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Keep the home fires burning

Published 05 July 2012

Detail of First World War propaganda poster: "Women of Britain Say 'GO'!" by EJ Kealy, 1915

British First World War propaganda posters

The Liddle Collection's Arts section contains a selection of propaganda posters dating from the First World War. Many of these, such as the famous illustration "The Zeppelin Raids: The Vow of Vengeance", produced by Frank Brangwyn for the Daily Chronicle in 1915, were designed to justify British involvement in the conflict.

However, the purpose of most propaganda posters was to promote recruitment and cement ideas of patriotic duty on the domestic front. This is particularly true of posters from the middle period of the conflict when enthusiasm for the war had begun to dwindle. For example the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee's (PRC) poster number 15 depicts two middle-class women standing at a window, a small child clinging to their skirts, watching the retreating backs of British troops. The title "Women of Britain Say - 'GO'", like the familiar slogan "Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?", aimed to increase pressure upon men still at home to enlist.

When not exploiting family relationships, these posters often fall back on more blatant incitements to patriotism. The PRC's poster number 67 shows rolling English countryside complete with dovecote, thatched cottages and dairy cattle. A soldier, wildly out of proportion with the idyllic scene, stands in the foreground and asks "Isn't this worth fighting for? Enlist Now."

The Empire was still a powerful and evocative symbol at the outbreak of the First World War. The PRC exploited this in publications such as poster 56, "The Empire Needs Men". It shows a mature male lion surrounded by his cubs above the slogan "All answer the call. Helped by the Young Lions the Old Lion defies his Foes - Enlist Now!". Printed in muted colours and using a traditional style of draughtsmanship, the poster attempts to boost recruitment across the commonwealth by unifying the experiences of multiple generations. 

To today's media-savvy viewer these slogans and images may seem clunky and transparent, but they exerted a powerful effect on the populace. They were only one part of a broad propaganda campaign that included the production of films, pamphlets and reproductions of German medals such as the Iron Cross.

We are fortunate enough to hold in the Liddle Collection many of these items of propaganda.

View the online exhibition of British First World War propaganda posters

More from the Liddle Collection

Why not come along to the Reading Room, where we currently have a small display of trench art.