This article was originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.281 on 5th June 2021.
“I, James Blunt”, first published on March 26th, 1942, is HV Morton’s one and only work of fiction. As we have discovered in previous posts this novella was written as part of a propaganda exercise to stiffen resolve on the home-front during the Second World War. It was published initially in Britain as a soft cover edition and later in North America, Australia and New-Zealand in hard-covers. It was also adapted for radio and broadcast on the BBC Home Service on 26 June 1942 at 8.20 p.m..
Morton refused any form of payment for the book, and was personally thanked in writing by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for his contribution to the war effort. In his letter to Morton of 20th August 1942 Churchill compliments the author on the wide circulation of his work and tells him it is “an excellent thing that the horrors of a Nazi occupation should be brought home to the British people in this way”.
The book takes the form of a diary which opens in September 11th 1944 in a fictitious Britain five months after what the eponymous Mr Blunt, a veteran of the last conflict, refers to as “The Capitulation”, namely the defeat and occupation of Britain by the forces of Nazi Germany.
Blunt tells us of a changed Britain – dark and grim – of spies and informers, where petty criminals and bureaucrats have been elevated to positions of power, newly opened German State Schools teach British children to speak German, the Swastika hangs over Buckingham Palace and America is “the last obstacle to the World Order”. In short, Britain is enslaved. Blunt is in constant fear of his life and fears for the safety of his daughter and his outspoken sister under the new regime.
It is a well written work. Morton emulates the diary style of the ordinary man, employing contractions and slang phrases which he wouldn’t dream of using in a serious context elsewhere; he also makes liberal and uncharacteristic use of the exclamation mark. Morton is meticulous when describing Nazi institutions and the uniforms and ranks of the occupying forces; local affairs are governed by a Gauleiter, national issues by a London-based Statthalter whose portrait hangs in every public building. Morton, as always, has done his research.
“I, James Blunt” is part of a body of fiction known as alternative history. As a science-fiction as well as a Morton fan I have long had a keen interest in this genre.
A favourite topic of alternative history books is the fictional scenario where the Nazis under Hitler have won World War II. Some, including Morton’s offering, were written before or during the war. Of this sort one of the most visionary is “Swastika Night”, by feminist author Katharine Burdekin under the pen-name of Murray Constantine. This was written in 1937 but accurately predicted the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, the doctrine of the master race, the subjugation of women and the quest for world domination leading to global conflict.
The majority of such books relating to World War II though, were written after the war presenting what-if theories about a fictional world where the Axis powers had defeated the Allies instead of the other way around as actually happened. There are countless examples of this kind, there is even a wikipedia page dedicated to them and a book on the subject: “The World Hitler Never Made” by Gavriel D. Rosenfield.
Some of my favourites include “Dominion”, by CJ Sansom, “Making History” by Stephen Fry, “The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K Dick, “Fatherland” by Robert Harris and “SS-GB” by Len Deighton. The last three have been dramatised for film or television.
Len Deighton’s “SS-GB” is one of the best. As with “I, James Blunt”, there is great attention to detail in his descriptions of Nazi hierarchy and institutions and how they might have been applied in a defeated Great Britain.
It’s not often that things come together as neatly as they did for me a few months ago when I discovered two letters for sale on an internet auction site. They were both from the author Len Deighton to a book-seller by the name of Mr Weatherhead, the first asking if he had in stock a map of 1930’s Germany and the second (which gave me great satisfaction to read), from 1978, thanking the seller for sending him a copy of “I, James Blunt” and suggesting Morton’s “little book” had an influence on his decision to write his own novel “SS-GB”. That’s quite a feather in Morton’s cap if you ask me!
You’ll notice Deighton is keen to buy the copy of Morton’s novella – he obviously had a collector’s eye, it’s one of the rarest titles in his oeuvre.
I was lucky enough to spot this copy of Illustrated Magazine for sale online and even luckier to be able to acquire it before anyone else got to it! On arrival I discovered it was in a very fragile state so I photographed it and archived it post haste but I thought you might be interested in hearing about it.
The subject is the 25th wedding anniversary of King George VI and “his queen Elizabeth“. The central article is written by HV Morton and I have enclosed it below along with a few pictures and adverts to give an impression of the journal. As ever with publications of this age it is the advertisments which give a real feel for the times. Everything from constipation cures to budgie seed and catarrh pastilles (to prevent your husband catching a cold!) to invitations to join the women’s land army all reflect the anxieties and interests of the day.
In the article, Morton demonstrates his expertise by giving a ‘broad-brush’ view of history as he recounts a potted overview of the 25 years of the King’s marriage which, as you would imagine, were some pretty turbulent years. He describes Britain between the wars as it was at the time of their marriage, “an agitator called Adolf Hitler [who] was frequently in trouble with the police“, the birth of their children including the future monarch HRH Queen Elizabeth, the coming of the wireless and the later bombing of Buckingham Palace in the blitz. Morton also mentions the abdication of Edward VIII which resulted in George’s surprise elevation to the throne in 1936 – a difficult subject that HVM handles like the expert he was.
It is a testament to Morton’s hard work and popularity that there are still unexpected articles like this to be found and to thrill us even after all these years.
Silver Wedding Yearby H. V. MORTON
(Photographed by William Vanderson)
On this April 26, King George and Queen Elizabeth will have been married twenty-five years. As they drive on Monday to St. Paul’s, the memories of the years will flood back, years of happiness, years of war. And now the nation will rejoice in this Silver Anniversary of a King and Queen who have become so much a part of our everyday life.
Since the King and Queen were married twenty-five years ago, a new generation which includes their daughter, Princess Elizabeth, has, to the astonishment of its elders, come of age. Looking back upon this quarter of a century to the royal wedding day in 1923, what do we see?
In 1923 George V and Queen Mary had still many years to reign. The war with the Kaiser’s Germany had been over for five years, and the ex-Emperor, who had just married a second time, was exiled in a country house on the Dutch-German border. In England the emotions of the war, the memories of the trenches and the gaps in family circles were the background to life.
Men still talked of the Somme, the Aisne and the Marne. Although the land fit for heroes was still invisible to the most searching gaze, there was a widespread hope that the League of Nations was the instrument that would end war for ever.
Once a year, in November, the nation gathered in a mood of raw emotion round the Cenotaph and at the grave of the Unknown Warrior, which were then new features among the sights of London.
Some English names of the time, whose owners are no longer with us, spring to mind: Asquith and Lloyd George, Bonar Law and Baldwin, Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden, Austen and Neville Chamberlain, French, Haig, Beattie and Jellicoe. British occupation troops were still in Cologne and also in Constantinople. Statesmen were still holding conferences in Europe.
The French had marched into the Ruhr to secure the non-payment of reparations by the beaten foe. Germany was an uneasy republic, and an agitator called Adolf Hitler was frequently in trouble with the police. All Italy was giving the Roman salute under Mussolini, who had been in power for six months. Lenin was alive in Russia, where Leningrad was still called Petrograd.
Although there were a million and a half unemployed in Britain, and bands of ex-soldiers roamed the pavements with musical instruments, there was a feeling in the air— the good old English feeling—that everything would come out all right in the long run The great exhibition at Wembley was nearly ready—the giant stadium was in fact complete—and the country was full of American tourists who had come to see what England looked like after the war. The Blue Train ran every day from Calais to Monte Carlo and it was a smart and daring deed to fly to Paris in a Handley Page.
In 1913 the new invention of wireless broadcasting was going ahead. The “cat’s whisker” and headphone sets were being replaced by valve sets fitted with a loudspeaker. Whenever anyone acquired one of these new sets friends were invited to drop in and hear it.
Films were still silent and were shown to the sound of continuous piano or orchestral music. A Chinese game called mah-jongg swept the country. In this year, 1923, Sergeant Murphy won the Grand National. Papyrus won the Derby and Oxford won the Boat Race. There was tremendous excitement all over the world! when the tomb of Tutankhamen was opened in Egypt and the golden coffin of the pharaoh was discovered.
Lilac Time was at the Lyric; Hassan with golden-voiced Ainley at the Haymarket; The Last Waltz with Jose Collins at the Gaiety, and R.U.R.—the play that gave the word “robot” to the language—at the St. Martin’s. The country was said to be dance mad. Night clubs and cabarets, with floor shows were the rage in London.
A catchword, which was a hangover from the previous year when Professor Emile Coué came here to preach auto-suggestion, was, “Every day in every way I get better and better.” Women looked like bundles because the waistline had descended to the hips, and cloche hats, like inverted basins, occupied every female head.
The social historian, glancing back to this period, will note as one of the most remarkable facts that the strength and popularity of the monarchy in Britain was no idle or servile phrase. The war which had shaken half the thrones of Europe had the effect of bringing the Crown and the people closer together in this country. George V and Queen Mary had presided over the nation during the first year of real sorrow and adversity it had known for generations, and, the war over, they continued to identify themselves with every aspect of the nation’s life.
The King in silk hat and frock-coat, or full-dress uniform, and the Queen in a powder-blue toque, and with umbrella or parasol, were the two most familiar and popular figures in the country. Their four sons and their daughter, who were children when the war began in 1914, were now old enough to deputize for their parents; and the greatest affection, here and overseas, was reserved for the gay young Prince of Wales. Everything he did or said was world news. His hatred of publicity and photography only endeared him the more to the millions of people who demanded to know everything he did.
The genuine affection in which the Royal Family was held may have surprised George V, who, from a severe, punctilious monarch, mellowed and sweetened in his later years into the father of his country. In the years to come the radio was to discover in him the most perfect broadcaster of our time. Once a year the King’s rich and guttural voice was carried, regally affectionate, into every home on Christmas Day, offering kind words and good advice.
This then was something of the general background of life when in 1923 the young Duke of York was the first of the King’s four sons to marry. He was well liked everywhere although he had been completely overshadowed by his elder brother. The Duke had served at the Battle of Jutland and later, as a group commander in the R.F.C., had taken his pilot’s certificate. He was a good enough tennis player to figure at Wimbledon. It was reported that he was seriously minded, and those who knew saw in him a notable resemblance to his father.
His marriage was popular for two reasons. It was not a foreign alliance. He had fallen in love with a charming British girl, the daughter of an ancient Scottish family. Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. She did not feature in the social gossip of those times or belong to what was known as the “smart set” or the “bright young people.” All the general public knew of her was that she was content to live a country life as one of a large family, spending most of the year in Hertfordshire and moving in the autumn to the famous family seat in Scotland, Glamis Castle.
When people saw her photograph in the newspapers and noted her clear, frank eyes and her smile, they said to themselves that she was just the kind of girl the Prince of Wales ought to marry— just the kind of girl, in other words, who would be a perfect future Queen! That was the second reason why the wedding was popular. It seemed that the Duke of York had given an admirable lead to his elder brother.
The wedding morning of Thursday, April 26, was grey and damp. To the disappointment of the crowds, the Guards who lined the Mall wore greatcoats, and when the royal carriages came bowling along from the Palace the Life Guards wore crimson cavalry cloaks. But as the bells of Westminster pealed out after the service, the struggling sun appeared for the first time, and cheers greeted the Duke and Duchess of York all the way as the wedding landau took them from the Abbey to the Palace. Who could have guessed that those mighty cheers greeted the future King and Queen?
For the next thirteen years the Duke and Duchess of York lived a busy public life. The year after their marriage they paid a State visit to Northern Ireland, and late the same year went to East Africa on a visit that was half mission and half hunting trip. In April, 1926, there was rejoicing throughout the Commonwealth when the Duke and Duchess became the parents of a daughter.
Princess Elizabeth was born in Bruton Street, at the London home of her maternal grandparents, and she was baptized in Jordan water at the Private Chapel, Buckingham Palace. Her arrival in the world appeared to set the seal upon a marriage that was obviously a happy one.
Leaving their child, then barely six months of age, in the charge of Queen Mary, the Duke and Duchess left the country for six months on a visit to New Zealand and Australia. In Canberra the Duke opened the new Parliament House and the couple returned to England in the summer of 1927.
At home the Duke of York, whose interest in industrial history and factory life was a serious study backed by an extensive and well read library, made a series of tours through industrial England, more complete than any ever made by a member of the royal house. Much of his spare time was occupied with the Industrial Welfare Society and in a summer camp at the seaside where every year he entertained hundreds of boys.
Speaking of the opening of this camp, where he was so often pictured in shorts and sweater with his young guests, he once said: “I look forward to that day from one year’s end to another.” And people, opening their newspapers and watching the newsreels of that time, knew that the cameras had not lied when they showed the Duke merrily staging “Underneath the Spreading Chestnut Tree”—with actions!
In 1930 Princess Margaret was born at Glamis Castle and for the next few years tremendous interest was shown all over the world in the lives of the two little princesses. The London home of the Duke and Duchess of York was 145 Piccadilly, near Hyde Park Comer, a house that was badly blitzed during the war.
There was a time which all Londoners will remember—between 1930 and 1936—when every head on every omnibus that passed along Piccadilly turned towards No. 145 in the hope, often realized, of catching a glimpse of the princesses at the window of their nursery. There were other days at Windsor, with the band playing and the geraniums glowing in the flower beds, when the public saw with delight the old King and Queen Mary with their two grandchildren.
To anyone who lived through those times it seems in retrospect that they contained an unusual number of sunny days. Yet, looking back upon them seriously, and in the light of present knowledge, how full of omens and steadily mounting peril they were! Germany, no longer the battered republic of the twenties, was a land of marching men under Hitler. Italy, not to be outdone, was building Roman archways in North Africa and preparing to gas the Abyssinians. Still the statesmen held conferences and hoped that everything would come out all right in the end, as indeed the country did, too.
The year 1932 was a year of appalling depression and unemployment here and in America. That was the year suicides threw themselves from skyscraper windows, the year of the Means Test, of hunger marches on London. It was the year of the Ottawa Conference and the Disarmament Conference and the Lausanne Conference. It was the year F. D. Roosevelt was elected President in America; the year everyone went mad about Amy Johnson, the airwoman; the year Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly the Atlantic; the year the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped.
The tempo of those days was set by Germany. In 1934 old Marshal Hindenburg died and Hitler then came to supreme power. This was a year of deaths and assassinations. The Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss was assassinated by the Nazis. King Alexander of Jugoslavia was assassinated. Albert, King of the Belgians, died while mountaineering, ex-King Alfonso of Spain died after a motor accident. In this year there was a plebiscite in the Saar which, of course, decided to return to Germany.
Hitler, no longer the shabby figure in an old raincoat, blossomed forth in uniform with a swastika on his arm and he was always surrounded by shouting, chanting figures in brown shirts with uplifted arms. In this year the first Jewish refugees began to arrive from Germany.
In 1936 the old King died to the accompaniment of a nation’s sorrow. George V was symbolic of an age, and with him that age ended and a new one, whose portents were only too clear and too terrifying, was ready to begin. The Prince of Wales was proclaimed King as Edward VIII, but soon afterwards came the news of his abdication. Thus, in a few weeks of crisis, the Duke of York, with who knows what trepidation, saw himself suddenly faced with the ordeal of the Crown.
Those who have written books about him say that at first he hesitated from the modest fear that he would not be acceptable to the nation, or that he was not fit to assume the kingship, but when it was pointed out to him that it was his solemn duty to step into the place his brother had left, he hesitated no longer, and with his Duchess by his side he solemnly dedicated himself to his new task.
If the nation had been drawn to him before, the mood now changed overnight to one of admiration and respect. It was with a feeling of sorrow and regret that we said farewell to a prince of spirit and great promise, one whose services to the Commonwealth were beyond compare, but at the same time it was with a feeling that life had become normal again that we saw King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with their daughters upon their Coronation Day in 1937.
It would be necessary to go far back in history to discover an occasion when a king ascended the throne in this country under more trying and ominous circumstances. To have done so after the abdication was in itself hard enough, but to become King in a world that was obviously moving towards war demanded the highest courage and resolution.
The splendour of the Coronation was hardly over when their Majesties set out on a visit to France, followed later by a visit to Canada and the United States. By this time the humiliations of appeasement were complete and war was only a matter of time. That time came in September, 1939, and then for years a veil of necessary secrecy was drawn over the King, the Queen and their daughters.
But behind the curtain of secrecy precautions the King and the Queen embarked upon a wartime life that still further endeared them to their people. They did not send their children abroad as many of their subjects did, and they kept the Royal Standard flying at the masthead of Buckingham Palace, a sight that cheered London on many a dreary day.
It is something of a revelation to read an admirably written book entitled “The Royal Family in Wartime”, which was published in 1945 and is, so far as I am aware, the only account in existence of the wartime life of the King and Queen.
“The second year of the war began dramatically for the King,” it is there stated, “who held an investiture in Buckingham Palace during an air raid on September 3—the first time British subjects had been decorated by their king under bombardment from the sky. . . . On September 9 Mr. Morrison came to the Palace in his capacity as Minister of Home Security, and told the King of the distress in the East End after several severe attacks in which many homes had been destroyed and heavy casualties inflicted.
“The King immediately replied that he would go in person to the affected areas, and he set off immediately, with little formality and only the shortest and most scanty preparation, on the first of many scores of visits to scenes of devastation that he and the Queen were to make together or separately. . . . But by going directly, as he so often did, to the scene of raid damage and walking through the debris in the streets where unexploded bombs and land mines might still lie concealed, the King—at the cost of the peace of mind of the officials who were responsible for his safety— was now setting a new standard of monarchy.
“This, after all, was the work of the supreme representative; his people had been struck by the enemy, their homes wrecked and their dear ones killed; and the King saw it as his paramount duty to be immediately among them, bringing the assurance that the whole of their countrymen, for whom he alone could speak, were with them in sympathy.
“On that first visit to the bombed out victims in the East End nothing in the King’s manner conveyed any hint of his knowledge that at that moment a time bomb weighing 250 pounds was lying in his own home at Buckingham Palace and might explode at any minute. It did, in fact, explode the next day. . .”
Buckingham Palace was bombed nine times during the war, and suffered in the last year both from the V1 and the V2. The first time the King and Queen were in the Palace when it was hit was at 11 a.m. on September 13, 1940.
Their Majesties, hearing the enemy planes overhead, looked out of the windows in time to see a string of five bombs come down, wrecking the Chapel and smashing a hundred windows. Two days later a bomb which did not explode crashed through the Queen’s apartments to the ground floor.
When their Majesties appeared, as they so often did, in tube shelters, rest centres and dugouts, they were able to talk with those they met not only with sympathy and confidence but also with fellow feeling. Their visits to shipyards and factories took them all over the country. The King went farther afield. He paid six visits to the Fleet at Scapa Flow. He was constantly in the front-line stations of the R.A.F. observing both Fighter and Bomber Commands in action. He paid five visits to the battle zones, to North Africa, Italy, Normandy and finally to Belgium and the Netherlands. He saw more actual battle than any king since George II, who was present at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743.
Although so little was allowed to appear at the time, the country, especially those parts that were suffering, knew that the King and the Queen were never absent when their presence could bring courage and help. The photographs which show them picking their way through still-warm damage, talking to shelterers in every type of shelter, inspecting A.R.P. and N.F.S. units with the dust of conflict still upon them, must be the most remarkable series of pictures ever taken of a king and queen.
It has been their task to take the prestige of the Crown and to maintain it as it was in the reign of George V. In this they have been successful. That they have been able to do so in an ago of revolution is a tribute to their goodness and their sense of service. They have also brought Crown and people even closer together during the war years, and in doing so they have shown the virtues of a monarchy that is above politics but not above kindness and understanding. There was never a time, even during the last reign, when a closer human relationship existed between the people and the occupants of the Throne.
King George is also the first king to inherit not an Empire but a number of self-governing, free nations scattered all over the world. In this Commonwealth force and obedience have been replaced by loyalty and sentiment. The King is not a king emperor in the old sense, but a king of many separate countries linked to the mother country only by their affection for the Crown. In this the Sovereign is unique in the history of kingship.
And now, fortunate in their marriage and truly wedded to their people by their own qualities and by shared experience, their Majesties will drive in state to St. Paul’s upon the twenty-fifth anniversary of their wedding. Their daughters, who disappeared from view as little girls when the war came, to emerge now as graceful and charming young women, will go to church with their parents, and those who see them, and remember them as little children watching the buses in Piccadilly from a nursery window, will marvel how swiftly time has flown.
It may appear to some incredible that the little “Princess Lizbet” of, it seems, only yesterday, is now a happy young bride with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, by her side.
The two princesses have certainly not been born into a fairy tale. Their childhood has been spent in a bitter and tragic world, and almost the only touch of splendour and regality they have known was their recent tour of the Union of South Africa.
Of all the figures who will be seen on the day of the Silver Jubilee, one who will arrest the eye and call forth the admiration and affection of every man and woman who remembers the last Quarter of a century is Queen Mary. If it may be said that George V handed on a sense of duty to his son, it is surely from his mother that he inherits a courage that has placed a new authority in his manner and has held him on his course during the difficult years since his accession.
Queen Mary may feel upon April 26 that the many sorrows that have touched her are redeemed by the sight of King George VI and his queen Elizabeth as they kneel in London’s great church upon this milestone in their lives.
(This article was originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.266 on 9 September 2020)
HV Morton set great store by hats and was rarely photographed without one. In his 1951 “In Search of London” he made it clear that he considered hats a barometer of society. He wrote of “modern London” only a few years after he had reported there during the blitz that it was now a place “of jagged ruins and hatless crowds”, an altogether shabbier, graver and sadder place than it had been in previous times. To Morton London now felt “provincial”, a city where “it was no longer possible to distinguish a lord from a navvy, a poor man from a rich one”. A creature of a different age, Morton seemed to feel like a stranger in the city he had once been so familiar with.
A recent event however, somewhere in London, suggests the tide may be turning very slghtly, in a way Morton would have surely approved.
Michael Hagon, a member of the HV Morton Society, has a love of all things London and of HV Morton having acquired his first volume – Morton’s earliest book, “The Heart of London” – some years ago. He also happens to be the manager of one of the most venerated and historical shops in the world, Lock & Co Hatters of St James’s, which dates back to the 17th century.
Recently he wrote to me:
It may be of interest to you to know that we have just made a limited edition eight piece cap made from Escorial wool called “Morton”, the perfect cap to wear when exploring the “Heart of London”. I thought it was time HV was honoured at Locks!
I couldn’t agree more – the hat has a robust and stylish look and is a fitting tribute to one of the best known and best dressed interwar travel writers, Henry Canova Vollam Morton.
With best wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
This post was previously circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.254
HV Morton did much to support Britain and the Allies during the Second World War. He was one of only two reporters selected to cover the historic meeting between Winston Churchill and President Franklin D Roosevelt, he served in a home-guard unit in his home village of Binstead and he risked life and limb to report on the London Blitz. Another of his contributions was the writing of the novella, “I, James Blunt”, told in the form of a diary kept by the eponymous Mr Blunt, in a fictional (but at the time all too possible) Nazi-Occupied Britain. Here Kenneth Fields, one of the foremost Morton scholars I know, gives us a little background to the story.
“I, James Blunt”
a commentary, by Kenneth Fields
By 1941 the Ministry of Information, a government department that had been created at the outbreak of war, had grown to enormous size.
This propaganda organisation was concerned with all aspects of information management that was crucial to the national interest. It was given extensive powers, having control over the BBC, dissemination of information, press relations and news censorship. 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. 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 of the time included EM Delafield, Herbert Morrison, Vernon Bartlett, Dorothy Sayers, Howard Spring and HV Morton.
HVM accepted the challenge, returning to his home in Binsted, Hampshire to write what was destined to be his only published fictional work, “I, James Blunt”. In it he takes his reader forward to September 1944 to an England that has lost the war and is under Nazi rule. James Blunt is a retired tradesman who is living in the village of Foxton near Farnham (probably based on HVM’s own village of Binsted) and his diary reveals the terrible changes that the Occupation has brought. Dr. Goebbels is in charge of the Daily Express, all personal savings have been frozen and the Gestapo are ruthlessly enforcing the New Order in Britain. Buckingham Palace has a huge Swastika flag flying from its flagpole, Trafalgar Square has been renamed Hitler Square, Victoria Station is now Himmler Station, British workers are being transported to Germany and Scottish shipyards are building German warships to attack America. The fifty-six page paperback booklet ends with a message reminding the reader that the diary of James Blunt will remain fiction ‘as long as England condemns complacency.’
Graham Greene later recalled that Morton’s writing style was ‘a bit too popular to be good,’ and he needed to rewrite the booklet before publication, no doubt to make the aggressive propaganda message more apparent. But HVM, who had given his services free, so impressed Churchill with this publication that he was later invited to report on one of the most historic meetings of the war, which was later published as “Atlantic Meeting”.
Greene also pursued a similar theme with his story “The Lieutenant Died Last” that was published in Collier’s. This tale, that describes how a small band of German troops land in an English village prior to a full Nazi invasion, was later adapted by producer Alberto Cavalcanti for his classic film Went the Day Well that was released in 1942. And a more recent variation on the same theme was the popular film The Eagle has Landed.
Another important aspect in the battle to boost morale were the regular overseas short-wave broadcasts by the BBC. During these war years HVM gave regular talks on the African Service and wrote accompanying articles in the overseas BBC magazine, London Calling. In July 1942, to coincide with the publication of his booklet in the USA and Canada, he wrote about ‘James Blunt in Occupied Britain’. Here he explained the reason why he had written what was seen by many to be an unpleasant booklet full of gloom and despondency. He said that he firmly believed that the allies would win the war but it was important that the public were reminded of the real penalty of defeat.
(This article was originally circulated as HVM Collectors’ Note – No.6, on 22nd April, 2004)
On the morning of Saturday the 2nd August 1941, at a time when the fate of free Europe hung in the balance, HV Morton was summoned to a meeting with the Minister of Information in London. The reasons why were not disclosed, but the author was certain only events of great importance could have caused such exceptional activity from a Government department during a Bank Holiday week-end.
A few days later, barely having had time to pack, Morton, along with fellow journalist Howard Spring (the only two journalists to be selected to provide eye-witness testimony of what was about to unfold), was aboard British battleship the Prince of Wales as it raced across the Atlantic to Newfoundland. They were in the company of a group of other warships and some of the highest ranking Government and military officials of the day including the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill himself. This daring convoy, under constant threat of U-boat and aerial attack, was heading for one of the most important meetings of the Second World War. At their destination, an anchorage off the small fishing village of Ship Harbour, Placentia Bay, Churchill was to hold talks with none other than US President Franklin D Roosevelt in what came to be known as the Atlantic Charter meeting, after the eight point document which was hammered out between the respective parties.
The rest, quite literally, is history and Morton later recorded the events for posterity in his book “Atlantic Meeting”, published on 1st April 1943. It is no exaggeration to say that this coming together of great minds helped turn the tide of the war and provided a framework for the formation of the United Nations in the years following.
The Atlantic Charter Foundation is a group established to commemorate and celebrate this event and their website has much useful information including lists of participants, the ships involved, and photographs of objects and locations pertinent to the subject. In 1976 Parks Canada recognized the closest parcel of land to the site where the warships moored during the meeting as a National Historic Site.
Interestingly, Chartwell, Churchill’s former country home in Kent is now a National Trust property and, I am told, has a copy of Morton’s “Atlantic Meeting” in a showcase in one of the rooms. So that’s another location on my “places to visit” list!
With best wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, UK
(Originally issued as HVM Society Snippets No.242)