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“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.

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Camera Obscura Still in Use in 1939!

I saw Two Englands small

HVM Society member Stan White hails from Ontario, Canada. Stan is a published poet and a well known professional photographer, specialising in stereo photography; he has written past bulletins on the subject of HV Morton’s keen interest in photography.

So, recently, when Stan sent me the following email, on a closely related subject, it caught my eye and, after a bit of transcription and (strictly amateur) photo-manipulation, I have put it together in a suitable form for sharing with the rest of the Society.

HV Morton made many contributions to the war effort on the Home Front during the Second World War – as well as serving in the Home Guard, he covered stories of the blitz in his columns at the time and wrote his only work of fiction, “I James Blunt” (1942), for no financial reward, as a warning to the nation about complacency in the face of the Nazi threat; earning the personal thanks of Prime Minister Winston Churchill as a result.

Other war-related works from Morton included “Atlantic Meeting” (1943), “Travel in Wartime” (1940) and – the subject of Stan’s article – “I Saw Two Englands” (1942).

— § —

Good morning Niall,

As you know, I am a retired photographer. This year is the 40th anniversary of Photographic Historical Society of Canada and I have a great stack of its magazine Photographic Canadiana, for which, over the years I have written articles on the history of photography and, in fact, still do.

For a while I did a column for it called oddities. My objective was to find tidbits of information relating to the history of photography. Lo and behold, when I was looking through the mags recently I came across this item that I had written back in 1995, long before I had an interest in HVM and which I had completely forgotten about.

Take care,

Stan

from Photographic Canadiana 21-1 May – June 1995

Camera Obscura - Stan White - pic 2

When this column first appeared reporting interesting tid-bits of photographica from non-photographic books, it was expected that there might be the occasional item but so far, we have had three items in almost as many months.

The following is gleaned from “I Saw Two Englands” by HV Morton, published in 1943 by Methuen & Co. ltd., London, and Reginald Saunders, Toronto.

Morton toured England in early and late 1939. On his second tour, shortly after the beginning of the war he gave an account of a visit to the Royal Air Force Flying Training School. The following is an account of a method of training bomb-aimers:

“Another ingenious invention is the camera obscura hut, which tells the instructor whether a man in a bomber several thousand feet above him, has, in theory, bombed the hut. The place is dark save for a circle of light reflected (projected) upon a table through a lens in the roof. A spot in the centre on the table represents the hut.

When an aeroplane is flying overhead you can watch its shadow (image) slowly cross the table, as it is reflected (projected) by the lens. As it nears the centre a tiny white flash is seen, which is really the firing of a magnesium bulb in the aeroplane. This represents the bomb, or rather the exact moment at which the bomber pressed the bomb-release.

“The instant the flash is seen, it is plotted on the table. It is a simple matter to allow for the time taken for the bomb to drop according to the height of the plane, the angle at which it falls, according to the speed and wind, and this shows you how near, or how far, the bomber was from his target.

(words in brackets are mine – SW)

This article was originally distributes as HVM Society Snippets – No.165;
29 March 2014

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HV Morton the Photographer

Originally distributed as: HVM Literary Note – No.116

My Leica and I 150dpi crop small

It isn’t always widely appreciated that HV Morton was a keen photographer, taking many of the photographs which featured in his books himself. This passion was also shared by his second wife, Mary who took many of the photographs included in his works concerning the Middle East.

I received an email on this subject a while ago, in the heady days immediately after the change of coordinatorship – when my mind was suffering information overload from juggling membership lists, email addresses and ideas for future articles – from HVM Society member and professional photographer, David Jago. Having had this for a while on the back burner, so to speak, I thought now would be a good time to put the information out as a bulletins to members.

I love connections, and on re-reading David’s piece in preparation, I found there was a little bell ringing at the back of my mind. This in turn, after a bit of thought, led me to look even further back, to a much earlier email from then the coordinator, Peter Devenish, following a remark I had made about a cover of one of Morton’s books on the home page of the web-site:

Dear Niall,

I’m sure you know [I didn’t! – NT] that one of your favourite jacket designs, namely that for several editions of  “Middle East”, was taken at Aleppo by HVM. I agree, it is a superb design.

Cover Middle East

Did you know, though [I didn’t! – NT], that HVM’s photo was first published in an article he wrote for Leica News and Technique, No.26, March-April 1937; published by E. Leitz, London. The article was entitled Travel with the Leica.  Interestingly, the illustration on the dust-jacket of the book is the reverse image of the photograph printed in Leica News and Technique.

Aleppo 1

All the very best,

Peter

And this brings me to the later email from David:

Hello Niall,

Just a note concerning HVM. I am an agency photographer and mainly use a Leica camera.  Recently I discovered in a bookshop a second hand publication titled “My Leica and I”. Published in English and printed in Germany in 1937, it contains stories by well known people together with photographs taken by them in a variety of countries. The first article, and there are 18 in total, is by HVM describing how useful he finds his Leica camera on his travels, together with details of the apertures and speeds used.

Prior to finding this book I had rather assumed that he obtained photographs for his books from press agencies but it now seems that this was not always the case.

Best regards,

David

I wrote back, thanking David and congratulating him on his wonderful find. That has got to be every book-lover’s dream, surely – to find a copy of an obscure and sought-after volume by sheer luck, whilst browsing the shelves of the local bookshop (I have a slightly singed copy of “A Stranger in Spain” which has always been special to me for that very reason).

David kindly sent me copies of the cover of this publication (as seen above) – featuring a very arty, bohemian type squinting earnestly through his viewfinder – and of Morton’s article, which it contained. Thus I discovered the title of the article was also Travel with the Leica.

That’s when the little “connections” bell started ringing in my head and I thought first, of Peter’s earlier communication (above) and second, of a previous HVM society bulletin – Literary Note No.22 to be precise – also by Peter, about this same publication where a transcription of the text of Morton’s article, and both the photos by HVM (The Gorge at Delphi and Bedouin Girl), can be found.

So it appears that the article, which, according to Peter, originally appeared in Leica News and Technique, No.26, March-April 1937, was, later that same year, also included in the hardback volume discovered by David in his local bookshop – the full title of which is “My Leica and I – Leica Amateurs show their Pictures”.

I was so intrigued by this little known example of Morton’s works that I have since (more by luck than judgement) managed to acquire a copy for myself. The publication is a well presented hardback, featuring articles by a variety of authors on diverse aspects of how best to use the Leica; including at the theatre, at the zoo, with the family and, amazingly, while skiing, and climbing in the Himalayas. A section at the back is given over to 152 pages of photographs by the authors, including Morton’s two contributions (the townscape from Aleppo is, unfortunately, not included in the work).

The photographs are all wonderful, but of particular note is the one on page 50 which features an aerial view of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella, North Spain, by Hans von Schiller. When I first looked at it, I thought it was somewhat spoiled by a massive shadow occupying most of its centre until I realised, from the shape, that this view had been taken from the gondola of an airship  – what a piece of history!

Other pictures have been taken all across the globe and feature landscapes as well as candid portraits of people at work, wild animals, people at sport and play; and some beautiful close-up work including studies of insects and snow-flakes – all giving an insight in everyday life in the 1930’s. My personal favourite is this one, entitled “Curiosity“, from the article entitled “The Leica in Family Life“, by Swiss photographer Dr Walter Weber:

Curiosity colour - mod

So, there we have it, another piece of the jigsaw of HV Morton’s life and works, and a side of him which gets little attention, even though photography seems to have been an important part of his life. In fact, according to Literary Note No.22, Morton once confided, in a letter to a friend, that he would have preferred to have been a photographer than a writer. Thankfully for us, he refrained from developing this idea further.

There are many more examples of Morton’s photographic works to be found though, if one looks carefully; and in part two, Stan White gives us a further insight into HV Morton, the Photographer.

With grateful thanks to David Jago of England, and Peter Devenish of Australia.

Best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
January 2013

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