Though nearer to forty than thirty when the Second World War began, Evelyn Waugh deliberately chose branches of the army where he was most likely to be exposed to great danger – serving in the Royal Marines and later as a commando, where his commanding officer reportedly described him as one of the bravest officers he had known, albeit adding that he had felt it necessary to make him intelligence officer rather than troop leader lest he be shot by his own men. Captain Waugh’s supposed inability to get on with his soldiers is one of several myths that In the Picture, a study containing separate sections by each of the two co-authors, seeks to dispel. The principal debunker is the tenacious Australian professor Donat Gallagher, a Waugh scholar of more than fifty years’ standing. While Carlos Villar Flor (a Spanish translator of Waugh) examines the extent to which Guy Crouchback’s itinerary in Sword of Honour follows Waugh’s own wartime career, Gallagher challenges detractors as various as Lord Lovat, Christopher Sykes and Antony Beevor for peddling what he maintains are a series of fundamental misrepresentations of Waugh’s military conduct, and then raps the knuckles of subsequent biographers for following their versions too blindly.
Gallagher acknowledges that there were times when Waugh ‘got backs up’ among his troops and senior officers, a by-product, Gallagher suggests, of his being ‘mildly manic depressive’ and possessed of ‘an explosive temper, a wide-ranging scepticism and sense of the ridiculous that made him question – aloud – the incidentals