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GEOFFREY LONG AND HIS SERIES OF DRAWINGS ‘WITH THE PARTISANS’ – ITALY 1944

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GEOFFREY LONG AND HIS SERIES OF DRAWINGS ‘WITH THE PARTISANS’ – ITALY 1944

By: Allan Sinclair – DITSONG: National Museum of Military History

Introduction

Geoffrey Long was one of eight South African war artists officially appointed by the Union Defence Forces during the Second World War (1939 – 1945). Unlike the others, he was daring and adventurous to the extreme, ready, and willing to accompany the most dangerous missions to fulfil his role as a pictorial reporter of the conflict. This article describes his mission behind enemy lines in north-west Italy where he spent six months with the Italian partisans producing a series of drawing of the adventure. These drawings are located in the official Second World War art collection located at the DITSONG: National Museum of Military History.

Geoffrey Long

Born in Durban, South Africa, in 1916, Long was educated at Durban Technical High School. Having initially studied mechanical draughtsmanship, he went to study at Natal University College, the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London, and the School of Contemporary Painting, London. Following a student tour of Europe, he remained in London and assisted Le Roux Smith Le Roux and Eleanor Esmonde-White on the murals being completed for South Africa House. He also worked in theatre and costume design at the Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich, and the Old Vic Theatre.

In 1940 he returned to South Africa and was almost immediately commissioned by Dr H J van der Bijl to complete a series of drawings concentrating on the ISCOR Steelworks near Pretoria. On 30 June 1941 Long was appointed as an official South African war artist. His service in this capacity took him to North Africa, Italy and finally into Germany at the end of the war.

The series “With the Partisans”

Long’s commanding offer, Maj R N Lindsay, wrote that the artist insisted on seeing the war for himself and believed that Long was the only war artist to earn his parachutist wings. During his training in 1944 he completed two day and two night jumps within a 24-hour period. Two days after completing his course Long was dropped behind enemy lines with Canadian war correspondent, Paul Morton, and a British Special Operations Executive (SOE) officer, Capt. Michael Leese. There they spent six weeks with partisans, in particular the Garibaldini and Badogliani Divisions. Throughout this period Long produced a series of 30 drawings of his experience. Morton and him then made their way back on foot over mountainous terrain through German lines to France.[1]

Place names in his descriptions indicate that all the sketches were completed in Northwest Italy in the southern half of the “Regione” of Piedmont. This region is bounded by the Maritime Alps in the west, and by Ligura on the Gulf of Genoa in the south.

Long himself stated the following: “… I believe that the war artist, in his capacity as a recorder, ought to see as much as he can if he is in any way to synthesise the story of the war into pictures which, when it is all over, will have a meaning for any generation that has not directly experienced the war.”[2]

Long’s after-action report, located in the National Archives in Kew, United Kingdom, is lengthy and provides much detail about every aspect of life with the partisans as observed over the two months spent with them. His reports discuss the morale of the partisans, their weapons, the personalities and even their supplies of soap.

Morton’s report pays tribute to Long’s impressive behaviour throughout the period. He writes that, even though Long was injured in a fall at the start of the journey, he kept on through the mountains and was a constant inspiration to the partisans and himself. Long apparently had the heaviest pack to carry but would not even consider discarding any of his drawing equipment.[3]

Hugh Gill in his newspaper article, published in the Outspan in December 1944, quotes Long’s description of the partisans as patriots who made an important contribution to the war effort by keeping as many German troops as possible away from the front lines. Their most important quality was the fact that most of them were peasants and local farmers. They seldom operated away from the area in which they lived, had a unique knowledge of the local conditions, the weather and the distance and time required to get from one point to the other. They also knew exactly where to obtain food and other supplies. Partisan bands were also able to relay reports of enemy troop movements as well as the size and strength of the various German formations to Allied headquarters in Italy. In return the Allies ensured that the partisans were well supplied through continuous air drops.[4]

Long recorded the following report on the BBC after returning to London from Italy in October 1944:

“… For me it really began when I first realised that I had left the plane and was dangling in a tree. It was moonlight and I could see the ground. I went through the drill we had learned for getting out of a parachute in a situation like that. It worked. Then the fun started. The arrival of some bodies out of the sky had aroused the interest of a group of patriots. Three or four were standing round looking very suspicious. I like a dam full started to talk Afrikaans in my efforts to explain and they thought I was talking German because I seemed uncomfortable. Patriots don’t look at taking a life like we do, life for them, like money, had become cheap. After living with them for some time we learned just how and why. They live for the present. Practically every man under fifty becomes a Patriot. If he doesn’t, he is either carried off for forced labour by the Germans or suspected of being a fascist.

We spent some time with the first batch who picked us up. I found that life with them meant a lot of walking. We always seemed to be walking. Your security from the Germans depends on not staying in any one place too long. We would go into a village, settle into a house, and have some food. In the middle of it a report would come through of Germans moving in. That meant we were moving out and meant walking. Of course, when I say moved out, I don’t mean we just left the Germans to it. The Patriots are there to take them on and they do, but they can’t take them on in a pitched battle of a normal kind. If they did, they would be cleaned up in a few weeks. Instead, they use their superb knowledge of their own country. Patriot bands are almost always composed of men of the district and their first-class intelligence service. They move out of the village, yes, but only into the mountains around it. From there they make the Germans’ life a hell. They snipe them in the street. They ambush them whenever they move in numbers. They mine all the exits from the village. If the Germans send a large force they just disappear into the blue. They have done their job. That large force would otherwise be in the line.

So it goes on incessantly. I don’t suppose the Partisans kill more than 100 Germans a week. They make a constant nerve-wracking hell for thousands everyday though. We moved from one Patriot band to the other. The life and the story are the same for all of them. We have moved out of a clearing a few minutes ahead of the Germans and watch them searching about. Then as they move off kill one or two of the stragglers.

In the end came the time to get back. I can’t tell you much about that, you see there are other people who haven’t got back yet. That meant walking too. At last came the moment when we were back, a strange moment that. You have left behind a world, so utterly different, a world without much organisation, where values are pretty basic, money is nothing, talk meaningless and tomorrow is unimportant. But there is faith in one thing, an indefinable fineness in human nature, and a quality they believe will live again in their country, given one condition, that not one man of the enemy will remain.”[5]

The drawings produced[6]

Cat No 2061 – 1

Partisans observing the movements of a German patrol from the cover of the woods. These men of the Garibaldini Division, communist partisans, operated south of Turin. The description on the back of Morton’s copy of the drawing states: “…Daybreak saw parachutists five miles from landing point with large German patrol in pursuit. The enemy opened fire from a distant hill while the party rested at a house visible on the right”. This drawing depicts what Long saw at first light after parachuting into northern Italy.

 

Cat No 2061 – 2

Typical partisans of the Badoglio Division, equipped with Sten Guns (9mm Sten Sub-Machine Gun Mk II). This drawing was unfinished.

Cat No 2061 – 3

Russian prisoners escaped at the time of the Armistice and joined with the growing Italian partisan movement. These two captured at Stalingrad were operating with the Garibaldini near Cuneo.

Cat No 2061 – 4

Partisans resting in a wood. During the summer months the bands usually lived a Robin Hood existence in the woods and the forests.

Cat No 2061 – 5

A partisan on watch while others of the band sleep. This drawing was near Bossolasco south of Turin possibly at “The Farm”, the SOE base near Prea. From the appearance of the stone structure in the background, which was used for SOE radio communications.

Cat No 2061 – 6

Sergeant Angelo Ferrua, known as “Petroro”, who had previously served in the 3rd Alpine Division along with Mauro. Petroro operated with Mauro’s band of partisans in the foothills of the Maritime Alps above Cuneo and his distinctive Tyrolian hat would have attracted Long’s attention.

Cat No 2061 – 7

Partisan carrying a comrade wounded during a skirmish with German Alpine Jager patrols in the Mongore area of the Maritime Alps.

Cat No 2061 – 8

The wounded. Partisans receiving treatment from a doctor of the Italian resistance.

Cat No 2061 – 9

Long, Paul Morton and Capt. Michael Leese (SOE escort), sten guns at the ready, drive south towards the “Farm” in a car stolen by Guardsman William McClelland of the Scots Guards who was an escaped prisoner-of-war.

Cat No 2061 – 10

A British SOE Liaison officer, Capt. Michael Leese, meets the leader of a small band of partisans near Somano.

Cat No 2061 – 11

As peasants till a nearby field and keep an eye out for German patrols, two SOE agents bury the parachutes which they used to arrive behind German lines in northern Italy.

Cat No 2061 – 12

A woman in Pigna is approaching a child as others are leaving with backpacks. The woman is possibly Vi Borfiga, an English woman who ran a pub where Long and Morton were hidden. During this time a German attack occurred which caused the inhabitants to run to the hills.

Cat No 2061 – 13

A typical Italian partisan of the Piedmont area. He carries a 9mm Sten Sub-Machine Gun Mk II.

Cat No 2061 – 14

Garibaldini partisans under mortar fire from Italian Fascist troops. This was drawn near the village of Murazzano in October 1944.

Cat No 2061 – 15

Garibaldini partisans under the direction of Capt. Michael Leese, a British SOE officer, prepare an ambush in the Mondovi area in October 1944.

Cat No 2061 – 16

A wounded Garibaldini partisan in the Cuneo area.

Cat No 2061 – 17

Portrait of Staff Sergeant Bob La Roche who was a turret gunner in the United States 15th Army Air Force. He evaded capture after his aircraft, a B-17 Flying Fortress, was shot down over Turin and he joined the partisans who were operating south of the city. La Roche later made his way into France with Long and Martin. He received the Silver Star for his exploits with the partisans.

Cat No 2061 – 18

A partisan of the Badoglioni Division under Major “Gatta” Mauro in the Prea area east of Cuneo.

Cat No 2061 – 19

A girl suspected of collaborating with the Fascists has her head shaved by the partisans of Pigna.

Cat No 2061 – 20

Partisans order the shaving of collaborators’ heads. Liguria 1944.

Cat No 2061 – 21

Vi Borfiga, an English lady who ran a pub in Pigna, and who hid with Long and Morton, is seen with her baby climbing the nearby hills to escape a German Mortar attack on the town (see no 12).

Cat No 2061 – 22

Corporal Bert Farrimond, a SOE radio operator, at “The Farm” overlooking the village of Presa. The weapon hanging on the wall is a 45-inch Thompson Sub-Machine Gun M1A1.

Cat No 2061 – 23

Partisans preparing for an ambush in the Cuneo area. A German stick grenade is located on the belt of the central figure.

Cat No 2061 – 24

Lieutenant Giacomino Murgia, known as “Pia”, commander of a band of the Badolgiani Division in the Prea area. Pia was a poet before the war and became a pilot in the Italian Air Force after the war broke out. Following the Italian armistice, he joined the resistance movement. According to Long he was a typical resistance leader, brave and idealistic.

Cat No 2061 – 25

A young partisan, GIacomino Di Curreno di Maddalena, the son of General Count Curreno. He was fifteen years old and was captured by the Germans and executed at Cuneo in March 1945.

Cat No 2061 – 26

Major Enrico Martini-Mauro, known as “Gatta” (cat), the leader of the Badolgliani Division. He was called the Monarchist and led 6 000 partisans from their bases near Cuneo and Presa. He was a former Italian officer and given to wearing outlandish clothes and blue scarves. He was twice captured by the Germans and tortured on each occasion. He then became famous for his dashing and miraculous escapes.

Cat No 2061 – 27

Paul Morton, a Canadian War Correspondent for the Toronto Star, who partnered Long on his mission to document the partisans in northern Italy. Both Morton and Long earned their parachute wings while training for this mission. A note in the bottom right hand corner states, “Paul possibly about to argue with…”, name not included but it is probably Capt. Michael Leese, their SOE escort who often argued with Morton. This is an excellent portrayal of Morton as it seems to capture his intense almost surly mood during the frustration of attempting to document the partisan effort under difficult circumstances.

 

Cat No 2061 – 28

Partisans transporting “Roberto”, a mysterious former Italian fighter pilot, to safety. Roberto had parachuted with Long and Morton into northern Italy but had broken his leg on landing. He was carried on a ladder and later transported on a cart into hiding in a nearby farmhouse.

Cat No 2061 – 29

Partisans collecting mortar bombs (standard German 8 cm type) and boots from a dead German soldier after an ambush in the Pigma area of Liguria.

Cat No 2061 – 30

Long’s impression of his own landing near Gogliani, identified from the church in the background. Garibaldini partisans rush forward to aid him. The Hallifax bomber in which they flew is seen leaving in the upper left corner of the drawing.

 

Conclusion

Long’s output as a war artist was tremendous, completing over 230 works of art for the Official South African Second World War Art Collection. He worked in various mediums even though most of his work, such as this series of the partisans, was in the form of drawings. These are notable more for their subject matter rather than their artistic quality. His style can be described as descriptive and inclined towards expressionism.

After the war Long returned to South Africa to an appointment as a lecturer in the Fine Arts Department at Natal University. He was a noted and influential theorist and was particularly concerned with theatre design. In fact, he was responsible for the design of a number of major productions. In 1954 he returned to London and there taught part-time at the Central School Department of Design Theatre. While in London he, sadly, contracted leukaemia and died in 1961 at the age of 45.

 

References

D North, Inappropriate Conduct: Mystery of a disgraced war correspondent (Bloomington: I-universe, 2013).

Library File 920 Long, Geoffrey Kellet: Archives, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History.

G K Long, Series of drawings “With the Partisans”, Official Second World War Art Collection, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History.

 

 

 

[1] R N Lindsay (Maj), Short synopsis on Capt G K Long located in Library File 920 Long, Geoffrey Kellet: Archives, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History.

[2] H Gill, “A South African War Artists’ Glimpse behind the German Lines in Northern Italy” The Outspan (22 December 1944) Located in Library File 920 Long, Geoffrey Kellet: Archives, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History.

[3] D North, Inappropriate Conduct: Mystery of a disgraced war correspondent (Bloomington: I-universe, 2013).

[4] H Gill, “A South African War Artists’ Glimpse behind the German Lines in Northern Italy” The Outspan (22 December 1944) Located in Library File 920 Long, Geoffrey Kellet: Archives, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History.

[5] G K Long, Italian Partisans: Behind Enemy Lines (London: BBC Radio Report, October 1944) located in Library File 920 Long, Geoffrey Kellet: Archives, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History.

[6] G K Long, Series of drawings “With the Partisans”, Official Second World War Art Collection, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History.

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