British First World War propaganda posters
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Women of Britain Say - "GO!"
Designed by EJ Kealy and published by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee in 1915, this poster is an example of propaganda material that interwove ideas of domestic and patriarchal duty with the pull of patriotism. Its tactic, to increase pressure on men still left at home to enlist, can also be seen at work in another Parliamentary Recruiting Committee poster "Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?", designed by Savile Lumley.
Depicting a mother with her two children against a backdrop of rolling, quintessentially English countryside, "Women of Britain Say - 'GO'!" also taps into the new source of involvement experienced by middle-class women in particular, through their active engagement with the values of imperialism and patriotism.
The Zeppelin Raids: The Vow of Vengeance
This was created in response to the bombing raids carried out over England by German Army and Navy Zeppelins in 1915 and 1916. German aircrews mainly targeted London and the surrounding areas; however as 1915 wore on the bombing parties travelled further afield, dropping bombs on Norfolk and the West Midlands. Susan Grayzel provides a detailed history of these air raids in her book At Home and Under Fire: The Air Raid in Britain from the Great War to the Blitz.
Frank Brangwyn's illustration was published in the Daily Chronicle newspaper in 1916, aiming to provide fresh justification for British involvement in the conflict. Initial propaganda material relied on the cliché of Britain as the upright and honourable defender of helpless Belgium in the face of German bullying, but as death tolls began to rise emphasis shifted to avenging the deaths of British civilians.
Other posters featuring German Zeppelins labelled them "The Baby-Killer" and exhorted men to "Join the Army at once" as it was "better to face the bullets than be killed at home by a bomb", marking out the domestic front as a feminine space in which men had no place in war time.
Paid Off - War Savings Certificates
By 1916 the British Government had to look to the populace to fund the escalating conflict. This poster is one of many aimed at encouraging British citizens to invest in war bonds. These posters used a variety of persuasion tactics but in the main appealed to a sense of patriotic duty. This example is unusual due to its primary emphasis on the war bond as a sound investment. However, there are subtle appeals to patriotism in the use of language; the investment is "backed by all the power and wealth of the British Nation", engaging the investor in the rhetoric of imperialism.
The illustration of a working-class man underlines the urgency with which the Government was attempting to engage all sections of society in the war bond campaign. Publications like this one, which emphasised the financial rewards of the war bonds scheme, were aimed at working-class investors. Posters designed to appeal to middle-class aspirational values were very different, featuring children playing in sunny gardens as their well-dressed parents looked on.
The Empire Needs Men
Designed by Arthur Wardle and published by the Parliamentary Recruitment Committee in 1915, this poster demonstrates that the recruitment drive during the First World War was not limited to British citizens. It attempts to foster a sense of unity between the dominions of the British Empire against a common enemy.
At the outbreak of the First World War on 4 August 1914 the entirety of the British Empire was automatically deemed to be at war with Germany. However, self-governing dominions such as Canada, India, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand could choose whether or not to offer military assistance.
A later version of the poster simply read "Overseas States" where before India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were listed; South Africa had initially hesitated to become involved in the conflict and was left out of Wardle's original design.
In this publication the image is allegorical; the mature lion symbolises Great Britain as head of its dominion countries, represented by the younger lions arranged below and behind it.
There's Still Room for YOU in the RASC
The original designer of this poster is unknown. It was published in 1920 as part of a drive to recruit men to the Royal Army Service Corp. The RASC supplied stores such as food, fuel, water, stationery and furniture (but not ammunition and other military supplies such as technical equipment) and made up the Army Fire Service.
This poster refers specifically to the Mechanical Transport division of the RASC, responsible for the supply and maintenance of lorries, motorcycles, cars and even requisitioned omnibuses (like this example in the Imperial War Museum London).
The emphasis on the Mechanical Transport Division is symptomatic of the push towards mechanised and armoured warfare in the aftermath of the First World War. Britain wanted to avoid a repeat of the 1914-18 conflict, as this article from the Royal United Services Institute attests. The message is strikingly different to that of this recruitment article published during World War One, which seeks "men accustomed to horses".
Experience Counts – Royal Army Ordnance Corps
As with its RASC counterpart, the designer of this poster is unknown. Intended to promote recruitment, the publication stresses the variety of occupations open to young men joining the RAOC, which supplied troops with ammunition, weaponry and military machinery.
Though an exact publication date is unknown the poster must have been printed in the inter-war years, as the prefix "Royal" was awarded after 1918 in acknowledgement of their contribution during the First World War.
The design itself owes much to the style of illustration seen in the Boy's Own series of papers and annuals and sells an image of clean-cut masculinity not necessarily defined by class.
See the Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) Museum for more information about the RAOC.
Your Country’s Call – Isn’t this worth fighting for?
Published in 1915 at the request of the British Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, this poster is an example of the crude appeals to patriotism that appear in early First World War propaganda. It features a British soldier in hodden grey kilt and glengarry bonnet, wildly out of proportion with the scene, pointing towards rolling countryside complete with dairy herd, dovecote and thatched cottage. The poster's pastoral representation of Great Britain is designed to prompt the patriotic fervour of men who had not yet enlisted.
While there was a surge in enlistment in the first year of the war, peaking in the September of 1914, by 1915 casualty rates on the front were soaring and enlistment rates were dropping off. In addition to publishing these recruitment posters, the Government introduced the Derby scheme. Under this initiative, men who enlisted voluntarily would be called upon to fight only when necessary and married men would only be called up when the supply of single recruits dwindled. Though the Government had tried to avoid conscription, the Derby Scheme failed and by December 1915 it was ended in favour of the Military Service Act.
Join the RAMCimages
Join the RAMC
This publication is another example of an inter-war recruitment poster, dated between 1919-1920, aiming to recruit civilians to the Royal Army Medical Corps.
Formed in 1898 by royal warrant, the RAMC was and is still the largest corps in the Army Medical Service. It combined the soldiers of the Army Hospital Corps (known as the Medical Staff Corps between 1884 and 1898) with the officers of the Medical Staff. At the outbreak of the First World War the RAMC numbered around 9,000 men; by 1918 that had risen to around 113,000.
From the professions listed it is clear that this poster is designed to recruit civilians to the soldier trades in the RAMC rather than the officer professions.
The poster itself is a lithograph print and the main figure is depicted against a background of the Geneva Cross, the emblem from which the Red Cross take their name. It is perhaps a reference to the assistance that organisations like the Red Cross, the Friends' Ambulance Unit, St John Ambulance and the Voluntary Aid Detachment gave to the RAMC during the First World War.
John Bernard Partridgeimages
Take Up the Sword of Justice
As with Frank Brangwyn's poster "The Zeppelin Raids", many First World War propaganda posters responded to specific events as they happened. This particular example, designed by John Bernard Partridge and published by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, is a response to the sinking of the Cunard liner RMS Lusitania by a German U-boat in May 1915, which had killed 1,198 civilians. As with Arthur Wardle's "The Empire Needs Men" poster, the illustration here is allegorical, with the classically dressed woman in the foreground representing Justice.
The poster was not the only piece of propaganda material produced in response to the sinking of the Lusitania. In Germany sculptor Karl Goetz produced a run of medals depicting the sinking Lusitania on one side and on the reverse a skeleton selling Cunard tickets with the motto "Geschäft Über Alles" (Business Above All). The Foreign Office exploited the anti-German sentiment aroused by the medal and had replicas made. Sold for a shilling each, the medals, accompanied by a propaganda pamphlet, were advertised as having been circulated in Germany to commemorate the sinking of the Lusitania. Special Collections has one of these replica medals in the Liddle Museum Objects Collection.
WH Smith and Sonimages
The Earl Roberts Rest House
Printed by WH Smith and Son, this poster advertises a rest house for soldiers and sailors on leave. The facility was run by the Church Army, an evangelical Christian organisation founded in 1882 by Wilson Carlile. During the First World War the Church Army ran more than 2,000 social clubs for the troops serving in France. The Imperial War Museum holds a selection of posters publicising these Church Army Huts.
The rest house is named for Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Baron Roberts, an Indian-born British soldier and one of the most distinguished commanders of the 19th century. He died in November 1914, five months after the declaration of war by Great Britain.
While there is no exact date of publication for this poster, the use of Earl Roberts' name and the absence of airmen suggest that it was published before 1920. Up until this point the air force was made up of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps, with their pilots being regarded as sailors or soldiers.