“I Saw Two Englands” – then and now

One of my favourite of Morton’s works is his “I Saw Two Englands”. Originally published in 1943 this was a record of the Two Englands witnessed by Morton on his travels around the country before and after the start of World War II.

img217 mod
Setting out on 15th May 1939, at a time when, according to Morton, “… the laurel wreath [Prime Minister] Chamberlain had worn since Munich was becoming rather shabby” and it was widely recognised armed conflict with Germany was inevitable, Morton devotes the first half of his book to an account of a nation on the eve of war. The second half is set after the start of hostilities, beginning on October 17th of the same year and continues the tour, with the country still presided over by its ineffectual leader as the war machine gathered pace and an incredulous England was beginning to unite in the face of adversity.

Morton describes the grim, calm determination of a nation which has been brought to the brink but isn’t yet sure of what to expect. His closing paragraph summarises the prevailing mood during the so-called ‘phoney war’, as he finally sets out for home at the end of November:

So upon a winter’s day I returned from my journey through war-time England, vaguely disturbed by the apathy of a nation that lacked a leader, a nation that was not even half at war, a nation sound as a bell, loyal and determined, war-like but not military, a nation waiting, almost pathetically, for something — anything — to happen“.

This appraisal is followed by a postscript written twelve months after the start of his journey which describes how things have indeed begun to happen, with a vengance. Dunkirk, the blitz, the Battle of Britain have all galvanised the nation to action and life on the home front has changed almost, but not quite, beyond recognition. Morton describes English villages reverting to their war-like pasts, as in mediaeval or even Anglo-Saxon times, “… ordinary men have run to arms in order to defend their homes“. This included Morton himself who in the final pages stands watch from the church tower in Binstead village where he commands a Home Guard unit.

War, says Morton, “… has brought us face to face with the fact that we love our country well enough to die for her“.

I saw Two Englands illus Tommy ChandlerThe cover of the 1989 edition

Some time ago a fellow member of the HV Morton Society drew my attention to a special edition of “I Saw Two Englands”. This was published, twenty-seven years ago now, to mark the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II and is presented in a lavish, full colour, large format volume. The work has been revisited and photographed by Tommy Candler, and it was suggested that as the original book purports to show how England was just before the War in case it changed utterly and also to portray it in a state of readiness for war, the photographs add a valuable extra dimension by showing how it is has managed to stay the same.

Bunyan barnJohn Bunyan’s Barn, near Bedford, photographed by Morton (left) and Candler (right)
I saw the Moot Hall on the village green where Bunyan danced so sinfully

Candler is a superb photographer and her compositions illustrate Morton’s prose perfectly. Through her eyes we are treated to a contemporary view of much of what, half a century before, HVM had described and had been illustrated by the photographs in the original, allowing the reader to compare then with now.

CrookmakerThe crookmaker of Pyecombe photographed by HV Morton.
His art now employed for decorative purposes in the later photograph by Candler.

Candler also selects archive pictures for the later sections and we become privy to scenes which would not have been permitted in the original but were detailed in the text as Morton portrayed a nation gearing up for defence. A tank factory, groups of German POW’s (according to Morton they were, despite having launched torpedoes against our ships, “average looking fellows”) and a flight of Wellington bombers (likened by HVM during their construction to living creatures with veins and arteries of red, white, yellow and green cables) making a banking turn over rural England are all brought to life, adding extra an extra depth.

img216A tank factory somewhere in England.
Bending over their machines the men might have been pupils in some gigantic technical school

The 1989 edition of “I Saw Two Englands” is readily available second-hand at heart-breakingly modest cost and is well worth keeping an eye out for. It would make a handsome edition to any collection of Mortoniana and is of course, well on the way to becoming an historical arefact itself!

For further reading there is a contemporary review entitled In Search of the Real England by R. Ellis Roberts in The Saturday Review of May 1st, 1943. Another review can be found on the worthwhile books blog whose motto is “Keep calm and read classics“.

With best wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

This article was originally distributed on 9 January 2016 as: HVM Society Snippets – No.196.

3 Comments

Filed under Journies, Quotations

Merry Christmas!

IMG_3487 Tor in WinterGlastonbury Tor in December snow

I would like to wish all members of the HV Morton Society and all readers of the HV Morton blog all the best for the festive season – have a Happy Christmas and a very Good New-Year.

This year I have chosen a section, kindly suggested by a fellow Mortonite, from HVM’s 1933 “A London year” (which was a revision of his original 1926 “The London Year” – note the subtly different title). It is among the best of Morton’s prose, a touching depiction of Christmas day, with suggestions of the hard times which had befallen London and the rest of the world between the writing of the two editions. There is also a clue to what made Morton different from others of his calling and how he achieved his intimate style and popularity – namely his knack of always looking for the humanity in any story.

Christmas Day in London

by HV Morton

A hush more peculiar, more significant and deeper than any hush of the year, falls over London. But it is merely a superficial hush. Actually it is one of the noisiest days in the whole year. Early in the morning the rigid and apparently silent streets are loud with the blowing of tin trumpets, the hooting of toy horns, the beating of kettle-drums, the winding of springs and the explosion of crackers. To the homeless wanderer, however, to whom all hearts turn on this day, London must appear to be wrapped in a self-contained silence. Self-contained it certainly is, for this is the only day in the year on which London has no public life.

The big hotels, in order to keep their doors open, must transform themselves into children’s parties and reproduce on an embarrassing and expensive scale the atmosphere that exists so simply and so beautifully in millions of little homes. Sometimes young reporters, torn from the bosoms of their families, are sent out on a cold unhappy tour of London on Christmas Day. And they all tell the same story. Bald old men, who ought to know better, are wearing paper caps in the Ritz. The Chelsea Pensioners are eating plum pudding. Patients in hospitals lie in garlanded wards. The homeless are herded in an atmosphere which is described as ‘jolly’. That is all that we have ever been able to extract from the most earnest and willing of explorers.

But I can never understand why the earnest young reporter takes the trouble to explore London in search of Christmas. He would do far better if he just stood outside the nearest house and described the lit interior seen through a gap in the curtains: the holly, the mistletoe, the bright children’s faces, the older faces on which Christmas has painted a brief, exceptional carelessness.

It is a day that never changes. It is the one day in the whole year in which London, splitting up into millions of self-contained family groups, is at peace with itself.

[A LONDON YEAR (1933) §4 pp 207-209]

36223594 small

With best wishes once again for a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year – Slainte Mhor!

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

2 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Quotations, Religion

Trooping the Colour, by Kenneth Fields

London Year, A (from Kenneth 6-6-15)

… the big piebald drum horse…

Today, the 13th June, London celebrates The Queen’s official birthday with that much-loved military parade and march past of Trooping the Colour.  It is an annual event that has taken place in the city since 1820 and whose history stretches back to about 1700.

H.V. Morton wrote about the ceremony in 1926 in “The London Year” and in June 1929 he wrote the following feature for the Daily Express. At this time the nation was anxious about the declining health of King George V who was too ill to attend the ceremony:

§

THE UNSEEN PRESENCE OF THE KING

————

MOVING SCENE AT THE TROOPING OF THE COLOUR

———–

AND A COMEDY

By H, V. MORTON.

When I was walking up the Mall yesterday to see the ceremony of Trooping the Colour, I heard a woman scream. This is, of course, the most arresting sound in Nature.

Down the Mall, hell for leather came a Guard’s officer mounted on what appeared to be a likely Derby winner. His bearskin was over one eye, and his chin strap over the other. He had long ceased to say with Jorrocks, “Come up you ugly brute!” and was doing the only possible thing a man can do on a runaway horse – holding on and retaining his stirrups.

How cruel is human nature! A smile passed over the faces of his Majesty’s Guards. They blew bearskin out of their eyes and winked gravely. The public were more sympathetic: they seemed to know that this sort of thing happens now and then even to mounted officers. All save the inevitable London wit who clapped his hands and shouted: “Now then ‘Unter’s Moon, where are you a-goin’ to?

LORD LONSDALE

A little higher up the Mall I saw Lord Lonsdale, buttoned into a tight frocked coat and looking like one of the last great Victorians, as he smoked one of his inimitable cigars on the roof of his house in Carlton-House terrace. Two Cockneys below gazed up at him curiously:

E’s got a jolly face, aint e?” said one of them.

And now for the parade…

Against the perfect background of the Horse Guards the Household Troops stand ready to give their ancient birthday gift to the King. The Foot Guards stand in double lines in two blocks, one facing the Horse Guards and the other at right angles facing south. The massed bands face the Admiralty. In a corner, with their tails to the discreet little back-garden of No 10, Downing Street, are the band and two troops of Household Cavalry: the sun on their breastplates.

The Duke of Connaught, upright in the saddle, as a man of fifty, rides on the parade ground with the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, and Lord Lascelles. Behind come generals, state officials and the military attaches of foreign powers. The women admire the supposed Italian with blue feathers in his helmet and a sash to match. The ceremony begins.

You will read that the King was absent. This is not so. The King was present in the thoughts of every man and woman.

MASSED BANDS

Now the massed bands march and counter march. The four drum majors swagger in front in their gold-laced coats and black velvet caps. There is the “ruff of a drum.” The escort for the Colour moves out. The ensign receives the Colour. The troops salute it and come to attention. Then the Colour is trooped, that is to say it is borne at the slow march all along the lines, while the band plays “The British Grenadiers.

Then the march past. It is a magnificent sight. The Foot Guards pass in slow, then in quick time. There is the rum-tumming of cavalry drums, and the big piebald drum horse, whose reins are attached to his rider’s boots, moves out massively and leads the jingling march past of the cavalry.

The Duke of Connaught, with the princes a pace behind him, takes the salute beneath the arch of the Horse Guards. The troops reform. They present arms in three crisp movements and the bands play “God Save the King.

It is the most emotional “trooping” the Colour has ever known. Everyone is thinking not of the gorgeous military show, but of the sick-bed in Windsor Castle. And as the troops march down the Mall towards Buckingham Palace a royal salute cracks out from Hyde Park and the church bells ring.

I heard a woman say: “When I saw that picture of him in the ambulance – you know when they took him down to Bognor – well. I couldn’t help crying. The King. Somehow you don’t think of the King being ill – do you?

Beneath all the pomp and splendour of an official birthday London remembered not the Field-Marshall’s uniforms but the sick bed, not the monarch but the man.

_____________

U.S. WARSHIP’S TRIBUTE

Warships were dressed in all naval stations at home and overseas in honour of the King’s birthday. Salutes were fired in garrison towns and in most places the troops were given leave for the rest of the day. Among the ships dressed at Plymouth was the U.S. flagship Raleigh.

Church bells were rung and flags flown in practically every town of the Empire and a torrent of messages of congratulations was sent to Windsor Castle. The King sent a message of thanks for the greetings of the citizen’s of London, which he received through the Lord Mayor, Sir Kynaston Studd.

This article was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.185

Leave a comment

Filed under Quotations

ANZAC Day

Flags

“The Gallipoli peninsula curves like an elegant forefinger over the Dardanelles, the thirty three mile waterway which through the centuries has linked the rulers of Constantinople with the Mediterranean world… The forts commanding the Dardanelles were… the key defenses for the Ottoman Empire, protecting the capital, 120 miles to the east.”

From chapter two of “Kemal Attatürk”, by Alan Palmer, 1991, Sphere Books ltd, London

A century ago today, an expeditionary force of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and other Allied units set out to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula in order to secure the passage to the Black Sea. Their ultimate objective was to capture Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Terrible losses were suffered by the allied forces as they fought together against the Turkish Army, commanded by the Grey Wolf – thirty four year old Mustafa Kemal Attatürk of Anafarta, appointed a full Colonel only two months previously.

Such was the loyalty, bravery and fortitude of the forces who fought in the nine-month long campaign; a year later, on 25 April 1916 – while the First World War still raged – the Gallipoli campaign was commemorated for the first time as ANZAC day. Marches were organised in London, Australia and New Zealand. A London newspaper headline dubbed the combatants “The Knights of Gallipoli“. Later, in 1934, Attatürk himself described the allied fallen as heroes.

And in 1933 journalist and travel writer HV Morton wrote, in his book “In Scotland Again”:

“There is one grand virtue in a stormy night. If you are late enough you are at once admitted to that snug little room which exists at the back of every Scottish hotel, where a vast fire is always burning and where a glass of special whisky waits for favoured guests.

“The landlord was a young Scotsman who had fought in Gallipoli. We talked of Chocolate Hill and Suvla Bay and then, of course, we became local, and I was told the legend that Burns wrote ‘Scots wae hae’ in this hotel…”

This was the first book of Morton’s I had ever read and all those years ago, sitting infront of a peat fire in a cottage in Ellary on the west coast of Scotland, as I looked at his words they transfixed me with their immediacy and gentle understatement. I was so moved I determined to find out more about this author who had so eloquently brought the world around him to life by the deceptively simple trick of portraying it through the eyes of ordinary people, unaware they were living in extraordinary times.

Today we commemorate, with thanks, those who fought at Gallipoli, the heroes of Chocolate Hill and Suvla Bay and the rest.

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England, 25 April 2015

This article was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.182

1 Comment

Filed under HV Morton, Quotations, Remembrance

HV Morton, a mysterious letter and HMS Rodney

Blue Days at Sea, medium

A couple of years ago I wrote a review of HV Morton’s 1932 “Blue Days at Sea” for the blog. In the section of the book which recounts Morton’s time spent on attachment with the Royal Navy, I mentioned the author was accomodated, in room number eleven, aboard the mighty HMS Impenetrable. Costing an unimaginable (for the time) £7,488,274 to build, this vessel ran on 45,000 horse-power turbines and sported nine 16-inch guns, any three of which cost £100 to fire at one time. Morton describes this floating city as a steel island which ploughed through the ocean, the like of which had never sailed the seas before; he wryly comments that if a careful visitor searched hard enough they may have been able to find a screw or bolt small enough to represent their income tax.

This touching description was marred for me by only one thing – HMS Impenetrable didn’t seem to exist… and no amount of googling turned up any trace of her!

Then, in February this year, I was contacted by a canny e-bay salesman who wondered if I might be interested in bidding for a letter which had come into his posession – I took him up on his offer and, to my delight, my bid was successful. When the letter arrived, it turned out it had been written by HV Morton from Gibraltar in 1929 while based aboard one HMS Rodney. This time google came up trumps and it didn’t take long to discover that this ship, a Nelson-class battleship, was commissioned in 1927, so would have been only a couple of years old as Morton typed his missif. Could this have been the ship described in “Blue Days at Sea“, I wondered?

HVM letter HMS Rodney 25-3-29 smallMorton’s letter to Miss Brooke

I dug deeper, and discovered, like the fictional Impenetrable, HMS Rodney (along with her sister-ship, HMS Nelson) was the most powerful military vessel afloat at the time. She too had nine 16-inch guns and was propelled by eight Admiralty 3-drum oil-fired boilers, powering 2 Brown-Curtis geared turbine sets generating 45,000 horse-power. Her construction cost is given online as £7,617,799, a mere £129,525 different from HVM’s figure and her crew complement is reported to have been 1,314, while Morton gives the Impenetrable’s crew as “about 1,200 men” – as near as makes no odds.

HMS RodneyHMS Rodney – picture courtesy of wikipedia

This was very exciting – I believed the mystery had been solved! Surely the elusive HMS Impenetrable was in fact none other than the Rodney, which, I learned, had served with such distinction during the second World War, taking part in the sinking of the Bismark, Arctic convoy escort and the landings at Normandy, Sicily and Salerno. It was clear Morton’s admiration for her crew had been well placed and the ship’s motto “Non Generant Aquilae Colombas” (Eagles do not bring forth doves) was more than borne out by the heroic actions of its crew.

My hopes were confirmed when I made enquiries of Kenneth Fields and Peter Devenish, of the HV Morton Society. Peter reported Morton was aboard HMS Rodney as a guest of the Navy while writing a short series of newspaper articles for the Daily Express. The title of the series was ‘Fleet Exercise in the Mediterranean‘. From Kenneth’s assiduous research we know the following pieces were published in the series:

How Planes Fought Warships – published 3 April 1929
The World’s Mightiest Battleship – published 4 April 1929
Action Fought by Blind Men – published 8 April 1929
The Priest of the Parish – published 9 April 1929

The titles of those articles, in which Morton says, of HMS Rodney: “This battleship and her sister, The Nelson, are the world’s latest and most powerful warships” would fit very well with accounts of the Impenetrable contained in “Blue Days at Sea” and the dates certainly fit the date of the letter he wrote to Miss Brooke from Gibraltar on 25 March 1929.

As for the letter itself, Kenneth reminded me the piece HVM wrote about Sandwell Hall, mentioned in the letter, can be found in “The Call of England”, chapter 12, section 8. It is a touching account of a stately home, brought low by the industrial revolution, undermined by pit shafts, deserted and shortly to be demolished. Even by Morton’s standards this section has particular pathos, and it is no surprise that Miss Brooke’s ailing mother was so affected by it. But what her “interesting and… pathetic letter” acually contained we may never know, intriguing at it is.

Whatever the story behind it, this letter is now one of my greatest treasures – the ship’s crest and motto, the slightly uneven type-writing, Morton’s signature, even the imprint of a rusty paperclip at the top, all speak of real provenance; the parties involved, quite unwittingly, about to become part of a pivotal moment in world history.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

…  with grateful thanks to Kenneth Fields and Peter Devenish

This article was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.175 on 29 November 2014

3 Comments

Filed under Book reviews

Christmas greetings!

In Search of London 1952 enhancedThe cover of the 1952 edition of “In Search of London

It’s strangely difficult to find a suitable quote from HVM about Christmas, but I thought this one, from one of his most popular works, and one of my personal favourites, might set the mood. To me it captures a wonderful, entirely familiar, scene perfectly and is clearly written from the heart. I am struggling though, to remember the last time I heard a “warning ping” as I opened a shop door!

Morton prepares the scene by describing the “bookmen” as ” the book readers, the book hunters, the book tasters, the book maniacs…” who haunt the bookshops of the bustling Charing Cross Road, London:

Lost to the world that touches their elbows as they stand there, the bookmen pry and pore into the books, looking and seeking and sometimes even finding. I love to remember the hours I have spent there, perhaps on spring mornings, sometimes in winter, oblivious of cold feet, when the shop doors open to the warning ping of a little bell, and often in the evening when the lamps have been lighted and the titles shine out splendidly in gold, behind the plate-glass windows.

from “In Search of London“, 1951, chpt 10

Wishing all members of the HV Morton Society and readers of the blog a very Merry Christmas and a good New Year,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

This piece was originally distributed as HVM Society Membership Notice 2014-12-24

1 Comment

Filed under Artwork, Christmas, HV Morton, Quotations

“I, James Blunt” – propaganda, fiction or both? by Elisabeth Bibbings

IMG_2787 crop

This article was first issued as HVM Society Snippets – No.174 on 11 November 2014

This summer, I was browsing (yet again) in a secondhand bookshop, and found a delightful volume of Paul Gallico short stories (famous of course for “The Snow Goose”).  In this book, he reproduced some of his best magazine stories, and also had written an interesting preface to each one, telling how the story came to be created.

One such story was called “Thief is an Ugly Word”, (produced in Cosmopolitan during the Second World War).  The story told how the Nazis, to fund their war effort, turned to peddling stolen art, mostly using Fascist sympathisers in Argentina.  There was truth behind the story, and Gallico explains how the truth came to be spelt out in this fashion:

“During the war (in America) there was created at the behest of Washington, the most astonishing propaganda agency which met in New York, called the Writers’ War Board. . . its function was simple and easy to understand. When the psychological warfare boffins in Washington needed a writing job of any kind, the problem was dumped into the lap of the War Board in New York which found the right author in the shortest possible time and got the job done.  This would be in the guise of short stories, novelettes, newspaper articles or even circulars and pamphlets.  It worked . . .Propaganda in fiction is useful only when the characters and the story are thoroughly beguiling, interesting, or exciting and entertaining.  [He goes on to say that the story must be good or else the nugget of information you are conveying won’t get through – like “sugarcoating the pill”.]

“If this strikes you as a devious way to go about an exposee and if you might be inclined to say that a factual and documented article . . . might have been more effective, you would be wrong.  It is a fact, startling perhaps in its implications, that fiction has a far greater propaganda value and gains far more credence amongst readers than actuality.  I need refer you only to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the results it achieved. A truth becomes far more vivid and active and lives in people’s minds to a much greater extent when fictionalised than when presented merely as fact.  People like to be told a story.”

From the collection “Confessions of a Story-Teller“, published in 1961.

I James Blunt 2

This reminded me of Morton and his one fictional work “I, James Blunt”.  For those who haven’t read it, it is a diary of an ordinary man living in Nazi England, after Germany has won the war.  It grimly describes day-to-day life including living in fear that someone with a grouse against you may turn you over to the authorities – which is what happens to James Blunt in the story.  It’s about the only work of Morton’s that I don’t particularly want to re-read and re-re-read.

But was this written in the same way as Gallico’s tale?

Kenneth Fields, HVM Society historian, writes in his book “The Life of an Enchanted Traveller” that the Ministry of Information did the job of the American Writers War Board.

“Its many separate divisions included a Home Intelligence Unit that prepared reports on the morale of the civilian population, a Films Division and a Literary and Editorial Division that produced a range of booklets about the war. The Authors’ Section was housed in the University College buildings in Gower Street, Bloomsbury and for a period its head was novelist Graham Greene who worked alongside fellow writer Malcolm Muggeridge. With academic scepticism they both believed their work was of little importance and found the Ministry to be generally inefficient.

“However in spite of these misgivings Greene continued to take his duties seriously. One of his schemes involved approaching a number of well-known politicians and writers to ask if they would use their talents in writing a series of patriotic pamphlets and books. These famous names included E. M. Delafield, Herbert Morrison, Vernon Bartlett, Dorothy Sayers, Howard Spring and H.V. Morton.”

It was as a result of his work for this Division, that Morton was chosen, along with Howard Spring, to write up the account of Churchill’s summit with Eisenhower which you will find in his book “Atlantic Meeting”.

I agree with Gallico that fiction makes for powerful propaganda.  Morton has the Union Jack banned, Waterloo Station becomes Goebbels Station, (names of British victories being erased from history), houses crumbling and the suicide rate soaring.  The Hitler Youth Movement is planned to be rolled out in schools.  Children will be educated in German.  All this carefully written to stiffen the morale of the British public.

Morton finishes his sombre novella with these words, “Fortunately the Diary of James Blunt will remain fiction as long as England condemns complacency and bring to times of good news the same high courage and resolution which inspire and unite her in her darkest hours.

As we remember those darkest hours, and those who fell in them, and those who did not fall, but fought on with that same courage and resolution – may we also spare a thought for those who fought Fascism with the weapons at their command – the typewriter and the pen.

With best wishes,

Elisabeth Bibbings

3 Comments

Filed under Armistice day, Magazine Articles, Remembrance