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Men at Arms

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Guy Crouchback, determined to get into the war, takes a commission in the Royal Corps of Halberdiers. His spirits high, he sees all the trimmings but none of the action. And his first campaign, an abortive affair on the West African coastline, ends with an escapade which seriously blots his Halberdier copybook. Men at Arms is the first book in Waugh's brilliant trilogy, Sw Guy Crouchback, determined to get into the war, takes a commission in the Royal Corps of Halberdiers. His spirits high, he sees all the trimmings but none of the action. And his first campaign, an abortive affair on the West African coastline, ends with an escapade which seriously blots his Halberdier copybook. Men at Arms is the first book in Waugh's brilliant trilogy, Sword of Honour, which chronicles the fortunes of Guy Crouchback. The second and third volumes, Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender, are also published in Penguin Modern Classics.


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Guy Crouchback, determined to get into the war, takes a commission in the Royal Corps of Halberdiers. His spirits high, he sees all the trimmings but none of the action. And his first campaign, an abortive affair on the West African coastline, ends with an escapade which seriously blots his Halberdier copybook. Men at Arms is the first book in Waugh's brilliant trilogy, Sw Guy Crouchback, determined to get into the war, takes a commission in the Royal Corps of Halberdiers. His spirits high, he sees all the trimmings but none of the action. And his first campaign, an abortive affair on the West African coastline, ends with an escapade which seriously blots his Halberdier copybook. Men at Arms is the first book in Waugh's brilliant trilogy, Sword of Honour, which chronicles the fortunes of Guy Crouchback. The second and third volumes, Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender, are also published in Penguin Modern Classics.

30 review for Men at Arms

  1. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    The best way to describe this book in a word or two is to ask you to imagine M*A*S*H played out with aristocratic gentlemen and high ranking but inept military figures in a British milieu. Less plebeian, more posh, a bit more sophisticated--quite simply British rather than American. It offers a sharp criticism of war and of the military. Isn’t it better to deliver a message through humor rather than through a didactic sermon or a lecture? The humor is a mix of satire with a message and simple, l The best way to describe this book in a word or two is to ask you to imagine M*A*S*H played out with aristocratic gentlemen and high ranking but inept military figures in a British milieu. Less plebeian, more posh, a bit more sophisticated--quite simply British rather than American. It offers a sharp criticism of war and of the military. Isn’t it better to deliver a message through humor rather than through a didactic sermon or a lecture? The humor is a mix of satire with a message and simple, laugh out loud amusing scenarios. I am sure you are going to crack a smile when you read about officer Apthorpe’s “thunderbox”. You don’t know what a “thunderbox” is? Figuring this out is part of the fun! British idioms abound. For the most part, they are not difficult to get a handle on from the context. Men at Arms is the first of a trilogy, the second and the third being Officers and Gentlemen followed by Unconditional Surrender. In 1965 the three were revised and collected into a one volume edition--The Sword of Honour Trilogy. It is this version Waugh recommended. It was not available to me. The books are a fictionalized version of Waugh’s experiences during the Second World War. The three stories belong together; stopping somewhere in the middle is not an alternative. It is impossible to accurately rate the first book separately, but at this point I have opted out for three stars. I like it enough to want to continue. I sense the beginning of a change in the central figure’s personality. I am curious to see where this will lead. Christian Rodska narrates the three separate audiobooks. He dramatizes. He dramatizes in spades. At times, the dramatization is superb; I like how he performs the lines of Apthorpe, referred to above, and Guy, the central character and substitute for Waugh. Other military figures are blatantly exaggerated to further enhance the satire. This is not always pleasant to listen to. The listening experience is, on the other hand, immersive, if that is what you are looking for. Some words are impossible to decipher no matter how many times you rewind and relisten. The narration I have given three stars. On concluding this, I have immediately begun the next in the series. ***********************' *Brideshead Revisited 4 stars *Decline and Fall 3 stars *A Handful of Dust 2 stars The Sword of Honour Trilogy or *Men at Arms 3 stars *Officers and Gentlemen 2 stars *Unconditional Surrender not-for-me *Scoop TBR

  2. 5 out of 5

    James

    ‘Men at Arms’ (1952) by Evelyn Waugh is the first part of Waugh’s ‘Sword of Honour’ trilogy of books (along with ‘Officers and Gentlemen’ and ‘Unconditional Surrender’). ‘Men at Arms’ tells the story of Guy Crouchback and his endeavours to, in his way – play his part, do his bit and get actively involved in World War II and The British Army. Unfortunately, I struggled to engage with either the narrative or the main protagonist. ‘Men at Arms’ is a novel that reads, at least for the most part, as ‘Men at Arms’ (1952) by Evelyn Waugh is the first part of Waugh’s ‘Sword of Honour’ trilogy of books (along with ‘Officers and Gentlemen’ and ‘Unconditional Surrender’). ‘Men at Arms’ tells the story of Guy Crouchback and his endeavours to, in his way – play his part, do his bit and get actively involved in World War II and The British Army. Unfortunately, I struggled to engage with either the narrative or the main protagonist. ‘Men at Arms’ is a novel that reads, at least for the most part, as a somewhat uninspiring, pedestrian and underwhelming story of an over-privileged member of upper class English society – playing at war, playing with an honourable view of being a soldier, a member of The British Army; trying to play his part and do his bit. Eventually, Crouchback is commissioned into the fictional Royal Corp of Halberdiers, which seemingly operates in turns more along the lines of a gentleman’s club; an old boy’s network or a minor public school. (I am presuming that is probably the intention?). In the course of Crouchback’s military endeavours to do his bit – he finds himself regularly lost and somewhat out of his depth. Apparently Waugh’s ‘Sword of Honour’ trilogy is deemed to be a ‘satirical masterpiece’ – which unfortunately for me (at least based on this first instalment) it was not. Sadly, ‘Men at Arms’ lacked any real interest and was ultimately tedious and uninspiring more or less throughout. Over and above the somewhat dull central story of Crouchbacks attempts to ‘play his part’ – the core of the novel seems to focus tediously on the inadequacies and the poorly managed logistics concerning The British Army at that time, along with the interests of those therein. Disappointingly, ‘Men at Arms’ doesn’t entertain, amuse, inspire, excite or even greatly interest; neither does it paint an insightful and wisely satirical portrait of either our main protagonist, The British Army, the British ‘war effort’ or Britain and its class/social structures at that time. Mildly diverting at best – disappointing to say the least. On this basis I have no plans to read the remaining instalments in the trilogy, but do however still hold out high hope of Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cecily

    Part 1 of Sword of Honour. What fun - a bit like a cross between MASH, PG Wodehouse and Brideshead! An upper class British Catholic divorcé leaves his home in Italy at the start of WW2 to try to join the army, and eventually succeeds. The story is populated by quirky characters and strange coincidences, with glimpses of poignancy. Most of the characters are in a perpetual state of genial incomprehension and incompetence. Waugh served in WW2 and if his experience was anything like what was described, Part 1 of Sword of Honour. What fun - a bit like a cross between MASH, PG Wodehouse and Brideshead! An upper class British Catholic divorcé leaves his home in Italy at the start of WW2 to try to join the army, and eventually succeeds. The story is populated by quirky characters and strange coincidences, with glimpses of poignancy. Most of the characters are in a perpetual state of genial incomprehension and incompetence. Waugh served in WW2 and if his experience was anything like what was described, it's amazing that we won. However, there are clearly some parallels, as the book is peppered with mentions of specific dates and events (helpfully explained in footnotes, in my edition). Apthorpe's too literal "thunderbox", the old colonel that should have retired but no one quite wants to tell him he's not needed any more, bizarre and nonsensical bureaucracy, all beautifully written. And best of all, there are two sequels - let's hope they're as good. My (brief) reviews of the other two in the trilogy: Officers and Gentlement and Unconditional Surrender

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brendan Hodge

    If you, like me, have been reared on tales of the second World War as the just and virtuous struggle of the "greatest generation", Evelyn Waugh's arch novels (based loosely on his own war experiences) are an important and darkly enjoyable filling out of that two-dimensional view. The stakes here are still high. But the inevitable absurdities and inhumanities of a huge bureaucracy trying to lurch itself into action is here too. As the first novel of the Sword of Honor trilogy nears its climax, of If you, like me, have been reared on tales of the second World War as the just and virtuous struggle of the "greatest generation", Evelyn Waugh's arch novels (based loosely on his own war experiences) are an important and darkly enjoyable filling out of that two-dimensional view. The stakes here are still high. But the inevitable absurdities and inhumanities of a huge bureaucracy trying to lurch itself into action is here too. As the first novel of the Sword of Honor trilogy nears its climax, officers in the regiment are engaged in a life-and-death struggle for property rights over a portable Victorian chemical toilet while (as Waugh notes several times through the book) "Far away, trains rolled to the east with their innocent cargo."

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sebastian

    After having been somewhat underwhelmed with Waugh's Decline and Fall, I had modest expectations for Men at Arms, but I ended up really enjoying it, and anticipate reading the last two books of the Sword of Honour (no omitting U's, please, we're British) trilogy. Full of dry and absurd humor, and infused with the gravity of World War II, the book follows in serial form the misadventures of our protagonist, Guy Crouchback, as he transitions from dreaming of playing solider to facing the daily mun After having been somewhat underwhelmed with Waugh's Decline and Fall, I had modest expectations for Men at Arms, but I ended up really enjoying it, and anticipate reading the last two books of the Sword of Honour (no omitting U's, please, we're British) trilogy. Full of dry and absurd humor, and infused with the gravity of World War II, the book follows in serial form the misadventures of our protagonist, Guy Crouchback, as he transitions from dreaming of playing solider to facing the daily mundanity and drudgery, interspersed with the occasional thrill, of life in the military. Seems pretty quintessentially British -- imperialism, stiff upper lip, the whole bit. I'm tickled to be reading the same paperback copy that my mom had in college. Hope I can pass down some books like this one day. Entertaining, well written and engaging.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    The ‘Sword of Honour’ is a World War Two trilogy that wonderfully evokes time and place and the delightful insouciance of its central character, Guy Crouchback makes him a reliable narrator. The series chronicles many aspects of war not necessarily visible in other WW2 writings, like the way the British class system played out in separating the officers from the rank and file, and occasioned the setting up of hierarchical structures in the British Army negating much of its efficacy as a fighting The ‘Sword of Honour’ is a World War Two trilogy that wonderfully evokes time and place and the delightful insouciance of its central character, Guy Crouchback makes him a reliable narrator. The series chronicles many aspects of war not necessarily visible in other WW2 writings, like the way the British class system played out in separating the officers from the rank and file, and occasioned the setting up of hierarchical structures in the British Army negating much of its efficacy as a fighting unit. So much of Evelyn Waugh’s wonderful writing is founded on his characterisation based upon acute observation of amusing and bizarre personalities. Waugh’s own diaries show his personal life was chaotic with a failed marriage behind him after being cuckolded by a beautiful society wife, and an awkwardness with his own children, and his utter contempt for so many of his 'set'. He was himself cantankerous, mischievous, and spiteful, and he merely played at being a country gentlemen, although his family was of ancient lineage, and was 'disowned' by many of his associates and acquaintances. And his writing in ‘Men at Arms’ is, as usual, as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel; withering and scathing in pointing out pomposity and bunkum. In Bellamy’s, his London club, we learn of Guy’s matrimonial difficulties in choosing Virginia, a ‘wrong-un’ who proved to be a ‘bolter’ ... ‘As Guy passed a member who greeted him another turned and asked : “Who was that ? Someone new isn’t it?” ‘No, he’s belonged for ages. You’ll never guess who he is. Virginia Troy’s first husband.’ ‘Really? I thought she was married to Tommy Blackhouse.’ ‘This chap was before Tommy. Can’t remember his name. I think he lives in Kenya. Tommy took her from him, then Gussie had her for a bit, then Bert Troy picked her up when she was going spare.’

  7. 4 out of 5

    Roger Burk

    Pious, innocuous, nebbishy Guy Crouchback, last scion of an ancient and undistinguished Catholic family of the English landed gentry, decides to join the war effort in 1939 as a second lieutenant, despite his middle age and lack of military experience. It gives some purpose to his life, after his wife abandoned him for a series of subsequent exciting husbands. He has some trouble finding a regiment that will take him, but finally gets into officer training with the Royal Corps of Halberdiers. He Pious, innocuous, nebbishy Guy Crouchback, last scion of an ancient and undistinguished Catholic family of the English landed gentry, decides to join the war effort in 1939 as a second lieutenant, despite his middle age and lack of military experience. It gives some purpose to his life, after his wife abandoned him for a series of subsequent exciting husbands. He has some trouble finding a regiment that will take him, but finally gets into officer training with the Royal Corps of Halberdiers. He earnestly tries to do everything right, while his fellow and foil Apthorpe gets into all kinds of preposterous scraps. It's all inexplicable training, orders and counterorders, hasty movements followed by days of waiting, as the military situation in faraway France goes from phony war to retreat to disaster. Finally the regiment ships out to see some action, of sorts. Guy distinguishes himself, in a way, and always tells the truth. Appalling, enthralling, and funny. Before there was Heller or Vonnegut, there was Waugh, just as amusing but without the bitterness.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Quite unlike any other book about WWII that I have read. A bit dry at times but also extremely funny. While I didn't care terribly much for the character of Guy Crouchback, I found him a bit of a depressing bore, the book was saved by the antics of Apthorpe. The thunder box incident is probably the most entertaining and memorable thing I have read in a long time.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    The best thing about finishing this book is knowing that, as the first in a trilogy, I can take the next two off my TBR and make room for other books.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Issicratea

    I started reading this inspired by a good Channel 4 dramatization of Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy, starring Daniel Craig. I hadn’t read it before, though Waugh’s hilarious manic early novels were formative reading for me. I didn’t get on particularly well with Brideshead Revisited and assumed I only liked Waugh in his most straightwardly comic mode. I was wrong! Men of Arms, which I read in the slightly modified version Waugh prepared in 1965 for the single-volume The Sword of Honour Trilogy, I started reading this inspired by a good Channel 4 dramatization of Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy, starring Daniel Craig. I hadn’t read it before, though Waugh’s hilarious manic early novels were formative reading for me. I didn’t get on particularly well with Brideshead Revisited and assumed I only liked Waugh in his most straightwardly comic mode. I was wrong! Men of Arms, which I read in the slightly modified version Waugh prepared in 1965 for the single-volume The Sword of Honour Trilogy, is an immensely enjoyable read. There’s undoubtedly a certain somberness to the narrative material. The protagonist—emphatically not “hero”—Guy Crouchback, is mildly depressed at the beginning of the novel, which starts with the outbreak of WW2 in 1939. Despite his initial embrace of the war as supplying meaning to his life, and his rather touching, schoolboy-crush feeling of warmth towards the regiment he joins, the fictional Royal Corps of Halbadiers (apparently loosely based on Waugh’s own regiment, the Royal Marines), the relationship is already deteriorating by the end of the novel, with a fair prospect of worse to come. Guy’s military training is presented as a rather surreal chapter of accidents, begotten by bureaucratic inefficiency out of borderline lunacy. Rules are followed, social niceties observed, pink gins consumed, myopic target practice endured, while inconceivable savagery is unleashed in continental Europe, not so far away. At a couple of points, Waugh reminds us of the “trains of locked vans still rolling East and West from Poland and the Baltic, that were to roll on year after year bearing their innocent loads to unknown ghastly destinations” (I assume the moral equivalency of the Nazi death camps and the Soviet gulags was an important statement on Waugh’s part at the moment of publication). Given this generally miserable subject-matter, what I was amazed by was what an enjoyable read it was. Men at Arms has a large component of the antic spirit that is such a delight in Waugh’s earlier novels. Guy’s eccentric training comrade Apthorpe, a master of the surreal non-sequitur, is a magnificent comic character. I am not the greatest fan of toilet humor, but the extended sequence concerning Apthorpe’s battle with a mad-dog brigadier over possession of an Edwardian portable “thunderbox” is a masterpiece of its kind. The brigadier, Ben Ritchie-Hook, with his manic energy and sinister relish for “biffing” (a.k.a war) is also very fine (though Waugh had some help with reality here. The Wikipedia entry for the figure on whom this character is supposed to be based, Lieutenant General Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart, states that he was “shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip and ear, survived a plane crash, tunneled out of a POW camp, and bit off his own fingers when a doctor wouldn't amputate them. He later said ‘frankly I … enjoyed the war.’”) There were so many lines in this novel that made me laugh out loud that it seems invidious to single out one. But I did particularly love this acute Freudian insight, from an army doctor in Africa, where the disturbing final section of the novel is set: Queer bird, the mind. Hides things away and then out they pop. But I musn’t get too technical.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    Maybe even 4.5*! The dark humor of this novel, the first in Waugh's Sword of Honor trilogy, struck me as quite similar to that in M*A*S*H. The eccentricities of Guy's fellow officers, the stupidities of some aspects of military life, etc. In some ways, this is the first of Waugh's books that successfully combined his satire with his more serious thoughts about life as a Catholic Englishman. Christian Rodska does an excellent job narrating the book. I especially liked his voice for Apthorpe.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    "But whether orders made sense or not de Souza could be trusted to carry them out. Indeed he seemed to find a curious private pleasure in doing something he knew to be absurd, with minute efficiency. The other officer, Jervis, needed constant supervision." Waugh's light, comic touch is always welcome. But here, I can't help but compare this to Anthony Powell's magnificent 12-volume saga (A Dance to the Music of Time) of both wars in which the English are caught up in recuperating from the first "But whether orders made sense or not de Souza could be trusted to carry them out. Indeed he seemed to find a curious private pleasure in doing something he knew to be absurd, with minute efficiency. The other officer, Jervis, needed constant supervision." Waugh's light, comic touch is always welcome. But here, I can't help but compare this to Anthony Powell's magnificent 12-volume saga (A Dance to the Music of Time) of both wars in which the English are caught up in recuperating from the first war and at the same time ramping up for the next one. Still, I'm definitely going to read the next two in this "Sword of Honor" trilogy.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    Winner of the 1952 James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Britain’s oldest literary award, Men At Arms is the first part of Waugh’s The Sword of Honour Trilogy , his look at the Second World War. It follows Guy Crouchback, the nearly-forty-year-old son of an English aristocratic family who manages to get accepted to officers training in the early part of 1940, and is eventually posted to Dakar in Senegal West Africa. While there, he inadvertently poisons one of his fellow officers and is sent home in Winner of the 1952 James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Britain’s oldest literary award, Men At Arms is the first part of Waugh’s The Sword of Honour Trilogy , his look at the Second World War. It follows Guy Crouchback, the nearly-forty-year-old son of an English aristocratic family who manages to get accepted to officers training in the early part of 1940, and is eventually posted to Dakar in Senegal West Africa. While there, he inadvertently poisons one of his fellow officers and is sent home in disgrace. That’s about all the plot there is. But the book was interesting for its look at British officers’ instruction in WWII, in contrast with other reading I’ve done which focuses on the training of rank and file soldiers, and for the insight into the chaos that was the British Army in the early part of the war: “The brigade resumed its old duty of standing by for orders.” Waugh’s wickedly dry sense of humour is brilliant. Read this if: you’re a fan of Downton Abbey – different war, but same country and class; or you love the subtle humour of traditional British writers. 3½ stars

  14. 4 out of 5

    Patrick McCoy

    I am very found of Evelyn Waugh's writing and this year I have decided to tackle the Sword of Honor trilogy, and I have just finished the first volume, Men At Arms (1952). It is the story of 35 year old Guy Crouchback's enlistment into the military at the start of World War II. It is said to have been based on Waugh's own experiences as an older man enlisting. It is something of a British "Catch-22" in the satire and absurdities of the military. That being said it is almost more the story of Cro I am very found of Evelyn Waugh's writing and this year I have decided to tackle the Sword of Honor trilogy, and I have just finished the first volume, Men At Arms (1952). It is the story of 35 year old Guy Crouchback's enlistment into the military at the start of World War II. It is said to have been based on Waugh's own experiences as an older man enlisting. It is something of a British "Catch-22" in the satire and absurdities of the military. That being said it is almost more the story of Crouchback's fellow officer Apthorpe, an eccentric fellow. His main story is an episode of high farce, the two have a battle of wits and military discipline over an Edwardian thunder-box (portable toilet) from which Crouchback observes, amused and detached. I'm very much looking forward to the next installment.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Barrow Wilfong

    This is the second book I have read by Waugh. The first was Brideshead Revisited and while it was interesting, it was a bit morose. "That little tick wants his bottom kicked, " said Major Erskine. "I think I shall kick it. Good for him and pleasant for me." That is my favorite line and I like repeating it to myself. That is also a good sample of the wit Waugh exercises on every page of Men at Arms. Consequently I liked Men at Arms much better than Brideshead Revisited. Our hero Guy Crouchback is to This is the second book I have read by Waugh. The first was Brideshead Revisited and while it was interesting, it was a bit morose. "That little tick wants his bottom kicked, " said Major Erskine. "I think I shall kick it. Good for him and pleasant for me." That is my favorite line and I like repeating it to myself. That is also a good sample of the wit Waugh exercises on every page of Men at Arms. Consequently I liked Men at Arms much better than Brideshead Revisited. Our hero Guy Crouchback is too old to enlist for WWII but wants to and finally is accepted into the Halbediers Unit. He is one of two older men, the other being Apthorpe. Both of them go through preliminary training with young men who call them "Uncle". Finally they are sent off to war and we learn how they fair there. Most of the book takes place during their training time and we meet quite a bundle of interesting characters. Waugh is able to make his characters comical without being cartoony, which I appreciate. This book is really funny, even though it deals with a serious subject matter. The story is from Guy's point of view, but with third person narration. One could almost feel sorry for Guy as we see the younger men try to take advantage of him and Apthorpe himself seems to manipulate Guy in ways that Guy can only appreciate later as a less than fortunate thing. But Guy has strains of tenacity and learns to fend for himself, while he circulates with men, some of who are not altogether sane. I won't give away the story, there isn't much of one. This is a character-driven book and the characters are interesting. Not a dull one anywhere and if you enjoy reading about the funny and sometimes zany antics of a bunch of grown men trying to prepare themselves to fight in a war, you will like this book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    E

    This is the first leg of Waugh's semi-autobiographical WWII trilogy. In it our hero (or is he an antihero?) Guy, aged 36, plots and schemes his way into an obscure Army regiment. Most of the book is taken up with training escapades. The novel is not absurdist at the level of Catch-22, but it nevertheless contains quite a few absurd scenarios. You can see why the regiment spends 300 pages planning for war instead of being send to France to fight the actual war! By the end of the novel they do eng This is the first leg of Waugh's semi-autobiographical WWII trilogy. In it our hero (or is he an antihero?) Guy, aged 36, plots and schemes his way into an obscure Army regiment. Most of the book is taken up with training escapades. The novel is not absurdist at the level of Catch-22, but it nevertheless contains quite a few absurd scenarios. You can see why the regiment spends 300 pages planning for war instead of being send to France to fight the actual war! By the end of the novel they do engage in the (real-life) Dakar Expedition, only to fail horrendously. Guy gets another guy drunk and is sent back to England. And thus the novel ends. The book meanders at points, probably because Waugh was trying to include as many idiotic real-life experiences as possible. The "Catholic" moments are priceless (Waugh was, after all, our most poignant 20th-century Catholic novelist), as are the clashes between highly formal Army traditions and the plain fact that this regiment is led by a bunch of officers (including Guy) who have no business being in the army. There is one exceptionally annoying character; I won't say what happens to him, but let's just say we won't see him in the last 2/3s of the trilogy. I look forward to reading the rest.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jason Towers

    Straddles the line between comedy and absurd truth. Very readable prose, quite the page-turner in its own way.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This novel is the first in the Sword of Honour trilogy, followed by Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender. When we meet Guy Crouchback he is living in Italy and is returning to England for the first time in eight years with plans to "serve his King", as war has just been declared. Guy comes from an old, Catholic family, now sadly in decline. His father has given up Broome, the family home, and is living (quite cheerfully) in a hotel. As Guy is divorced, and unable to re-marry as a C This novel is the first in the Sword of Honour trilogy, followed by Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender. When we meet Guy Crouchback he is living in Italy and is returning to England for the first time in eight years with plans to "serve his King", as war has just been declared. Guy comes from an old, Catholic family, now sadly in decline. His father has given up Broome, the family home, and is living (quite cheerfully) in a hotel. As Guy is divorced, and unable to re-marry as a Catholic, and his two brothers are both dead, the only member of his family that has children is his sister. We gradually learn these facts as Guy returns to England and meets up with the various members of his family. It is fair to say that Guy has great plans when he first arrives back in England, but with typical English cynicism, is quickly disabused of his necessity. He is informed he is too old and men who have managed to obtain a uniform are quick to put him down. By pure luck, he manages to be invited to join the old corps of a Major Tickeridge, who is friendly with his father and who has billeted his wife and daughter in the same hotel for the duration of the war. The book then follows Guy's career in the Halberdiers, a corps with pride, history and prestige and populated with characters that only Evelyn Waugh could invent. Two in particular that will long stay with you is Brigadier Ritchie-Hook, who enjoys 'biffing' the enemy and the glorious Apthorpe, whose 'thunder box' will perplex an Italian spy. During this book Guy Crouchback learns that glory is hard to find, as his corps is moved to locations as diverse as Scotland and Southsand-on-Sea. They board ships, only to disembark again and sleep on trains all night only to find they have not left the station in the morning. There is a real sense of the early months of war, when England is unsettled but stoic and only one officer realises that Churchill is the man that can stop them losing a war none of them had contemplated could not be won. The book ends with a rather abortive attempt to land in Africa before Guy is sent back to England to continue his adventures. He is an elusive man, "respected but not loved", who has an inglorious meeting with his ex-wife Virginia which leaves him slinking back to camp, but who always tries his best and that you will certainly warm to as you get to know him. His Catholicism is central to his character and this is often an important theme in Waugh's books, which I am delighted to see are now on kindle. If you have not discovered Waugh before, I envy you - he is a master of his art.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Amelie

    A dry, dark look at the early days of World War II. Funny, acerbic and sad - quintessentially Waugh.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Corto

    Cynical and unsentimental. Good Waugh. Looking forward to the next two.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sally Wragg

    Its many years since I’ve read Waugh’s ‘Men at Arms’ but this time, I’ve more enjoyed and appreciated its satirical black humour. The story concerns shy and self-effacing Guy Crouchback, a man who lives his life by a decent and strict moral code and is thus easily betrayed by the system, in this instance, the army he is so desperate to join and for whom he only wishes to do his bit. Throughout the book, he has little control over what happens, for instance, despite frantic efforts on his own beh Its many years since I’ve read Waugh’s ‘Men at Arms’ but this time, I’ve more enjoyed and appreciated its satirical black humour. The story concerns shy and self-effacing Guy Crouchback, a man who lives his life by a decent and strict moral code and is thus easily betrayed by the system, in this instance, the army he is so desperate to join and for whom he only wishes to do his bit. Throughout the book, he has little control over what happens, for instance, despite frantic efforts on his own behalf, he’s only finally accepted into the army, because a Major Tickeridge, a resident of the hotel where Guy’s father is staying and to whom he’s introduced, puts in a good word for him with the Captain-Commandant of his regiment, the Halberdiers. But by gradually revealing Guy as a man possessing a surprising courage, capability and common-sense, all of which are so easily betrayed by the system he’s only trying to help, Waugh highlight’s the futility both of war and of army life. The author famously said he has no ‘technical psychological interest’ in his characters and it’s true they are one dimensional, such as Brigadier Ben Richie-Hook, glaring out of his ‘single, terrible eye’, but they are representative of a type that shows society, or in this case the army, at its worst. I’m looking forward to re-reading ‘Officers and Gentlemen’ and ‘Unconditional Surrender'.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

    Listened to the audiobook. Outstanding. Guy Crouchback has become one of my favorite literary characters, and the themes of religious devotion, military duty, and love of homeland were worked into the story wonderfully well, and with healthy doses of irony and wit. The chaos, muddle, and waste of war, even when not in combat, are expertly depicted. Incidentally, the first thing by Waugh that I've ever read. Looking forward to the other two books in the trilogy.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mauro

    A gentleman's report of good-willing jokes that go berserk. Stilish, funny and cruel; Waugh at his best.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jake

    Demands the same sense of humor that finds Wodehouse and Flashman hilarious. If you're looking for a "normal" war novel rather than an acid send-up, stop here!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Edwin Lang

    A recent review of Evelyn Waugh’s trilogy, the Sword of Honour, includes a quote ( (Joan Didion Reviews Sword of Honour, 1962) in which she assesses Waugh as being a good writer who in this series had crafted a tale that she considers a ‘true story’: For although (this is) a fictional account of Guy Crouchback, a middle-aged English aristocrat fighting in World War II (she) calls this a true story, because it follows a man who “attempts to make a social cause a moral cause in a society bereft o A recent review of Evelyn Waugh’s trilogy, the Sword of Honour, includes a quote ( (Joan Didion Reviews Sword of Honour, 1962) in which she assesses Waugh as being a good writer who in this series had crafted a tale that she considers a ‘true story’: For although (this is) a fictional account of Guy Crouchback, a middle-aged English aristocrat fighting in World War II (she) calls this a true story, because it follows a man who “attempts to make a social cause a moral cause in a society bereft of moral meaning.” Men at Arms is the first of the three books wherein we meet Guy Crouchback who, after finding it near impossible to get into any armed force - as he is deemed too old at about 35 years of age, finally finds someone to take him on and he enlists with the Halberdiers. In Officers and Gentlemen, the second book, Guy is sent to Crete and arrives at the very moment the Allies are being evacuated, almost as haphazardly and disastrously as at Dunkirk a couple of years before. He gets a taste of defeat at the hands of the German forces and is devastated. In Unconditional Surrender things wrap up well and nicely, although by this time Home Office considers Guy a spy. This is a tale of a mid-life, down-on-his-luck member the British aristocracy who enters World War II: one of the characters, Ludovic, explains to a protégé that there are three reasons a man signs up (1) to ‘cut a gallant figure’ – we recognize Trimmer here, but so is Ludovic in the eyes of his protégé, (2) for romantic reason, such as serving one’s country in time of need and (3) to regain a lost sense of honour, and here we find Guy. For the past almost ten years he has been in self-exile, in Italy, in an old home owned by his once wealthy ancestors, trying and failing to recover from wounds of his failed marriage. He is a gentleman at heart, and a farmer at that, and years before this story begins had had the misfortune of falling in love with and marrying a bon-vivant, a woman of the 1920’s whose appreciation of men and the good life, her sexual appetite and overall zest for life far outpaced his and his moral sense of right and wrong. A farmer’s wife she was not. And even though she left him and remarried, again and again, (or simply had flings), he being a Catholic in the now late 1930’s still believed himself married. He was in every sense therefore a devastated man, and this is how we first meet Guy Crouchback in the first of Evelyn Waugh’s books, Men at Arms. He was someone searching for meaning and for something to bring a sense of honour. This is slightly tangential to the review except to emphasize how tough it is for us to imagine what it had been like. It is also neat I think what we owe to people who precede us, who come into our lives even briefly. I had known nothing about Waugh but discovered in reading his work that I liked him and his writing. I had never been exposed to his work, and probably would never have read him except that some years ago I had received a box of books previously owned by an old and now deceased Monseigneur who I had gotten to know a little when he was assigned to our Church. He was an old school but devout priest, and in the evenings, he sometimes show-up slightly inebriated, with a cigarette dangling from his lips, and play baseball with me and my young children in the school park next to his Church. He had been a young man during the War, and like most people of his generation had a humane, authentic and disciplined quality about him. So I had his Waugh’s Officers and Gentlemen, and some weeks before the pandemic began to unfold I used Abe Books to track down and order the other two books comprising the trilogy. I am glad I did because Waugh’s work seems to reflect what we are enduring with the Coronavirus (COVID-19 disease) pandemic and will again as climate change impacts us more and more steadily. This World War presaged a time of fundamental change for England and for the British. Waugh takes us through this period in his large cast of characters among whom he threads the life of Guy Crouchback and those participating in the War effort or impacted by the German attack on London. It was a melancholic read and perhaps reflected what it had been like for the British at home and away at war but on the whole it was light and humorous throughout. There is a sense that Waugh considered that joining the War effort was synonymous with having a “Death Wish” - as opposed to some innate desire to win, it simply seemed to be the right thing to do for many men, for whom it was a moral duty and aligned with their innate desire for chivalry, or simply a desire for adventure or then again outrage that had infused the British, and later the Americans who joined after Pearl Harbor. Waugh also seemed to reassess the War from the perspective of men and women at all levels who weren’t terribly or intimately involved except on the peripheries – that perhaps the British, had they been left alone, would very deservingly have lost the effort against Germany. It is also a far cry, say from Tom Brokaw’s review of the American contribution in his ‘The Greatest Generation’, where for Americans WWII had seen the best fighting the best, a glorious time, pulsating with drama and heroics both on and off the field, and in the labs. There is a sense too that Winston Churchill (one of my heroes) – in spite of his outstanding oratory and parliamentarian skills – inadvertently continued the demise of England and that of British life: ‘change and decay, the victory of cleverness over integrity’ that the ascent of the Americans seemed to presage and enable, creating beneficiaries of what the Atlantic magazine (A Maverick Historian, February 2001) called the ‘…. the daily triumph of expedient behaviour’, such that even despicable and unprincipled people like Trimmer could achieve through shameless negotiation, maneuvering and sheer good luck what others through work and contribution could not. Waugh’s characterizations though are wonderful. Even in scoundrels like Trimmer, one could see him for what he was and yet like him nonetheless; or Veronica – I can’t imagine what people in her time (1930’s, early 1940’s) would have thought of her escapades – who was nonetheless a delight whenever she reentered the story; and even Ludovic, a lowly private who saves Guy’s life at great cost to himself, rises to Major and gradually becomes a successful writer to boot; and Guy himself, a reasonably good man, likeable and a practicing Catholic but for whom no one seemed to have had any great respect, who seems perhaps to have become the very essence of what England was on the verge of becoming, but still he always mattered to us. Quite late in the third book a Jewish refugee, stuck in limbo in Yugoslavia, challenges Guy in a conversation she is having with him in his futile attempt to get her and her husband to safety: ‘Is there any place that is free from evil … it seems to me that there was a will to war, a death wish, everywhere’. And Guy realizes at that moment that it had been a wish that he had basked in too. As usual, good literature like this is not only enjoyable but helps us reflect on our own life and times. Edwin

  26. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4 - Classical Serial: Evelyn Waugh's satirical WW2 masterpiece: 1/2: Guy Crouchback is a man scarred by a broken marriage, searching for a purpose in a modern world, when war breaks out he feels he may have at last found a cause worth fighting for. 2/2: The Halbadiers are yet to see action so Guy spends his time aiding Apthorpe with the concealment of his Thunder box - a portable latrine. And Guy's ex-wife Virginia makes a reappearance in his life. Directed by Sally Avens Waugh's trilo From BBC Radio 4 - Classical Serial: Evelyn Waugh's satirical WW2 masterpiece: 1/2: Guy Crouchback is a man scarred by a broken marriage, searching for a purpose in a modern world, when war breaks out he feels he may have at last found a cause worth fighting for. 2/2: The Halbadiers are yet to see action so Guy spends his time aiding Apthorpe with the concealment of his Thunder box - a portable latrine. And Guy's ex-wife Virginia makes a reappearance in his life. Directed by Sally Avens Waugh's trilogy of WWII novels mark a high point in his literary career. Originally published as three volumes: Officers and Gentlemen, Men at Arms and Unconditional Surrender they were extensively revised by Waugh, and published as the one-volume Sword of Honour in 1965, in the form in which Waugh himself wished them to be read. They are dramatised for the Classic Serial in seven episodes. This is a story that continues to delight as we follow the comic and often bathetic adventures of Guy Crouchback. Witty and tragic, engaging and insightful, this work must be counted next to 'Brideshead Revisited' as Waugh's most enduring novel. Like Brideshead, Waugh drew heavily upon his own experiences during WWII. Sword of Honour effortlessly treads the line between the personal and the political - it is at once an indictment of the incompetence of the Allied war effort, and a moving study of one man's journey from isolation to self fulfilment. His adventures are peopled by colourful characters: the eccentric, Apthorpe, one-eyed, Ritchie-Hook, promiscuous, Virginia Troy. At the centre of the novel is Guy for whom we never lose our sympathy as he emerges from his adventures bowed but not broken. From Dakar to Egypt, the Isle of Mugg to the evacuation of Crete, tragedy is leavened by Waugh's acerbic and farcical comedy. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03bq0c2 3* Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder 3* Decline and Fall 3* Scoop 3* Mr Loveday's Little Outing & Other Early Stories 3* Men at Arms CR Officers and Gentlemen CR Unconditional Surrender: The Conclusion of Men at Arms and Officers and Gentlemen TR A Handful of Dust TR Vile Bodies TR Labels TR Ninety Two Days: A Journey In Guiana And Brazil, 1932

  27. 5 out of 5

    Deane

    When I started the book, I didn't realize it was a 'spoof' about WWII. It's very funny in places which seemed strange to me while Dunkirk, bombings, Germans take Poland, Paris, truck loads of Jewish folk being driven away to camps, England preparing for bombings ....the characters almost seemed oblivious to what was really happening across the channel and this group of Halberdiers wanted so badly to go to war but each time they are held back, delayed, taken to wrong places, boat rides that were When I started the book, I didn't realize it was a 'spoof' about WWII. It's very funny in places which seemed strange to me while Dunkirk, bombings, Germans take Poland, Paris, truck loads of Jewish folk being driven away to camps, England preparing for bombings ....the characters almost seemed oblivious to what was really happening across the channel and this group of Halberdiers wanted so badly to go to war but each time they are held back, delayed, taken to wrong places, boat rides that were ridiculous, and so on.. One cannot help but like Guy Crouchback who wants a job especially in the military; he wants to be the captain of a battalion so he can lead them into the throes of war but he never gets the right promotion to do so. His 'friends' play tricks on him; one of which causes great injury to the trickster but also causes the death of a 'Negro" in Northern Africa whose head is saved as a trophy. Certainly not 'politically correct language' today....had to read that section twice to make sure I was really reading the words correctly. However, I did enjoy the literature of the book and want to follow Guy's further adventures now that he has been dismissed from the army. I have the second in the series loaded onto my tablet.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    “Men at Arms” by Evelyn Waugh (originally published 1952, and book one of his Sword of Honour trilogy) is a delightful tale of the nonsense and ridiculousness involved in gathering a nation for war. Some other reviewers have likened it to Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22” but I also see threads of similarity with Richard Hooker’s “MASH” and the follow-on TV series M*A*S*H. As such you cannot approach this book too seriously. In preparing an entire world for war – here Great Britain – there are many star “Men at Arms” by Evelyn Waugh (originally published 1952, and book one of his Sword of Honour trilogy) is a delightful tale of the nonsense and ridiculousness involved in gathering a nation for war. Some other reviewers have likened it to Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22” but I also see threads of similarity with Richard Hooker’s “MASH” and the follow-on TV series M*A*S*H. As such you cannot approach this book too seriously. In preparing an entire world for war – here Great Britain – there are many starts and restarts. Waugh regales us with a Guy Crouchback, really a bit too old for his first adventure in the martial arts at age 35, and his being mustered into the services with scores of others as temporary officers. While we hear of many occasions of stupid and reckless action by the men in training as they adjust to the red tape, and officious and inflexible formalities, we are given but an inkling of the atrocities going on in the background and so are reminded little of the horror and death that awaits these innocent patriots. This tale is written in classic British stiff-upper-lip prose. It is at once both funny and tragic, and an excellent read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Val

    Men at Arms is satirical. We follow an idealistic Guy as he leaves his Italian castle, visits a crusader saint and sets off to England to fight for his country, Christian values (as he sees them) and his honour. At first his country does not seem to want him, but eventually he becomes a trainee officer in an old and very traditional regiment. He does not have an exciting war, the Nazis overrun northern Europe before he gets to France and there is a lot of apparently pointless moving about and ch Men at Arms is satirical. We follow an idealistic Guy as he leaves his Italian castle, visits a crusader saint and sets off to England to fight for his country, Christian values (as he sees them) and his honour. At first his country does not seem to want him, but eventually he becomes a trainee officer in an old and very traditional regiment. He does not have an exciting war, the Nazis overrun northern Europe before he gets to France and there is a lot of apparently pointless moving about and changes of orders. Guy and a few soldiers from the regiment take part in an unauthorised minor scuffle near Dakar, but most of the time he is waiting around in various places for something to happen. There are lots of wonderful comic characters and incidents, so although Guy is bored or confused much of the time, the reader is not.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lawrence

    It's Catch-22: the Catholic version. Basically, the major theme is the futility of modern bureaucracy but I think it's a critique of stringent traditions as well or maybe that traditions and modernity are incompatible. Interesting insights about manning up and how we are emasculated by society and women. I'm not sure if Apthorpe is supposed to be a hero or an example of what's wrong with tradition. The language barrier is quite immense. I had problems getting into it at the beginning but it became It's Catch-22: the Catholic version. Basically, the major theme is the futility of modern bureaucracy but I think it's a critique of stringent traditions as well or maybe that traditions and modernity are incompatible. Interesting insights about manning up and how we are emasculated by society and women. I'm not sure if Apthorpe is supposed to be a hero or an example of what's wrong with tradition. The language barrier is quite immense. I had problems getting into it at the beginning but it became quite a quick read.

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