Remembering 72 Years Ago

Paul Morton

Paul Morton in 1944, war correspondent in Italy for the Toronto Daily Star. “He was a bit more complex than most of us, I’d guess. By times he could be able, elegant, difficult, articulate and improbable. And being all those things he got caught up in a bizarre episode of the war. At a crossroads in his life, the frailties of his past reached out and poisoned perhaps his best hour.” Douglas How, Editor Readers Digest.

I have tried to discover the truth about Paul Morton and his secret mission for more than ten years. In many ways I identify with Morton, since I was born Canadian, am a lifelong journalist with a deep respect for soldiers, prone to drinking too much, and often not good at communicating with my bosses. Like Morton, I covered a war behind the lines with guerrilla forces in El Salvador escaping with my life and a story for Newsweek–only to have the U.S. Embassy state that I was a liar for reporting a Salvadoran army massacre of civilians. So Morton’s experience strongly resonates with me, and made me try to find out why he suffered such an ignominious fate when he should have been hailed as a war hero.

Author Don North examines an old farm house used during the war as a base for secret SOE missions where Morton & Long reported on the war.
Author Don North examines an old farm house used during the war as a base for secret SOE missions where Morton & Long reported on the war.

It was August 27th, 72 years ago today that Paul Morton and war artist Captain Geoffrey Long of the Army of South Africa were dropped into a base for the Italian partisans.

Captain Geoffrey Long
Captain Geoffrey Long, war artist, Army of South Africa. Geoff Long drew his impressions of battle from real life and not from photographs as most combat artists of his era did. The British Army steeped in sentiment preferred an artist’s impression of war rather than a photographers.

Captain Long was an experienced combat artist who worked with actual combat instead of photographs. They were both 31 years old. With the partisans for two months they experienced dangerous encounters with German troops, but finally escaped to France and home again to Rome. But as fate would intervene, the incompetent General Harold Alexander, the allied commander in Italy, believed his erroneous intelligence that the partisans were largely a bunch of communists. Orders went out from General Alexander’s headquarters that no further reports would be allowed on the partisans just five days before Morton and Long returned from their mission.

halifax_lw170 final
Halifax bomber, a favorite of the British SOE (Special Operations Executive) for dropping agents and supplies behind enemy lines and the vehicle for Morton & Long to be dropped into the hell of wartime Italy occupied by the Nazi army.

Paul Morton’s story of the partisans would never be fully told. Although I have scoured archives from Turin to London to Ottawa, I believe files have been “sanitized” and more answers are still hidden in long lost government records. I’m still looking for them and when I find them I would like to publish a second edition of “Inappropriate Conduct.” Until then I hope you will read my book.  It’s available on Amazon and most book web sites or I will gladly send you a signed copy in return for a $20 check sent to me at 11830 Larry Road, Fairfax, VA. 22030.

The SOE base where wireless messages to Allied headquarters were transmitted.
The SOE base where wireless messages to Allied headquarters were transmitted.

To be called a liar after risking his life for the story sent Paul Morton into a tailspin of depression emotionally and spiritually for the rest of his life. All he wanted was an apology from the Toronto Daily Star and restoration of his dignity, honor and reputation as a journalist. Instead a true war hero died a broken man.

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Italian partisans of the “Red Star” group who hijacked Morton & Long after their parachute landing behind the lines, drawn by Capt. Geoffrey Long.

 

Italian partisans of the "Red Star" group who hijacked Morton & Long after their parachute landing behind the lines, drawn by Capt. Geoffrey Long.
drawn by Capt. Geoffrey Long.

One thought on “Remembering 72 Years Ago

  1. Don,
    Does all this material mean a new version of the book is on the way? New material, not in the first edition that I read? You been back to Italy? Just wondering.
    Best,
    Don

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