Category Archives: Remembrance

In Memoriam – Peter Devenish

It is with great sadness I have to announce the death, at age 79, of Peter Devenish on Wednesday the 18th of September. Peter was the instigator (with Kenneth Fields) of the HV Morton Society and my predecceor as coordinator. He was the face and voice of the society for most of its existence and what he didn’t know about HVM wasn’t worth knowing.

The HV Morton Society was founded in 2003 to commemorate Morton and to push for a commemorative blue plaque to be erected in Morton’s home town of Ashton-under-Lyne. It was largely through Peter’s dogged determination that the campaign succeeded, despite a degree of opposition, and the HVM Society grew from that moment, becoming one of his greatest passions.

I first came to know Peter in 2005 when I joined the society and was immediately struck by his courteous and gentlemanly manner which shone from his plentiful society bulletins and every email he sent. Peter D was a mentor and friend to me, my life has been the richer for knowing him and I am saddened, more than I can say, by the news of his passing. My only regret is that, being separated by several thousand miles, I was never able to meet him face to face and shake his hand.

As well as his extended family, who he was always proud to share photographs of, Peter loved books and language and HV Morton in particular. I felt this quote from Morton, resurrecting an old adjective which could just as easily refer to Peter as to HVM and which Peter included in the society’s very first post in 2003 was particularly apt in the circumstances:

I am a librarious person. And I like the word. It suggests someone curled up in an easy chair surrounded by books. It suggests someone rising librariously from his chair to cast a librarious eye over the shelves before returning librariously to his chair to remain out of circulation for the rest of the day.”

Peter had many friends, all across the globe and typically, even in his last months, he was as concerned about being unable to continue his many correspondences as he was with his own circumstances. According to his son, Luke, Peter was chatty and cheerful right until the end, a gentleman with the hospital staff, who all adored him.

I will miss his regular, cheery emails and his reassurances about matters concerning the organising of the society – I can hardly believe I won’t be hearing from him again. Needless to say there is a great deal of similar sentiment from the HVM Society membership following the bulletin which broke the news. I have reproduced a few comments here to give just a glimpse of how greatly respected Peter Devenish was and how much his loss is mourned.

“He was my friend from schooldays on and I will miss him. He was a true gentleman, we had great times, especially enjoying our search for HV Morton as a retirement project.” (PW)

“Thanks to Peter, our long-time friend and frequent correspondent, we and countless others have found enrichment, enlightenment and lasting enjoyment in the works of HV Morton. It is comforting to know the HV Morton Society Peter founded lives on – a fitting tribute and lasting memorial to a valued friend.” (JL)

“I will miss Peter so much, he had a special place. I remember the warm welcome to the Society when I joined all those years ago, and the delight of becoming friends with someone I knew I would never meet. I really wish I could go to his funeral!” (EB)

“Peter was honest and a thoroughgoing man of the world in all things. We send our condolences to his family which we both called “The Clan”; we will miss the family photos which he shared, his genial and incisive researches and our discussions of world happenings and travel which so unfailingly awakened his curiosity and civilized assessments. He will be missed for as long as we continue to celebrate HV Morton’s wide-ranging intelligence and knowledge, and for many of the same reasons of amity and keen interest in the doings of men which Peter possessed in such memorable abundance.” (JC)

“What very sad news. When I joined the HVM Society it was Peter who welcomed me, and I felt as if I knew him.” (LHJ)

“Oh dear, oh dear, dear, dear! Somehow, stupidly, and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I still have a childish belief that bad things don’t happen to good people, but they do – with regularity… What a loss to humanity, another gentle soul gone.” (DH)

“From ‘discovering’ the mere fact of Morton whilst marooned on an unfurnished canal boat, it was Peter’s enthusiasm and erudition which expanded my horizons and appreciation of Morton’s skill. I shall raise a glass of Tullibardine to him.” (RW)

“I am saddened to learn of Peter’s death. I hope that there are libraries in Heaven.” (GL)

“May Peter rest in peace – I hope he and HV are now reunited and have a lot to talk about together!” (JC)

“So long Peter. A great inspiration and friend.” (JB)

“I’m very saddened by this news. I corresponded with Peter on numerous occasions, especially in the early days of my membership of the HVM Soc. He was always witty, warm and encouraging. A lovely man.” (MP)

“A Morton man through and through… a sad loss.” (RM)

Both personally and on behalf of the HV Morton Society I would like to extend deep condolences to Peter’s family and his many friends. A loss to humanity indeed, if there were a few more like him around, the world might be a better place.

With sympathy,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

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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

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“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

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D-day recollections

Originally distributed as HVM Society Verses – No.27
on 6 June 2014

Supermarine Spitfire

… like an angel’s shining sword, the sylphine Spitfires wait…

During some of the darkest days of world war two, HV Morton was on look-out duty from the church tower of his local village of Binsted, Hampshire, where he commanded the Local Defence Volunteers, when he wrote:

“… it is a still night. And now the clouds part and the moon shines through, casting green shadows so that I can see the little hamlets lying below among haystacks and fields. The lime-washed cottages shine like snow in the moonlight, little cottages with front gardens bright with Canterbury bells, geraniums, and poppies; and I think that a more peaceful bit of old England could not be found than this village of ours. Yet every cottage holds an armed man. If I rang the bell now they would come running out with their rifles, ready to defend their homes. Such a thing has not happened in Britain since the Middle ages… My own point of view, and, indeed, it is that of all the farmers, the farm labourers, and the cowmen who compose our local L.D.V., is that, should the rest of Britain fall, our own parish would still hold out to the last man.”

(with grateful thanks to the Trove archive)

Later, in 1944, the tide was beginning to turn, and seventy years ago today the largest invasion fleet in history sailed from Southern England, during a fortuitous break in the weather, to establish a series of beach-heads in Northern France – the Battle for Europe had begun.

HV Morton Society member Mike Bassett, of South Africa, has written a series of poems about the war years he spent on the Isle of Wight, when young, as he witnessed events which included the Battle of Britain and VE Day, as well as the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Mike recalls, “… what a sight it was to see the Solent absolutely jam-packed with warships etc., and then – come June 6th – not a single ship in sight. It was eerie and utterly memorable and I am proud that I was a witness to it all.“.

I thought I would share one of them with you on this, the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

§

VIGNETTES OF BOYHOOD
1 – 1940 and on

by Mike Bassett

Portsmouth: Sunday, Sept., 15th 1805. At day weighed with light airs Northerly”. Extract from Nelson’s Diary written aboard the Victory before Trafalgar.

Units of the Home Fleet put into Spithead – August, 1940.

A clear, full moon and cloudless sky,
And in the gathering gloom,
Across the still and limpid sea
The silent warships loom.
The signals flash from bridge to bridge,
Like tiny, glowing sparks:
The mighty turbines slowly die –
The giants rest in the dark.

Then the wailing of the sirens,
And the deep, low drone of ‘planes,
The searchlights and exploding bombs,
And Portsmouth crowned in flames:
And etched against the ghostly light
Of a gently falling flare,
The Victory’s masts rise gaunt and black
In the brilliant, silver glare
Of another Trafalgar – here.

The stench of a burning city;
And the rolling banks of smoke,
As a tanker slowly settles,
And her clawing seamen choke,
And on the beach next morning,
‘Mid the charr’d and oily dross,
The body of a merchantman
Tattooed with a rose and cross.

The joy of search – and finding,
A burnt-out One-O-Nine,
The stab of fear as the Stukas struck (more)
Like screaming hawks in line.
Long vapour trails that smudge and fade
In the blue and lovely skies
Where, like an angel’s shining sword,
The sylphine Spitfires wait:
The swarming blocks of bombers,
That scab the sky with mange,
And stepped-up high in the warming sun
The glinting fighters range:
Or standing high on the roof-top,
By the “Grecian” statues tall,
To watch the raucous Flying-Bombs
In sudden silence fall.
Or diving, in a cricket match,
On coils of rolled-up wire,
As a Junkers roared at tree-top height,
Machine-guns blazing fire.

And later still, the exuberant Yanks,
Who came from “Over there” – “swell!”
The Memphis Belles who gave us gum –
And gave their lives as well.
The massed armada of shipping
On D-Day minus One;
And the heavy, foreboding silence
That descended when all had gone
To meet their fates on the beaches
And the white-hot cauldron of Caen.

And now and then, through tears and cheers,
“A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square”,
But where, O where have the people gone.
And where, O where the years? (end)

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