The November Meeting 2018

War Posters – Tom Edbrooke

Tom began his talk by saying that posters were fashionable, even in Victorian times, for bringing products to the public’s attention and helping to sell them.   He also mentioned Cyril Kenneth Bird, known as Fougasse, who once referred to posters as ‘anything stuck on a wall with the objective of persuading the passer by’.

There was a need, when the First World War broke out, for young men to sign up and serve in the armed forces.          The theme for attracting them was based on stimulating their spirit of adventure and the fact that Christmas was not too far away “Home for Christmas”.          Generally the message on the poster appealed to men’s sense of dignity and duty and women were given the role of encouraging men to enlist as in the phrase “The Women of Britain say Go”.          The enemy were demonised.       The classic poster at this time showed a picture of Lord Kitchener and bore the message that the country needs soldiers and Your Country Needs You.       The message ended with the caption “God Save The King”.         

These posters were placed in well frequented public places particularly railway stations.        New recruits were offered 10 and 25 pence each depending on how many children they had.     The Americans used a particular image of a sultry looking young woman, set against a military background, saying “I Want You”.       

 From 1915 the search for new men was extended to include the Royal Navy as many were needed to crew the boats and ships and emphasis was placed on the comeraderie experienced by many in the service.          Naval recruits needed to be shorter in stature and they signed on in the Strand.   Extensive new training grounds were commandeered for both arms of the military machines.

Women were also encouraged to take up jobs which would release men for active service.           They were asked to enlist particularly into the rudimentary air force with slogans like “The Royal Air Force Needs Your Help” it was envisaged that they would enlist as cooks, secretaries and cleaners.    Later in the war it was realised that women could work in the munitions industry but this was always a dangerous environment.           

However, all posters were characterised by being jolly and well produced and Punch, at the beginning of the Second World War, carried a tongue in cheek advertisement for a holiday in Germany.        World War II was declared on 1st September 1939 even though Neville Chamberlain still wanted talks and was suing for peace.       1000 prisoners were released in the hope that they would sign up.        By this time the cinema was being used as an advertising medium particularly to attract women to the evacuation service to look after children who were being resettled away from the big towns and cities and away from their families.          As the heavy bombing started there was an increased need for fire wardens and women were also needed to staff the many canteen services which were springing up.

The merchant navy, which played a key role in transporting essential goods both to and from the country, suffered tremendous losses and appropriately worded posters to attract volunteers were put up at docks and railway stations.      The fact that food supplies were threatened led early on to the need for the country to become more self-sufficient in growing its own food and consequently to a huge increase in allotments and the “Dig for Victory” campaign and the formation of the Women’s Land Army.    

However working conditions were hard and included rising early in the morning to feed the animals as well as being out in all weathers.        There was an obvious need to be more frugal with food and people were asked instead to invest their money in National Bonds and Savings.         The war effort was also helped when people were asked to walk more and so save on petrol and they were urged to save gas and electricity.       Even so, petrol prices were increased by one penny per gallon.      The war effort was also helped by posters appearing at train stations asking “Is Your Journey Really Necessary”.               Women’s cosmetics were seen as luxury items, and the more glamorous of women’s clothing became difficult to purchase with people being urged via the Squander Bug Posters to give the money to the National Banks or to directly help the Nations’ interests which included the manufacture of barrage balloons.       The slogan “Make do and Mend” referred to women more than men recycling their worn or out of style clothing.

Given that the Country was on a war footing it became necessary to restrict vital information.         Posters carrying the warning “Careless Talk Costs Lives” sprang up everywhere.        In America, posters carrying cartoons of spies and saboteurs, had an accompanying text noting that many lives had been lost in the last war and extolled the population “do not say anything or give anything away – you never know who is listening”.         In the U K   the threat of invasion and the appearance of enemy paratroopers roaming the countryside was a strong possibility in the early stages of the Second World War and so all road signs were removed along with the names of villages and towns.

In 1944 with the big push coming and victory in sight, the Nation’s canals became important highways.        More women joined the armed forces than in previous years and it was about this time that the poster carrying the message “Colds and Sneezes Spread Diseases” appeared.

Rodney Murray – Jones was interested in the posters shown by Tom and reminded members that many can be seen and purchased at the Imperial War Museum and are available online.

 John Turner, the Acting President thanked Tom for his excellent illustrated talk and that most of us had some memories of the Second War and being evacuated as a child to the countryside for safety.     He thought it amusing that in his case it had been to the Chatham area, known for its docks. 


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