This is probably the most well known poster from the Great War showing Field Marshall Lord Kitchener appealing for men to join the army. It was the basis for similar posters in other countries – America using Uncle Sam – and has been copied regularly for many other posters for varied purposes in the decades since.
It was initially the illustration for the front cover of the 5 September 1914 issue of the magazine, London Opinion, and included the message ‘Your Country Needs You’. That was changed to ‘Wants You’ under Kitchener’s picture when the Parliamentary Recruitment Committee was given permission to use the front cover as a recruiting poster.
Whilst some 5.7 million posters were printed in the country during the war surprisingly, in retrospect, only 10,000 copies of this poster were printed.
Posters were the main tool for giving information, for seeking support, for urging action and for boosting morale – for informing, persuading and inspiring – at a time when there were limited alternative avenues for giving messages to the mass of the population. Few people owned radios, and television and the internet had yet to be invented: posters were the Government’s main avenue for mass communication – the ‘weapon on the wall’.
They were used to encourage everyone to do their bit by joining up, by working for the war effort, by not wasting food, by investing in government bonds and raising funds.
Examples from across the wide range of posters issued are reproduced below:
Designed by Robert Baden Powell this poster illustrated how different sections of society were contributing to the war effort. A man with his hands in his pockets is standing on the sidelines.
Commercial advertising techniques were used, in this instance to appeal to women to encourage more men to join the forces, at the same time depicting women and children as needing protection. Albeit other posters encouraged women to play their part in the war effort and the war increased substantially the number of women in paid work across a wide range of jobs:
Fund raising was also a subject of some posters, as above, as was dealing with food issues, as below:
Everyone was encouraged to play their part, to step into their place:
In this poster a united country with all members of society going to war together is depicted. Civilians are shown with the the tools of their trade or profession, gradually turning into British infantrymen.
There was a view that team sports, incorporating team spirit and a sense of patriotism, were a good preparation for war, and sportsmen were used as role models to encourage recruitment, as in this poster and the next below, which also used a message of action to counter the German reported view of Britain’s young men:
And, of course, at the same time the Germans were themselves mounting their poster campaigns:
Posters were issued to raise funds for Welsh soldiers and were issued in the Welsh language for use in Wales – the first below is a recruitment poster from 1914:
The messages read ‘Independence calls for the bravest of men’ and ‘Army boys of Wales – Despicable is the man who does not hate his country’s enemies – Wales Forever!’