February 13, 2018

25 Incredible British Propaganda Posters During World War II

Britain re-created the World War I Ministry of Information for the duration of World War II to generate propaganda to influence the population towards support for the war effort. A wide range of media was employed aimed at local and overseas audiences. Traditional forms such as newspapers and posters were joined by new media including cinema (film), newsreels and radio. A wide range of themes were addressed, fostering hostility to the enemy, support for allies, and specific pro war projects such as conserving metal and growing vegetables.

Posters were widely used in the propaganda campaigns. Their content ranged from simple instructions to purely motivational content. One series of posters for London Transport featured Billy Brown of London Town.

1. "Children should be evacuated" by Dudley S Cowes, Unknown Date


A poster designed for the Ministry of Health in the latter part of 1940 to reinforce the message that children should be evacuated out of London. The background to the poster shows a ‘blitzed' street with the Union Flag flying defiantly from the rubble. The better-known version of this poster showed a member of the auxiliary fire service and a young boy dressed up as a fireman, eager to do his bit for the war effort.


2. "Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS)" - Artist unknown, Date unknown


A strongly colored recruitment poster for the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). It shows a scared-looking Nazi soldier with his arms raised in surrender. The ATS was first formed on 9 September 1938 to free as many men as possible for service on the front.


3. "Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) girl" by Abram Games, November 1941


Described by the art critic Eric Newton as ‘slightly Russianised', this Forces recruitment poster depicts the head-and-shoulders of a uniformed Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) girl. It is printed in two shades of fire-red. Advertiser's Weekly described the ATS girl as ‘fresh and smiling… looking upwards with a gaze of eager enthusiasm'.

Games' previous ATS poster had been removed from the hoardings after complaints were received that the woman depicted was ‘too glamorous'. The ATS used publicity to counteract its poor public reputation. Parents needed to be reassured that if their daughter joined the ATS, she would not get a reputation for being ‘cheap'.


4. "They can't get on without us" by Dugdale, Date unknown


A Forces recruitment poster for the ATS. It illustrates a smiling young woman in ATS uniform. The backdrop is of uniformed soldiers surrounding an anti-aircraft gun. The slogan ‘They can't get on without us' demonstrates the purpose of the ATS, which was formed on 9 September 1938 to free as many men as possible for service on the front. The women were simply expected to ‘spot' the aircraft, not to fire the guns. But some women did exceed their defined role. Conscription for women was introduced in 1941.


5. "We beat 'em before" by Pat Keely, Unknown, Possibly 1940


A strongly coloured and graphically designed war effort poster, clearly recognisable as Keely's symbolic shorthand style, with a message intended to be intelligible to everybody. The image consists of a First World War infantryman with the slogan ‘We beat 'em before' and a Second World War machine gunner attacking, above the slogan ‘We will beat 'em again'. France surrendered to the Nazis in June 1940, and this poster was possibly produced in response, encouraging the population to fight, rather than cave in.


6. "This was our finest hour" by Pat Keely, June 1940 or Later


A strongly coloured war effort poster depicting an oversized British soldier standing in defence of the white cliffs of Dover. The slogan ‘This was our finest hour' is taken from Churchill's speech to the House of Commons on 18 June 1940.


7. "We beat 'em before. We'll beat 'em again" - Artist unknown, Date unknown


A war effort poster, depicting evil-looking uniformed German soldiers from the First and Second World Wars surrendering, with the slogan ‘We beat 'em before. We'll beat 'em again'.

France surrendered to the Nazis in June 1940, and this poster was possibly produced in response, encouraging the population to fight, rather than cave in.


8. "Unattended kettle" - Artist unknown, Late-1944


A subtly colored fuel economy poster issued by the Ministry of Fuel and Power, illustrated with an unattended kettle boiling over a full gas flame. The poster was illustrated in Advertiser's Weekly on 12 October, in an article referring to the new winter economy campaign.


9. "The firm (country) pays for it" by Fougasse (Cyril Kenneth Bird), 1943


A cartoon in Fougasse's inimitable style of a man graffiti-ing the wall, with the slogan now adapted to read: ‘It doesn't (does) matter; the firm (country) pays for it: don't waste here the fuel you save at home'. Industrial workers needed to recognise that there was more at stake than the company budgets, that fuel was an invaluable wartime resource. This poster is illustrated in a discussion on Fougasse's approach to poster design in Advertiser's Weekly on December 8 1943.


10. "Keep mum – she's not so dumb"


A careless talk poster, illustrated with the figure of a blonde-haired woman reclining, and officers from each branch of the Armed Forces about her, with the slogan ‘Keep mum – she's not so dumb!' The slogan was an adaptation of the 1940 campaign, ‘Be Like Dad, Keep Mum', which had so enraged the Labour MP Dr Edith Summerskill.

The campaign was issued in 1942, for the attention of all ranks, with this particular image intended for officers' messes and other places where the commissioned ranks met. At the end of May, Advertiser's Weekly noted that ‘sex appeal' had been introduced in the form of a beautiful spy, who they insisted on ‘christening Olga Polovsky after the famous song'. In June 1941 they further noted that, having covered public house talk, wayside conversations with strangers, and ‘harmless chat' with friends when on leave, the government believed they had identified ‘the major problem' at last. The campaign was to make a direct appeal along the lines of ‘Cherchez la femme', as a reminder that ‘when in the company of a beautiful woman, remember that beauty may conceal brains'. Service personnel seemed particularly ready to disclose their station and line of work.


11. "The more information you keep under your hat" - Artist unknown, Date unknown


A Careless talk poster, illustrated with civilian and armed forces headgear, with the slogan ‘The more information you keep under your hat' (trilby hat) and the caption ‘the safer he'll be under his' (steel helmet). This slogan is less succinct, although more explicit, than the wide-ranging campaign ‘Keep it Under Your Hat' of 1940, of which this poster may have intended to be part. As with many Careless talk posters, the images focus on the head area, indicating whatever knowledge was contained in the head, it should be kept there. Aimed across the classes, the campaign needed to make everyone realise that they might know information of importance, and so could be dangerous to the nation.


12. "Hitler with an ear stretched out to hear careless talk" - Artist unknown, Possibly 1940


A Careless talk cartoon poster depicting the left-hand side of Hitler's face with an enlarged ear, accompanied by a rhyming caption. In February 1940, Advertiser's Weekly mentioned a new campaign to be used alongside Fougasse's famous designs, a design that had already been effectively used in France for the BEF, ‘depicting Hitler with an ear stretched out to hear careless talk'. Hitler was often used in Careless talk posters, as he was an identifiable individual who personified, and could be held responsible for, all that the Nazis stood for.


13. "Pop-Eye the Sailor Man gets tough with Talky" - Artist unknown, 1939-1945


A Careless talk cartoon which depicts Pop-Eye the sailor man, on the dockside, having stern words with ‘Talky' the dock-worker (pale-faced and sweating), and about to strike him down for mentioning ‘somefin' ya should'n have'. Those working in places such as the docks, factories and munitions works needed to value the information they held, and realise that scraps of information could be pieced together to form a coherent whole. The campaign was giving permission to those who saw those misbehaving to do something about it, encouraging them to ‘be tough'.


14. "Colonel Shultz" - Artist unknown, 1939-1945


A Careless talk poster, illustrated by a uniformed German Intelligence Officer, (Colonel Shultz) depicted as a typical masochistic Nazi officer, his eyes shaded. The accompanying text is a message to British troops encouraging them to give military details to friends, assuring them that German Intelligence would hear.

Technology had changed the way wars were fought, with the importance of communications more evident in the Second World War than in any previous war. Rather than risk stealing documents, it was often safer and more profitable for the spy to keep his ears and eyes open. Fragments of information could be collated quickly into a meaningful whole: Troop and ship movements, the position of power stations and munitions plants, the state of public morale … plenty of data useful to the enemy could be pieced together from a few scraps of gossip, innocent in themselves but fatal in bulk.


15. "Seductive ‘siren'" by Whitear, Probably post-1942


A Careless talk poster, illustrated with a glamorous, seductive ‘siren' sat on a bar stool, with the slogan: ‘You forget – but she remembers…'. In this image, the ‘siren' makes eye contact with the viewer, often described in western culture as ‘bedroom eyes'. The colouring in the poster indicates that men will be drawn to this woman as a moth to a flame. Working along the same lines as INF 3/229, the image depicts a conventional glamour spy, in the style of the Mata Hari, who Advertiser's Weekly described as ‘as out of date as the aspidistra'. The idea of the prostitute as spy was common, with the need for ‘expendable intermediaries' to disguise dealings between spies and the secret service.


16. "Zipp it!" by Radcliffe, Unknown, Probably post-1940


A cheerful Careless talk poster, illustrating the head of a soldier, with a shadow behind him, which could be interpreted as those listening in the shadows. The soldier is pulling a zip-fastener across his mouth, to keep in any important military information. The image is accompanied by the slogan: ‘Zipp it! Careless talk costs lives'.


17. "Careless talk costs lives" by Reeves, 1939-1946


"Careless talk costs lives" (two men on station platform - engine passing, saying `Sh-sh-sh-sh')


18. "Urgent call for blood" by W.S.B., Possibly 1943


The image is an ‘urgent call for blood', depicting infantry soldiers advancing amongst a cloud of smoke, and graphically pointing to the official Army Blood Transfusion appointment card. Space is provided for over-printing to allow local centres to provide information on location and/or time, alongside the more general slogan ‘Give your blood so that he may live!'

Blood transfusion campaigns were necessary throughout the war, but Advertiser's Weekly makes special note of campaigns in mid-1943, designed for a national and local level, with a particular focus on blood transfusion weeks to be held nationally – area-by-area. The Ministry of Information prepared material for local drives, including thousands of posters.


19. "Shine your torch downwards" by Tom Gentleman, Pre-1943


A road safety poster in a strong modern graphic style, depicting two shadowy civilian men shining their torch as they cross each other in the road. The slogan is direct and to the point: ‘Shine your torch downwards when crossing the road' so as not to blind drivers and other pedestrians in the blacked out streets. The poster was illustrated in Art & Industry in July 1943, as an example of posters that had been displayed in a recent poster exhibition.


20. "Lookout in the blackout" by Pat Keely, Probably 1940


A road safety poster, depicting a man's head wearing a hat with his eye looking right (following the direction of the arrow), appearing from the gloom of the night. The ‘lookout in the blackout' campaign first originated in February 1940, due to the number of fatal accidents in the blackout. The campaign, initially only in the press, but with posters in the planning stages, was issued under the guidance of the Ministry of War Transport.


21. "Road safety poster" by Pat Keely, Unknown, Possibly 1941


A road safety poster, depicting a civilian man wearing a white armband, crossing at a green wartime street crossing light. The text colours, using amber and green, cleverly echo the colour of traffic lights, giving the signal for go-ahead when appropriate.

In 1941, Mass-Observation carried out a five-week observational study to assess the success of the campaign to get people to wear the white armband depicted in this poster, and found that only 7% were wearing or carrying something white.


22. "How to fight the fire bomb" by Austin Cooper, 1940-1941


The flame-red image depicts a home ablaze, having been hit by a firebomb – an incendiary device designed to cause maximum fire damage on flammable materials and objects, and to provide target illumination for following heavy-bombers. The poster promoted a free exhibition, hosted by the Ministry of Information, which would demonstrate ‘How to fight the fire bomb'.

During the Blitz many fire bombs landed on buildings all over the country, with London hardest hit. Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary, praised those fire fighting volunteers who had been trying to protect buildings and people all over the country, but called for more with: ‘Fall in the fire bomb fighters!'


23. "London telephone exchange" - Artist unknown, Unknown date


An unusual photomontage-style image calling urgently for telephonists for the London area. The image depicts the head of a (female) telephonist, surrounded by the distinctive shape of the River Thames, and London telephone exchange codes.


24. "Volunteer housewife" by Showell, Unknown date


A poster design for the Ministry of Health, illustrated with a friendly, motherly volunteer suburban housewife. She is stepping from a line of members of the uniformed services to receive urban children. This poster was largely aimed at those in reception areas who needed to be persuaded to accept urban children. The more usual audience of parents who needed to be convinced to send their children away to safe areas is also addressed. This image was probably rejected (Note the cross through the centre of the piece) because the people in the image did not appear friendly enough, as an almost identical image designed by Ny was released in its place.


25. "Walk short distances" by Le Witt & Him, c.1944


Petrol rationing, low car ownership, heavy use of the railways to move troops as well as the blackout all conspired to fill public transport to bursting during the Second World War. Rail passenger journeys topped 1.3 billion in 1945.

The Lewitt-Him partnership’s poster for the Ministry of Transport (with a relatively modern-seeming message for the carbon conscious 21st century) encouraged walking where possible in an attempt to thin out packed trains and buses.

(via The National Archives)



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