every day the wireless announced great Russian victories while the British advance in Italy was coming to a halt. The people were suffused with gratitude to their remote allies and they venerated the sword as the symbol of their own generous and spontaneous emotion.
The newspapers and the Ministry of Information caught on. The Times ‘dropped into poetry’.
…I saw the Sword of Stalingrad,
Then bow’d down my head from the Light of it,
Spirit to my spirit, the Might of it
Silently whispered – O Mortal, Behold…
I am the Life of Stalingrad,
You and its people shall unite in me,
Men yet unborn, in the great Light in me
Triumphs shall sing when my Story is told.
The gossip-writer of the Daily Express suggested it should be sent round the kingdom. Cardiff, Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Glasgow, and Edinburgh paid it secular honours in their Art Galleries and Guild Halls. Now, back from its tour, it reached its apotheosis, exposed for adoration hard by the shrine of St Edward the Confessor and the sacring place of the kings of England.
Guy Crouchback drove past the line of devotees on his way to luncheon. Unmoved by the popular enthusiasm for the triumphs of ‘Joe’ Stalin, who now qualified for the name of ‘uncle’, as Guy had done and Apthorpe, he was not tempted to join them in their piety. 29 October 1943 had another and more sombre significance for him. It was his fortieth birthday and to celebrate the occasion he had asked Jumbo Trotter to luncheon.
It was through Jumbo’s offices that he now sat at east behind a FANNY
- "The quality of the writing is, throughout, superb, and confirms my belief that Mr. Waugh is the best living writer of English prose."—Bernard Bergonzi, Guardian
- "What Parade's End, Ford Madox Ford's great work, was to World War I, Evelyn Waugh's 'Sword of Honour' trilogy is to World War II."—Herbert A. Kenny, Boston Globe
- "The wit endures; at full strength, wit is rage made bearable, and useful....Waugh's military trilogy has much to recommend it."—Gore Vidal, New York Times Book Review
- "The importance of Unconditional Surrender lies not so much in itself (beautifully organized and written and hypnotically readable as it is) as in its contribution to the pattern of the trilogy....The complete work now clearly emerges as Mr. Waugh's main achievement to date, and the one piece of English fiction about the 1939-45 War which is certain to survive."—Times Literary Supplement
- On Sale
- Dec 11, 2012
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Little, Brown and Company