September 17, 2019
There is a famous letter about Kelburn Castle, where the next phase of HES grant assisted repairs is about to start, which Evelyn Waugh sent to his wife Laura on 31st May 1942, which can also be heard in this recording by Geoffrey Palmer. Here’s what Waugh wrote:
No. 3 Commando were very anxious to be chums with Lord Glasgow so they offered to blow up an old tree stump for him; and he was very grateful and he said don’t spoil the plantation of young trees near it because that is the apple of my eye; and they said no of course not we can blow a tree down so that it falls on a sixpence; and Lord Glasgow said goodness you are clever and he asked them all to luncheon for the great explosion.
So Colonel Durnford-Slater DSO said to his subaltern, have you put enough explosive in the tree. Yes sir, 75 lbs. Is that enough? Yes sir I worked it out by mathematics it is exactly right. Well better put a bit more. Very good sir.
And when Col. D. Slater D.S.O. had had his port he sent for the subaltern and said subaltern better put a bit more explosive in that tree. I don’t want to disappoint Lord Glasgow. Very good sir.
Then they all went out to see the explosion and Col. D.S. D.S.O. said you will see that tree fall flat at just that angle where it will hurt no young trees and Lord Glasgow said goodness you are clever.
So soon they lit the fuse and waited for the explosion and presently the tree, instead of falling quietly sideways, rose 50 feet into the air taking with it half an acre of soil and the whole of the young plantation.
And the subaltern said Sir I made a mistake, it should have been 7.5 lbs not 75.
Lord Glasgow was so upset he walked in dead silence back to his castle and when they came to the turn of the drive in sight of his castle what should they find but that every pane of glass in the building was broken.
So Lord Glasgow gave a little cry and ran to hide his emotion in the lavatory and there when he pulled the plug the entire ceiling, loosened by the explosion, fell on his head.
This is quite true.
Like most good stories, this has a germ of truth but it has been significantly embroidered; maybe Evelyn Waugh himself had the help of some excellent port? For “all the glass in the castle”, read ‘the top left hand square of the lower sash’ (see image) and for the ceiling collapsing in the WC, no such evidence either. As for the rest of it, decimal points, military decorations and all, we don’t have the facts but are sure anyone will get the gist!