Lesley Blanch was Features Editor of British Vogue 1937-45. During the Second World War, she was on the front line of women journalists covering a wide range of topics. She covered various aspects of Britain at war for the Ministry of Information, and documented the lives of women in the forces with her friend the photographer Lee Miller.
The scene is a wild stretch of coast. There are mountains inland, glimpsed nebulously through the icy, blanketing mists which lie low over the ragged, sodden fields. The cold appals. The most leathery-looking sergeant shudders. I am huddled inside a wigwam of topcoats. Stamping and shuffling in their battledress, the A.T.S. are blowing on their hands, waiting for the command to take over the gunsites.
This is one of the big practice camps where the Mixed A.A. Batteries, or gun teams, receive their final training before being sent to man the many defence posts. On the edge of the cliffs stand the great guns. Low overhead a practice or target plane rolls, swoops and spins with show-off brilliance. In the lee of a little glass-walled lean to hut where some remotely, beautifully academic-looking kine-theodolite girls are at work recording and checking the gunfire, a group of gunnery officers argue a point of tactics. Their scarlet capbands are sharp against the prevailing khaki of place and personnel.
Down the hillside from the encampment of tin huts comes a mixed detachment, swinging along in the jaunty, pump-handle Army manner. They march well together, husky toughs, hobgoblin girls . . . all manner of faces, all manner of people. Here they come, man, woman and child — yes, that little tich-tot is hardly more. Animal, vegetable, mineral. Lusty faces, stolid faces, flint faces: pretty ones and plain. Mars and Venus. Caliban and the Ugly Sisters . . . A cross-section of Britain. Side by side, Amazons and Spartans go, identically dressed, in battledress, leather jerkins and tin hats. On operational work the A.T.S. now wear trousers, and it is interesting to learn that this has made them 100 per cent more slick and efficient. Which goes to prove once again how profound an effect clothes have upon women.
[. . . contd.]
Lesley Blanch wrote about everything, but fashion. Her articles can be viewed by appointment at:
The Vogue Archive,
National Art Library, first floor,
Victoria and Albert Museum,
London SW7 2RL
tel: 020 7942 2000
Rights enquiries, contact:
Director of Editorial Administration and Rights,
The Condé Nast Publications Ltd,
London W1S 1JU.
British Vogue was the ultimate fashion-and-society bible which showcased a pot-pourri of the best artistic and literary talents of the contemporary avant-garde: Aldous Huxley, Nancy Cunard, Clive Bell and Virginia Woolf; Noël Coward, Vita Sackville-West and the Sitwells . . . while Cecil Beaton, Hoyningen-Huene and Horst turned fashion photography into an art.
Opinions expressed in the press dominated all classes in a time before TV, radio or the internet. By the end of the 1930s, British Vogue began to cater for a mass readership, showing women how to dress stylishly on a budget and weighing up working girls’ wardrobes.
After Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, Londoners settled into chaos, living day-to-day in an atmosphere of danger, but they pulled together. Air-raids enforced night-long blackouts, but it was business as usual at theatres and restaurants although they closed early, so after-hours clubs sprang up in the reinforced, shored-up basements of hotels and restaurants.
Lesley Blanch wrote about ballet, theatre, cinema, books . . . the movers-and-shakers of the time. A selection of her articles were published in her posthumous memoirs On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life (Virago, 2015).
Part Two – Scenes from the Home Front
‘Spotlight’: writing from the Vogue Years (1937 – 1945)
Lesley Blanch / British Vogue © The Condé Nast Publications Ltd.
The Years Between – British Vogue, September 1941, pp. 115–19.
A Babel of Tongues – ‘Spotlight’, British Vogue, November 1939, pp. 119–20.
Living the Sheltered Life – British Vogue, October 1940, pp. 120–3.
To Have or to Hold – British Vogue, April 1941, pp. 123–5.
War on Winter – British Vogue, November 1941, pp. 125–7.
Blitzed Britain – ‘Spotlight’, British Vogue, October 1941, pp. 127–8.
Noël Coward’s New Medium – British Vogue, November 1942, pp. 54, 72.
The True Story of Lili Marlene – British Vogue, April 1944, pp. 142–6.
Some of all the Russias – British Vogue, March 1942, pp. 31–2, 86.
The lead photos are courtesy of world war two today for which many thanks. It is not permitted to change the image, to add to it, reproduce or modify it in any other way. In case of violation, we reserve the right to withdraw the right of use.