Keep calm and carry on

first world war propaganda and the keep calm poster
on Wed 15 Jun

Some time ago I spent  a few days in France and was intrigued by the marketing tactics used on a call up poster displayed in Newfoundland Memorial Park in Beaumont Hamel.


Annoyingly I cannot find a duplicate to tell you its exact words but it was pretty manipulative in that it inferred that those who waited to be called up were lesser men than those who volunteered.


 I was interested enough to find out some more information and soon realised that this wasn't an uncommon tactic.  Not surprising really - as Bernice Fitz-Gibbon said “A good ad should be like a good sermon: It must not only comfort the afflicted, it also must afflict the comfortable."


Some Background


Apparently the First World War saw the first extensive use of posters for propaganda purposes with 54,000,000 of some 200 different posters produced and distributed by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee (PRC) over the course of the war.


In January 1915 one Londoner wrote “Posters appealing to recruits are to be seen on every hoarding, in most shop windows, in omnibuses, tramcars, and commercial vans. The great base of Nelson’s pillar is covered with them.”


Initially these were like handbills with text in one or two colour but within a few weeks more graphic images were used – the most famous being Alfred Leete’s characterisation of Lord Kitchener.


Psychologically bullying poster campaigns became commonplace but were increasingly criticised through the last half of 1915 and were no longer required by the time conscription was put into place in 1916


Some Examples


You have probably heard of the one which depicts a little girl on her daddy’s knee asking “Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?” There were some other hard hitters too like


  • “Be honest with yourself, be certain your so called reason is not a selfish excuse”
  • “It is far better to face the bullets than to be killed at home by a bomb”
  • “Your chums are fighting why aren’t you?” and
  • “Who’s absent? Is it you?”




Of course one war poster has endured and indeed proliferated in modern times.  This is one that was produced in 1939 and was intended to raise the morale of the British public at the beginning of the Second World War…


Keep Calm and Carry On


At the time it was little known (despite two and a half million copies being printed) since it was privately distributed in limited numbers - but it was found again in 2000 and has subsequently inspired clothing, mugs, doormats and many posters and cards. it has also inspired many, many variations.


You can’t keep a good message down!

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