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Could Ivor Claire be Lord Lovat? Could Diana Cooper be wrong?

In an interview with Jeffrey Heath, Diana Cooper said that Ivor Claire "was modelled on 'Shimi' Lovat." [1] Captain Ivor Claire is the attractive upper-class officer and horseman in Sword of Honour who, during the evacuation of Crete from Sphakia in 1941, disobeys orders to remain behind, abandons his men, bluffs his way onto a boat and escapes to Egypt. [2] "Shimi" Lovat was Lt Colonel Simon Fraser, 15th or 17th Lord Lovat and MacShimi of the Fraser Clan who, when deputizing for Brigadier Robert (Bob) Laycock, Commanding Officer of the Special Service Brigade, forced Waugh out of the Brigade in humiliating circumstances. [3] Waugh, therefore, had a motive for identifying Lord Lovat with the dishonourable fictional character, Ivor Claire. He undoubtedly portrays Lovat as the clownish and cowardly Trimmer/McTavish in Sword of Honour, [4] but does Waugh also identify Lovat with Ivor Claire? An affirmative answer is inherently improbable, because Lovat was never in the Battle of Crete, let alone in the evacuation from Sphakia where Ivor Claire disgraces himself.

But could Diana Cooper have been wrong about this matter? After all, she was Waugh's closest friend and the acknowledged model for Julia Stitch, the character who in Sword of Honour "rallies round" her guilty friend Ivor Claire: she spirits him away to India, manipulates Guy back to England (to keep both out of reach of the authorities), and destroys an envelope containing a dead soldier's name tag believing it to be evidence that could convict Claire (SH 525-27). Waugh was uncomfortable about making Mrs Stitch act so unscrupulously, lest his character's misconduct reflect on her "model," Diana Cooper, and he wrote to Lady Diana: "I have finished [Officers and Gentlemen] and it is O.K. although Mrs Stitch rather lapses from her high original and becomes a sort of Cleopatra of intrigue (not amorous)." He offers to omit the potentially offensive characterization. [5] Lady Diana claimed not to be concerned about Mrs Stitch's actions and told Waugh: "But Evelyn, it is exactly what I would have done." [6] In such circumstances it is plausible that Waugh confided to Lady Diana that Ivor Claire was meant to reflect Lovat; and, in consequence, what Lady Diana related to Professor Heath was probably reliable. Perhaps; but then again, perhaps not, for Lady Diana's memory and her knowledge of Waugh's writings could (at least on occasion) be far from perfect. [7] It is therefore advisable to seek evidence further afield.

A useful first question might be: Did Waugh give to his character Ivor Claire some feature or features unique to Lord Lovat? A preliminary answer is that Waugh did incorporate in Ivor Claire's characterization an event that seems to echo a famous exploit of Lovat; and that he gave Claire an intense passion for horsemanship that could reflect Lovat's--but then any number of upper-class British officers of that time were passionate equestrians.

The first parallel between Lovat and Ivor Claire involves the creative use of buses. In March 1941, British Commandos raided the Lofoten Islands, off the coast of Norway. It was one of the most successful raids of the war and is well described by Charles Messenger in The Commandos 1941-1946. [8] The landing was unexpected and virtually unopposed: the raiders, more or less at will, sank ships, blew up factories producing fish oil used in the manufacture of explosives, destroyed installations, took prisoners and evacuated Norwegians eager to join the war against Germany. The victory was so easy that some British officers played pranks. As the post office was functioning, one sent a telegram to Hitler asking: "Where are your troops?" Lovat also showed quirky initiative. Deputed to capture the seaplane base and its staff, he and his detachment appropriated a local bus and drove into the base undetected. As Messenger puts it, "Lovat and his men took a bus to the seaplane base and captured the staff." The incident blossomed into farce when the German commander "complained of [Lovat's] unwarlike behaviour and said that he would report it to the Fuhrer." The bus, says Charles Messenger, "passed

into Commando folklore."

The question now arises: Did the incident just described inspire the episode in Sword of Honour in which Ivor Claire uses a bus during a night exercise? Or to put it another way, when Waugh was characterizing Ivor Claire, did he attach Lovat's bus exploit to Claire as a means of attaching Claire's dishonour to Lovat?

On a bitterly cold night, several Troops of Colonel Tommy Blackhouse's Commando are engaged in an exercise on the rugged island of Mugg (SH355-57). The aim of the exercise is to reach a destination by crossing rough country in the dark. But Ivor Claire and his Troop avoid the cold and discomfort of the exercise by hiring a bus ("captured transport") and travelling to their destination by road. Colonel Blackhouse and the other Troop leaders are not amused. Summoned to explain his actions, Claire glibly pleads "Commando initiative" and successfully argues that "nothing in orders" precluded his action. Despite this "win," a "marked coldness" develops between Claire and the other Troop leaders, and this coldness throws Claire and Crouchback, two very dissimilar people, together. They become friends. This point needs making because any identification of Lovat with Claire that might result from the bus is secondary to the thematic functions of the incident.

Another parallel between Lovat and Claire involves horsemanship. Before his fall from grace, apart from his epicene elegance and his lapdog Freda, Claire's most noticeable feature is equestrian skill. At Capetown on the way to the Middle East, Ivor is recognized as a successful international competitor and reveals that he "hasn't thought of anything much except horses ... for the last six weeks" (SH 380-81). Guy remembers him in the Borghese Gardens, "putting his horse faultlessly over the jumps, concentrated as a nun in prayer" (SH 385-86). In his memoir March Past, Lovat admits that "the best of my fun I owe to horse and hound," [9] while Chapters 7 and 8 of the memoir are devoted exclusively to the Oxford Cavalry Regiment, still in possession of its horses. Throughout March Past Lovat makes it obvious that he is an extremely keen and accomplished rider as well as a knowledgeable breeder of thoroughbreds. A wound incurred after D-Day made it impossible for him to ride, and this was a very severe deprivation.

Is the passion for horses shared by Lovat and Claire an intentional parallel? And if the parallel is intended, is it meant to make Claire's dishonour rub off on Lovat?

Professor Heath adopts a judicious approach to Diana Cooper's claim that Ivor Claire is modelled on Lovat. Persuaded--quite mistakenly, I believe--that there is much to be said for the contention that "Ivor Claire is based on Sir Robert Laycock," Heath concludes: "At the very least it is likely that Claire is a composite of Laycock and Lovat" (240). Do the bus and horsemanship parallels pointed out above reinforce Professor Heath's partial identification of Lovat and Claire? No conclusive answer to the question seems possible, but certain considerations need to be taken into account.

In the first place, there is no requirement that Ivor Claire reflect a particular person. By definition he is emblematic, the embodiment of "quintessential England, the man Hitler had not taken into account" and "the fine flower" of all the Commandos. In many respects he "is" upper-class England at its most attractive (SH 386). But on the last night of the evacuation of Crete from Sphakia, during a discussion with Guy about "honour," Claire glibly rationalizes disregard of orders; he then shirks the uphill path to honour. Instead, he disobeys orders, deserts his men and takes the downhill path to the boats and dishonour (SH 507-09). Within the structure of the novel, as I read it, Claire's choosing dishonour prefigures in a minor key England's "blundering into dishonour" when she chooses the easy road of unconditional alliance with the Soviet Union, the joint aggressor with Nazi Germany against Poland (SH 530-32). The Soviet Union also annexed the Baltic States and invaded Finland. Guy is devastated to find England agreeing, on entering the Soviet alliance, to declare war on Finland (SH 545). Ivor Claire's moral failure points to the fatal moral and intellectual weakness of the British Ruling Class.

But does Ivor Claire resemble a particular person as well as the Ruling Class? Dan Davin, who wrote the Official New Zealand history of the Crete campaign, [10] received information from a member of Layforce Headquarters on Crete, Anthony Cheetham. Like Waugh (Diaries 507), Cheetham mentions three colleagues who "disappeared" from Headquarters and "were not seen again until Alexandria." Davin pencilled above the name of an officer from a fashionable regiment: "Ivor Claire?" [11] (As an aside, every British War Diary from the Crete campaign I have read mentions at least one officer who acted somewhat like Claire.)

Many commentators, including Professor Heath, claim that Ivor Claire's desertion and Guy's burning the evidence of the crime in Sword of Honour obliquely create the moral equivalent of Laycock's manner of leaving Crete and Waugh's alleged falsifying of the Layforce War Diary to justify it. More than enough has been written on this subject, which is tangential to the present topic. [12] Suffice to say here, briefly, that I reject the argument, because the situations of Captain Claire and Colonel Laycock (functioning as a Brigadier) were quite different. Laycock commanded a Brigade. And like all other commanders of Brigades on Crete, he and his Headquarters staff were expressly permitted to leave the island. Moreover, the Commanding Officers of higher formations such as brigades are not necessarily expected to remain behind with their troops. Ivor Claire, by contrast, is a Captain in command of a Troop, and convention strongly demands that he go into captivity with his men; as well, Claire has been ordered to remain behind. As for suppressing evidence, Guy Crouchback, in a moment of profound disillusion following the Russian alliance, finds himself in a world in which Justice no longer matters; his lonely, idiosyncratic conviction that Justice requires Claire to be prosecuted therefore evaporates, and he burns a notebook containing evidence that could have convicted Claire (SH 532). Waugh had no need to falsify the Layforce War Diary because there was no crime to cover up.

Could, then, Ivor Claire really "be" Lovat, who was never on Crete, let alone at Sphakia on the last night of the evacuation? Perhaps. Diana Cooper's identification of Claire with Lovat must carry weight, especially because Professor Heath, who interviewed Lady Diana and presumably discussed the matter, took her claim seriously. Claire's creatively travelling by bus instead of traversing rugged country at night could, possibly, be mere coincidence, although it is unlikely that Waugh would not have known the Commando "folklore" related to Lovat. Again, the bus exploit might also be no more than a convenient way of setting up Claire as "fly"--the sort of man who takes responsibility very lightly and shows great skill in evading his duty.

But finally it is just possible that Waugh did have Lovat in mind when he made Claire take a bus instead of travel across country at night, and when he made him an equestrian of note; and that Claire's dishonour taints Lovat. But how could this be if Lovat was never on Crete? Paul Johnson has argued that "central to the original concept of [Sword of Honour] was the theme of betrayal," and he cites the example of "Ivor Claire's dereliction of duty."[13] It is conceivable that Waugh associated Lovat with Claire in this general sense, because he (quite correctly) regarded Lovat's conduct when forcing him out of the Special Service Brigade as deceitful and unscrupulous. The story of this incident is long and unpleasant, and it will be told in full elsewhere. Suffice to say here that Lt Colonel Lovat, when deputizing for his Commanding Officer, Brigadier Laycock, seriously misrepresented to Waugh the orders Laycock had given in his regard; he also took a farrago of complaints about Waugh to the Vice Chief of Combined Operations, some of which were demonstrably false.

Lovat was the eldest son of one of the oldest aristocratic families in the British Isles, heir to vast acres and Beaufort Castle, a war hero, a magnificent horseman and a Catholic to boot. Waugh had reason to know that beneath the glamour of Lovat's public reputation there lay a streak of strangely mindless, almost wanton, amoralism. It is not beyond imagining that when creating Ivor Claire he incorporated Lovat's bus exploit and horsemanship as nods to the knowing that Lovat shared Claire's dishonour.


[1] Jeffrey Heath, The Picturesque Prison: Evelyn Waugh and His Writing (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1982), 240. Subsequent references will be made parenthetically to Heath.

[2] Evelyn Waugh, Sword of Honour: The Final Version of the Novels Men at Arms (1952), Officers and Gentlemen (1955) and Unconditional Surrender (1961) (London: Chapman & Hall, 1965), 506-09, 522-25. N.B.: To avoid confusing fiction with fact: (a) in Sword of Honour, Hookforce (Ivor Claire's unit) has orders to remain behind on Crete; but (b) in 1941, Layforce, a Commando brigade, did NOT have orders to remain behind on Crete. (This essay refers to the 1965 recension Sword of Honour. References will be made parenthetically to SH.)

[3] Evelyn Waugh, The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976), 539-45.

[4] Donat Gallagher, "'I am Trimmer, you know ...': Lord Lovat in Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour," Evelyn Waugh Newsletter and Studies 41.2 (Autumn 2010).

[5] Artemis Cooper, ed., Mr Wu and Mrs Stitch: The Letters of Evelyn Waugh and Diana Cooper, 1932-1966 (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1991), 200.

[6] Qtd. in Jacqueline McDonnell, Waugh on Women (London: Duckworth, 1986), 196.

[7] In an interview in the early 1980s, when Lady Diana was quite old but still charming, this writer found her knowledge of Waugh's writings very shaky indeed. Professor Heath interviewed Lady Diana much earlier.

[8] Charles Messenger, The Commandos 1941-1946 (London: William Kimber, 1985), 46-47.

[9] Lord Lovat, March Past: A Memoir (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1978),12.

[10] Dan Davin, Crete: Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939-1945 (Wellington: War History Branch with Oxford University Press, 1953).

[11] Anthony Cheetham, undated letter to Davin, D. M. Davin (Davin Papers), Crete Correspondence, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ (ATL).

[12] Antony Beevor, Crete: The Battle and the Resistance (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992), 218-23; 'The First Casualty of Waugh,' Spectator, 6 April 1991: 25-26. Donat Gallagher, "Sir Robert Laycock, Antony Beevor and the Evacuation of Crete from Sphakia," Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 78 (2000): 38-55. (Maj. Gen.) Julian Thompson, The Royal Marines: From Sea Soldiers to a Special Force (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 2000), 260-61. Donat Gallagher, "Misfire: Reassessing the Legacy of General Robert Laycock," RUSI [Royal United Services Institute] Journal 153.1 (Feb. 2008): 80-89.

[13] Paul Johnson, 'In Sword of Honour truth is stranger than fiction; more painful too,' Spectator, 13 Jan. 2001: 27; Charles Maclean, 'Letters,' Spectator, 20 Jan. 2001: 26.

Donat Gallagher

James Cook University
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Author:Gallagher, Donat
Publication:Evelyn Waugh Studies
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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