As well as being visually stunning, this brilliant collection of propaganda posters made by the British government in World War I also explains how they were deployed, how the public reacted, and how their design and implementation had to evolve along with the realities of the Great War. Some of you might remember the best propaganda posters blog we did a while back - but this fabulous collection pips my own, I think!
Registered Osprey website users can use their usual Osprey log in details on the Shire Books site, just in case you fancy buying a copy. But enough from me, read on for Russell's thoughts!
My absolute highlight of this year has been working on Posters of the First World War. Not only is it more substantial and longer than most Shire books – it is also perhaps the most beautiful books I can remember working on.
Of course, what really makes the book so appealing is not Shire’s own design work, or the accompanying text that offers so much information about the posters’ background: it is the posters themselves that take centre stage. Even a century after being produced, they remain poignant, striking and beautifully produced. Some, especially earlier versions, are upbeat and optimistic – ‘To Berlin!’ for instance, offers ‘a Trip to Germany in the Spring to a few Sportsmen’ who are offered ‘Good Shooting and Hunting’ and ‘Cheap Trips up the Rhine’. As it became clear that the war would be more protracted than first thought, these soon give way to more urgent emotional bribery such as ‘Daddy, What did You do in the Great War?
Though many of the posters are aimed at soldier recruitment, others encourage investment in war bonds and enlist women’s help for munitions factories and fundraising efforts – these were all colourful posters and the power of advertising was certainly coming into its own in this period. One of the more entertaining and curious examples from 1915 is a potent reminder of this: ‘Why bother about the Germans invading the country? Invade it yourself by Underground and Motorbus’!
While most of the posters are British, a few examples are included from other countries, and some interesting parallels are made. The 1915 ‘Britain Needs You at Once!’ poster depicts St George slaying the dragon, and this is set alongside a very similar German design of 1917 ‘Zeichnet-die-Sechste Kriegsanleighe’. Equally striking is the similarity between the well-known British ‘Your Country Needs YOU!’ poster of General Kitchener with his accusatory index finger, and the American ‘I Want YOU for U.S. Army’ version, with Uncle Sam precisely imitating Kitchener.
Perhaps my own favourite poster is the alarmist ‘It is Far Better to Face the Bullets than to be Killed at Home by a Bomb’, which vastly overstates the threats posed by the German air attacks. However, its depiction of a Zeppelin illuminated by a searchlight over St Paul’s and the London skyline is eerily reminiscent of images of the Blitz in 1940.
I learned a lot from the authoritative text as well – that the public often did not respond well to being patronised by the posters, and sometimes even tore them down in anger; and that women were first encouraged to goad their menfolk into enlistment, then later were themselves encouraged to help with the war effort. Even if some people could see through such propaganda, there was certainly a ready market for it in the First World War, and these posters were clearly seen as powerful messengers.
So check out Posters of World War I, and if you want coverage of almost any other facet of the war, this is the month to procure your information as our 25% World War I discount is still running!