SERJEANT JAMES HARGREAVES MORTON
EAST LANCASHIRE REGIMENT
6TH NOVEMBER 1918 AGE 37
BURIED: PONT-SUR-SAMBRE COMMUNAL CEMETERY, HARGNIES, FRANCE
James Hargreaves Morton lived with his four older sisters: Rachel, Sarah, Fanny and Alice, all unmarried, who worked in the cotton and linen mills of Darwen Lancashire and supported him in his career as an artist. They were proud of him, as the inscription Rachel chose makes clear. They had every reason to be.
Morton received his first training as an artist in Darwen School of Art before winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. After this he took a job teaching art at Darlington Technical School but decided before long that he couldn't concentrate on his painting whilst teaching. It was at this point that his mother and sisters decided he should come home and they would support him whilst he dedicate himself to his painting.
It seems he wasn't totally supported by his sisters. In the 1911 census Morton described himself as a decorative designer in wall paper, working on his own account. There were several wallpaper manufacturers in Darwen who would have bought his designs. But in the following years he became increasingly well known as an artist, exhibiting at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool and at the Royal Academy. One of his best-known paintings, Johanna, which shows a young Belgian refugee, was painted during the first years of the war, as was a rather haunting self portrait in which Morton seems to stare stoically but apprehensively into the future.
Morton was thirty-three when the war broke out. He did not enlist but in 1916 was conscripted. He served with the 5th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment and must have been a capable soldier since within two years he was a serjeant. He was killed in action on 6 November when the battalion launched an attack in the Forest of Mormal, which had to be withdrawn in the face of fierce machine gun fire and a threatened counter attack. The attack succeeded the next day.
After his death, the sisters kept all Morton's paintings, honouring his wish that they should be kept together. But after Alice's death in 1967 they were sold uncatalogued and with no record of the buyers. Recently there has been a revival of interest in his work and in 2013 James Hargreaves Morton A Short Colourful Life was published by the Friends of Darwen Library.