Tag Archives: Literature

Grizedale Hall – the “U-boat Hotel”

(This post was originally distributed as HV Morton Society Snippets – No.202)

Grizedale Hall (Wiki)Grizedale Hall in the Lake District (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

A couple of months ago I received a most surprising communication:

Greetings from America!

I am a U-Boat researcher (www.U-35.com) and years ago came into possession of a Daily Herald article by Morton: H. V. Morton Visits The “U-Boat Hotel” Guests.

I gather that Morton collected these articles into book/pamphlet form for publication, as this topic is included in one of his books.  I have attached an article which I gather was written in November 1939, as it refers to “ten weeks of war” – so the officers of “my” U-Boat (U-35) were not incarcerated yet; they arrived at Grizedale in December.

I would like to make one request – please place this article on the website for all to enjoy.  There is a strong worldwide interest in U-Boats, and a recognition of “U-Boat Hotel” as Grizedale Hall.  My own great-uncle and fellow officers of U-35 were housed at Grizedale before being transported to Canada in 1940.  When U-Boat researchers look for “U-Boat Hotel” it would be wonderful to find and reference the text and photos of Morton’s wonderful article on your website.

Thanks in advance for considering, Hans Mair

What an unexpected treasure – Hans had attached photographs of the article in question. They were yellowed with age and a little faded but still legible enough to get a transcript done, which I have included, with copies of the original pictures, below.

Morton1 mod

The original newspaper article was expanded by Morton and included in his 1942 work “I Saw Two Englands” as section 2 of Chapter 9 (p 256 in my 1943 fourth edition). Having sight of the original article is exciting enough, but to have a connection through it with a relative of one of the submarine crew who were detained there (albeit not until after Morton’s visit) is doubly so. I would urge you to visit Hans’s U-35 website for even more detail. His writing gives a true insight into the lives of submariners in the German Navy during the Second World-War, in particular the crew of the U-35, their capture and imprisonment – and their chivalry.

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

§

[Hand written note reads: Grizedale Hall, Lake District]

H.V. Morton Visits the “U-boat Hotel” Guests

H. V. MORTON AT “U-BOAT HOTEL”

HERE is an absorbing news story. It takes you inside a prison camp “Somewhere in Britain” where German U-boat officers are detained.
H. V. Morton has written it as one of his great series which the “Daily Herald” is publishing daily.

By H.V. Morton

Morton1  main pic mod1 small
The “DOOR KEEPER” on duty at the entrance to the “U-boat Hotel”

I wanted to see the captured German submarine officers.

I wanted to find out how we are treating them, what kind of men they are, what they do with themselves, and if they are grateful to us, or at least to fate, for having literally fished them out of the jaws of death.

The officer commanding the district gave me an introduction to the commandant of the prison camp and I set off to motor 50 miles into a wilderness—a beautiful wilderness whose solitude deepened as I went on.

The German prisoners captured during 10 weeks of war do not include one army officer, N.C.O. or private. They are all either U-boat officers and men rescued at sea or crews of raiding aircraft shot down over our coasts or in our territorial waters. Their numbers continue to increase. Men are sent to one camp, officers to another.

As in the last war large country houses have been taken over to accommodate the officers, and the first one to be occupied — the Donington Hall of this war—was the place to which I was journeying. I cannnot tell you its name. but it is known in all the villages round about as “The U-boat Hotel.” It is in the heart of a district familiar to the more adventurous kind of hiker, cyclist and lover of untamed nature, and I went on for many a mile without meeting a soul.

I felt I must at last be getting near, and this became a certainty as turning the corner of a lane I was obliged to pull up to allow a remarkable procession to pass. It was led by a mounted policeman. He rode in this remote solitude as if he were patrolling Whitehall. Behind marched several old soldiers wearing the ribbons of the last war and armed with rifles and fixed bayonets. Marching four abreast came about 20 young men laughing and joking in German as they strode between a line of guards.

Most of them were bare-headed, all of them wore strangely assorted clothing. I was to learn that some of it belonged to British naval officers who had rescued them from the sea. Many wore the leather trousers that German submarine officers wear on duty, and these garments had been supplemented by civilian coats and waistcoats.

Bad Teeth

The procession ended with more armed guards and a British Officer [here a hand-written note reads “Captain J.C. Derlien  MC”].

In the orderly room to whch I was conducted by a sentry the colonel in command of “The U-boat Hotel” was telephoning to a dentist in a distant town arranging for the teeth of six Germans to be stopped.

If I am allowed to have heard that conversation” I said, “might I say that six seems a high proportion to require dental treatment?

“Many of the U-boats were in position two months before the war broke out,” replied the Colonel, “and I suppose even a U-boat officer puts off going to the dentist as long as possible!

(continued on Page Four, Column Three)


[here a line is missing from the scan, but the same section in “I Saw Two Engands” reads: “Anyhow, the fact remains that their… ]

… teeth are in a bad way, I shall send them to the dentist with an armed guard in a motor-lorry

The colonel had been through the last war and was on the Reserve List when called up to organise “The U-boat Hotel” He the ideal man for the job, a bachelor who likes living in the depths of the country, a humorous, humane disciplinarian who is resolved to make his captives as comfortable as regulations will allow.

He has under him five officers and about 150 men of the National Defence Corps, all old soldiers, and several of them, by some ironic twist of destiny, once British prisoners of war in Germany! The officers and guards live in the estate cottages and in the barns and the stables, while the Germans live in the more spectacular surroundings of the hall itself.

Before we went to the hall we had a look at the quarters in which the guards are living. A canteen is being fitted up in an old coach house. Coke stoves are being installed in barns and stables where the men sleep. These old soldiers appeared delighted to be back in khaki. I thought that perhaps their wives would not be too pleased to see how gaily they have taken to the old life! As we walked past their beds and looked at the kits neatly set out on the blankets I noticed that above every bed had been placed a picture of the King or Queen.

Morton1  small pic mod
A German prisoner of war reading beside a log fire at the “U-boat Hotel”

* * *

We now approached the hall itself. A huge country house in the Edwardian-Tudor style that was empty when war broke out and has been empty, I think, for two or three years. It is the kind of house in which few people except orphans or committees can afford to live nowadays. It once belonged to a wealthy shipowner. It has been surrounded by a double system of barbed wire entanglements. Armed guards patrol the place day and night and high look-out platforms have been erected all round it on which sentries are posted. A circle of powerful electric lights illuminates the hall and its grounds after nightfall. The Germans sleep in dormitories, formerly the best bedrooms, and as more prisoners arrive more rooms are opened up. They sleep on comfortable iron bedsteads and box mattresses and have an adequate supply of warm blankets.

Men who are rescued from the sea rarely have any possessions, so the officers have had to be provided with razors, soap, shaving brushes and other articles, which are to be seen; neatly arranged above each bed. Their possessions will grow, no doubt, as their captivity lengthens and as parcels are received from Germany.

At the moment they have no money, but arrangements for an Anglo-German prisoners-of-war finance scheme are going through with, I believe, the help of the Dutch Government, which is acting as go-between. When this scheme is complete English money will go to Germany for our prisoners and German money will come over here for Germans. Lack of money, of course, means no cigarettes, but the British officers have supplied cigarettes at their own expense.

Picture of Hitler

The huge panelled dining-room on the ground floor, in which the shipowner once entertained his guests, is the German common-room. It is simply furnished with a few chairs and a ping-pong table. The only decoration is a photograph of Hitler shooting out his arm in salute.

Every prisoner is a hundred per cent. Nazi.” said the Colonel.

At first, when addressed by an officer, they would come to attention and give the Nazi salute with a ‘Heil Hitler.’ But we have stopped that, and they don’t attempt to do it now.

What do they do all day?

They play cards and ping-pong. The Bishop of —– has sent us a lot of German books, I hope, as time goes on to be able to organise other amusements for them, so that they won’t get too bored.

A serving hatch from the dining-hall communicates with a large up-to-date kitchen. Four German naval ratings who had been submarine cooks, have been detailed to look, after the officers. They receive ordinary military rations—exactly the same food as that in the British Officers’ mess—and this the German cooks are allowed to prepare as they like, or rather as their officers like!

While we were looking at the bathrooms upstairs we heard the tramp of approaching feet and saw the Germans returning from their morning exercise. The sentries sloped arms. The gates in the barbed wire were hastily unlocked and the young men passed inside.

He Sobbed

See that young fellow, the third in the last file,” said the commandant, “He’s a submarine lieutenant—a mere boy—and he sobbed his heart out the first night because he is now of no further use to the Fatherland.

We went downstairs into the dining-room, where the Germans were now gathered. They sprang stiffly to attention until the commandant told them to relax. A sentry stood at the door with a rifle and fixed bayonet. The young men gathered round the commandant and talked freely to him in excellent English, and I could see that they liked him. I think these young fellows also respected the long row of ribbons on his chest.

* * *

After lunching with the British officers in their mess I noticed with interest that they were all reading “The Escaping Club,” by AJ Evans, an admirable account of British prisoners in Germany during the last war. I was told that the commandant had suggested it was their, duty to study the psychology of war captivity.

It is impossible for men captured in war not to dream of escape,” I was told.

No matter how awful the horrors from which they’ve escaped and how sure the knowledge that they are safe, the boredom, the lack of news, the very fact of being held against their wills in enemy country makes any risk and even a return to danger seem worth while.

A veteran was sitting near the stove solemnly adding to the art gallery. He had a pile of old “Sketches” and “Tatlers” and a pair of scissors. I watched him at work, gloomily passing over film stars and dancers; but whenever he came across a picture of the King or Queen he made a pause of sombre satisfaction and dug the scissors into the page. It will be a loyal and  regal barn when he has finished with it!

It was surprising to realise that such average-looking young fellows—just the kind of young men one might have met at any Anglo-German party in London before the war—were the men who have launched torpedoes against our ships and have attempted to make a mess of the Forth Bridge.

But “the enemy,” when he is not actually trying to kill you, is always a surprising sight!

I have known a number of Nazis and have been impressed and irritated by them on many occasions. I have always found that on the essential doctrines of their faith it is impossible to argue; for a non-Nazi to talk politics to a Nazi provokes precisely the same kind of mental deadlock as that between an atheist and a devout Catholic.

I had no need to look twice at the German officers to see that they carry their faith into captivity. They have been fished out of the sea or picked up from the land positively bursting with love and homage for their almost divine leader; and nothing can convince them at this moment that Germany can fail to win the war.

3 Comments

Filed under Magazine Articles

Collie Knox Remembers H.V. Morton

by Kenneth Fields

Perhaps the most important milestone in HV Morton’s writing career was his period at the Daily Express during the early twenties. His colourful articles on the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb had put his name on the front page of the newspaper for the first time, and this quickly established him as a star journalist. Fortunately we have a number of fascinating personal observations of him at this period from the writings of his colleagues.

The following is taken from “It Might Have Been You” (Chapman and Hall, 1938), the autobiography of Collie Knox (1897 – 1977). Collie Knox had joined the staff in the news room at the Express in 1926 in a junior position, after a short but eventful military career. He recalls that ‘In those days the offices in the Express looked out on Shoe Lane, a dingy little street from which came sounds of hammering most of the waking hours.

shoe lane

… Often when I was in a tussle with some refractory copy and Wilkins was demanding how much longer I’d be, such gods as H.V. Morton and Hannen Swaffer descended from their thrones and entered the news room. With longing eyes I gazed at them. For here indeed were names with which to conjure. They were in receipt of more money per week than I earned in a year….. Would I ever be like them? Would anyone ever nudge his – or indeed her – neighbour and whisper, “That’s Collie Knox, you know”? My copy was forgotten and I followed these men with envious eyes as they stood surveying the room. Lords of all they surveyed.

‘Harry Morton is a wonderful writer. He has the gift of description tremendously developed. He will attend a national ceremony with every other newspaper star writer, and will notice that a shy little woman in black with a medal ribbon pinned on her breast is sobbing in a corner. While the other writers will concentrate on the obvious highlights, the pomp and splendour, Harry Morton will hang his story on the little woman in black. Instantly she will stand out as the central figure and she will live before the reader.

‘I remember once Morton was sent to write the experiences of a man who had climbed to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral. When I read his description the next day in the paper I literally felt giddy… so vivid is his power of writing.

‘His books sell in millions, and he is unequalled in his own field. He remains the same quiet, charming man. Unspoiled. I knew that Baxter had a few tussles with H.V. If he did not think that a story was worthy of his time or his talent, he would refuse to go out on it. Baxter once said that he would rather deal with a temperamental prima donna than with H.V. when he was in that mood. But Baxter was eminently capable of dealing with any prima donna. He could wheedle a cork out of a bottle.

After six years at the Daily Express Collie Knox moved to the Daily Mail where he established himself as a popular columnist, musical lyricist and a patriotic writer during the Second World War. In his anthology, “For Ever England” (Cassell –1943), he includes an extract from the postscript of HVM’s “I Saw Two Englands” (Methuen -1942) which he named The Vigil Splendid. This outstanding example of HVM’s descriptive writing vividly explains what it was like to live in England during the Battle of Britain.

With best wishes,

This article was originally distributed on 21 November 2015 as HVM Society Snippets – No.194

1 Comment

Filed under Biography, HV Morton

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

“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

A Right Royal Confusion

George V coronationGeorge V’s impressive coronation portrait
(picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

Some time ago I received the following email from journalist and editor, Peter Dron, a regular reader of the HV Morton blog, who has a real eye for literary detail:

Hello Mr Taylor,

I am reading a 2006 edition of “In Search of England” and I am puzzled by a passage in Chapter Ten, in which Morton stops at Oakham Castle in Rutland. He is referring to the tradition which obliges members of the nobility passing through the town to pay a “tax” of a horseshoe. Various kings and queens were among those who had paid this tribute:

The tragedy of Oakham Castle is that King George V never paid the tax.

“’If only we could have got him!’ said the caretaker to me. ‘I believe he passed through on the railway once; but that doesn’t count! When the King came here, as Prince of Wales, he looked round and said, “Where’s Father’s!”’”

This book was supposedly published in 1927, when of course George V was King and the Prince of Wales was that buffoon who later became the Duke of Windsor. Can you cast any light on this mystery?

With best wishes,

Peter Dron

As always with matters-royal, I feel confusion about dates, especially at that difficult time for the nation. So I reminded myself, courtesy of Wikipedia, that George V ruled from 1910 to 1936 (having succeeded Edward VII). He himself, was succeeded by his son, Edward VIII (formerly Prince of Wales – the buffon!), who ruled from 20 January 1936 to 11 December 1936. Following his abdication he was succeeded by his brother, George VI, (formerly Duke of York) who ruled from 11 December 1936 to 6 February 1952.

Given that many of the sections in “In Search of England” were originally written as newspaper columns prior to 1927 (when the book was published) but none would have been published any later; the passage quoted seems to make for strange reading.

Edward VIII 1932The future Edward VIII in 1932
(picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Prince of Wales, who became the king mentioned in the excerpt can’t have been either Edward VIII or George VI as these both came to the throne after 1927 (and anyway, George VI was never Prince of Wales)

So that leaves us with George V himself, who would have been king during the writing of all the sections of the book and had been Prince of Wales from 1901 to 1910. I wondered whether HVM could have been referring to George V in both sentences, thus:

‘If only we could have got him [i.e. George V]!’ said the caretaker to me. ‘I believe he passed through on the railway once; but that doesn’t count! When the King [i.e. George V again] came here, as Prince of Wales [between 1901 and 1910], he looked round and said, “Where’s Father’s! [i.e. Edward VII]”’”

That explanation would certainly be factually possible but it is clumsy, and spoils the sense and flow of the paragraph and would suggest that both George V and his father Edward VII both managed to avoid the “tax”.

Alternatively, could this have been a tall tale from a wily caretaker spinning a plausible-sounding story to the tourists over the years in return for acclaim (and the occasional tip!). Another, more mundane, possibility was this might simply have been an error, in a rather complicated passage, which was never corrected.

I love a mystery, so I dug out some of my various editions of “In Search of England” and had a look. And pretty soon my search bore fruit!

In Search of England 1965 smallThe cover of the 1965 edition of “In Search of England

I compared the relevant passage in both a 1927 edition and a 1965 edition (ironically using a horseshoe as a paperweight) and they read as follows (with my annotations):

The 1965 edition reads as Peter’s original quote:

“’If only we could have got him [George V]!’ said the caretaker to me. ‘I believe he passed through on the railway once; but that doesn’t count! When the King [Edward VIII] came here, as Prince of Wales, he looked around and said “where’s father’s [George V]?”’”

Whereas the original, 1927, edition reads:

“’If only we could get him [George V]!’ said the caretaker to me. ‘I believe he passed through on the railway once; but that doesn’t count! As soon as the Prince of Wales [the future Edward VIII] came in here he looked round and said “where’s father’s [George V]?”’ We want a shoe from the King very badly, and we haven’t lost hope!

At last I could relax! It seems that HVM (or, more likely, an editor) went back, some time during the brief reign of Edward VIII, and changed the passage in question to fit the prevailing position. The removal of the last sentence “We want a shoe from the King very badly, and we haven’t lost hope!” is interesting in its own right – was this done at the same time, or after the abdication when its meaning and interpretation would have become so complicated (was it Edward VIII or the (by then) late George V to which it referred?) as to make it hardly worth the bother?

The editor in question obviously didn’t consider how confusing this would make the reading of the passage to future generations who otherwise might have been perfectly happy with it, knowing when the book was published!

Members may be interested to read another HVM blog article, “Call me a cab”, inspired by Peter Dron, about a little known piece of London architectural heritage.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

This article was originally circulated as HVM Literary Notes – No.126 on 20 July 2014

2 Comments

Filed under HV Morton, Quotations

“What I Saw in the Slums” … a little known aspect of HV Morton

In 1933 HV Morton’s writing appeared to undergo a sea-change with the publication of a little known volume called “What I Saw in the Slums“. While reviewing this work for the online magazine Albion, I became fascinated by what might have prompted this change of heart. Why would a writer who, up to that time, had made his fame and fortune chiefly by writing uplifting travelogues suddenly take it into his head to turn instead to some of the worst, most deprived areas of urban England and lay bare what he found there at the height of the Great Depression.

The article below is not the review but is a second piece which resulted from my musings about the change of direction HV Morton appeared to have taken. I am most grateful to Peter Devenish and Kenneth Fields for answering my enquiries on the matter as well as to the authors of Morton’s biographies – “The Life of an Enchanted Traveller” by Kenneth Fields and “In Search of HV Morton” by Michael Bartholomew – for helping me weave a few loose threads into a vaguely coherent whole and construct, to my satisfaction, the story of an important period in the life of HV Morton.

Additional information was obtained from “Writing Englishness: 1900-1950” edited by Judy Giles and Tim Middleton.

§

The cover of "What I Saw in the Slums"

The cover of “What I Saw in the Slums”

Anyone who has encountered the works of HV Morton, even briefly, will probably think of him as a chronicler of the brighter, more positive aspects of British life between the wars, with his various travelogues of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. If any criticism is to be made of his works it is his tendency to skirt around the harsher realities of life – he liked to keep things light-hearted. Anyone delving further into his background will come to realise that, although his views were kept largely private, Morton’s politics were distinctly conservative and right-wing.

Nothing in life is simple of course and sometimes, just when you think you know all there is to know about someone, they can still surprise you. Morton produced his early travelogues during ten fruitful and, initially, happy years spent working at the Daily Express newspaper, owned by Lord Beaverbrook. When Morton first joined the Daily Express in 1921 Beverly Baxter, who had been responsible for head-hunting Morton, reported he had been warned, with ominous foresight, by Morton’s previous editor at the Evening Standard, that his new recruit “… was gifted, but would give me trouble” [See HVM Society Snippet – No.146].

Slums 1Slum Playground for the “Coming Generation” – one of the photographs by James Jarché

Nearly a decade later, at the start of the 1930’s this prediction began to come true. Considerable personal success for Morton and an increasingly turbulent home-life started to drive a wedge between journalist and paper. Relations began to cool between him and Baxter, by then Editor in Chief, even though ironically it had been Baxter himself who had first encouraged Morton to begin his journeys around Britain, even going so far as to suggest the title In Search of England, thereby playing a large part in establishing the very fame which was now forcing them apart.

At the same time a rival paper, the Daily Herald – left-wing organ of the British Labour Party and Trades Union Movement and almost the polar opposite of Beaverbrook’s highly conservative Daily Express – was trying to improve its image. Owner, Ernest Bevin, and new publishing partners, Odhams Press, were striving to move the publication “up-market”, make it more competitive and put it on a firmer financial footing. One of the means they employed was to recruit star reporters (for lucrative salaries) to the staff, and so it was that HV Morton’s itchy feet led him in this unexpected direction in March 1931.

On a more personal level, according to biographer Kenneth Fields, Morton seemed to feel a need to step out of his comfort-zone and “… could no longer ignore the terrible poverty and unemployment that was evident throughout Britain. Unlike the Express, which he believed had become obsessed with rich celebrities, working at the Herald now gave him the opportunity to write about the life of the working-man“.

The first product of this unlikely pairing was conventional enough; another in Morton’s series of travelogues, eventually published in book form as “In Search of Wales“. What followed next though was a completely radical departure for Morton. “Labour Party Pamphlet VII” grew out of a series of columns he had been commissioned to write for the Herald in 1933 and was published under the title “What I Saw in the Slums“.

To hold a copy of “What I Saw in the Slums” in one’s hand is, quite literally, to hold a piece of history. This pamphlet was never modernised or re-published in the way that better known, later texts such as Priestley’s “English Journey” or Orwell’s “Road to Wigan Pier” were, so its very pages are part of the period about which they were written.

Understandably therefore, particularly since it was published in soft-back, very few copies have survived to the present day, despite the weighty feel of the publication suggesting it was printed on good quality paper. This makes it one of the rarest, and most collectible of all Morton’s works, and it was my “Mortonian Holy Grail” for a number of years before I finally bagged a copy on E-bay, thanks to a heads-up from avid Mortonite, John Baker.

Slum room“This Single Room is the Home of Husband, Wife and Three Children” –
reads the caption to this photograph of some of the
appalling conditions witnessed by Morton and Jarché

When it finally arrived, my copy was so fragile that I had to repair it with archive-quality adhesive tape and then labouriously scan the entire volume onto my computer in order to produce a facsimile reading copy. After all this, at long last I finally managed to read it and it didn’t disappoint – the wait was well worth it!

§

My review of “What I Saw in the Slums” for Isabel Taylor’s online magazine Albion was published a few months ago in the ten year anniversary edition, and can be found about half-way down this page. I hope to be able to publish it in full on this blog in a few month’s time.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor 20 August 2014

(This article was originally circulated on 15 February 2014, as HVM Literary Notes – No.121)

3 Comments

Filed under Book reviews, HV Morton, Travel

Pope Pius XII

Pope Pius XII (image courtesy of wikipedia)

Pope Pius XII
(image courtesy of wikipedia)

I am just reading HVM’s book “A Traveller in Rome” – AGAIN, and with much pleasure – and am interested in his views on Pope Pius XII which are very positive. This pope was very much defamed after the war – quite wrongly, but Morton published this in 1957! Possibly “they” decided to have a go at the Pope after this date – for what  he was supposed to have not done during the war. As it happens he did a great deal but had to be quiet about it. I can’t imagine Hitler taking much notice of anything he had to say about the situation, he would simply have shut him up one way or another.

Bearing that in mind I have put together the short piece that follows. Really, surely this should go on TV  like Bradshaw’s journeys by Michael Portillo on the train round the country, which are very interesting – but HVM knocks spots off old Bradshaw!

I once started to write a travel book of my journey round the Middle East and some time later read HVM – frankly I threw my stuff in the bin. The amount of sheer hard work and research – before Ye Internet – combined with his wonderful writing skills and connections to people wherever he went is, to me, genius.

§

HV Morton, the celebrated travel writer, states in his book “A Traveller in Rome”, published in 1957:

There probably has never been a Pope who is more certain to be canonised that Pope Pius XII and the stories I heard about him made me anxious to see a man who will one day be numbered among the saints”.

The cover of "A Traveller in Rome"

The cover of “A Traveller in Rome”

Morton obtained a ticket for an audience at Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer home, among thousands of others. His holiness appeared on the balcony, seated on a red and gold chair, an elderly, frail white haired man, wearing gold rimmed spectacles and  “radiating holiness”.

Even if I been unaware of his ascetic lifestyle and his saintliness,” HVM wrote, “I should have felt this. He is a thin aristocrat whose hands are of the thin and attenuated kind that El Greco loved to give to his saints. His face is slim and sallow, his eyes dark and deep set. He is so upright and precise in his movements that it is difficult to believe he is eighty years old.”.

HVM goes on to describe the Pope in more detail: He speaks eight languages, he says, and was the first Pope to have flown, to descend into a mine and to visit a submarine. In 1917 he carried to the Kaiser the offer of Benedict XV to mediate in the first World War. He knew Hitler before the last war and he was elected in 1939, on his birthday, when he was sixty three years old. An unfortunate time to become Pope indeed!

Morton does not comment on the Hitler connection which, of recent years, has been the cause of so much defamation of this Pope since, in 1957 – when “A Traveller in Rome” was published, the campaign to condemn Pius for not sorting Hitler out had not yet begun. At this audience the Pope gave a short speech and a blessing in several languages and clearly was hugely popular and much loved.

HVM later had a private audience with his holiness. It was a simple ceremony in which Morton received a blessing and, while down on one knee, found himself fascinated by the beautiful scarlet velvet papal shoes peeking out from beneath the hem of the Pope’s spotless white soutane. Again HVM states his belief that he was in the presence of a truly holy man, who led a frugal and ascetic life and who loved birds, keeping two pet canaries which he allowed to fly around his apartments in the Vatican.

With hindsight, looking back from the year 2014 at Morton’s pleasant and  fascinating account of his meeting with Pope Pius XII sixty years ago, it is relevant to mention the unjustified attacks this Pope has been subjected to since that time.

From around 1963 Pius XII has been accused of being a friend of Hitler and not speaking out against the Holocaust – this is not the place to discuss these accusations which, in any case, have already been strongly refuted. It is difficult to know what Hitler would have said or done had the Pope made a public denunciation of him anyway, but it is hardly likely that he would have taken any notice.

In the event Pius XII did much to help the Jews, as well as many other victims of the war, in a quiet and – of necessity – secret way for which he should be thanked instead of defamed. When HV Morton met his holiness in the 1950s, he perceived Pius XII as a man of goodness, holiness, courage, intelligence and concern for all. If negative and defamatory things were being said about the Pope in Rome at that time surely, as a writer who missed little in his travel books and researched his material thoroughly, HVM would have been aware of it.

Barbara Green, West Yorkshire

Leave a comment

Filed under Book reviews, Religion