WW1 Posters: Recruitment and Propaganda

World War One recruitment posters, as in all wars, shared a similar theme – the accusatory finger pointing at the shirker, the call to defend hearth and home, the appeal to patriotism and love of country, and the demand to avenge alleged wrongs.

Yet recruitment at the outset of the war was to cause few problems for any of the combatants. Few aside from the occasional Cassandra seemed to fear the coming conflict and most believed it would be a short war. Indeed, ‘it will be over by Christmas’ became a familiar refrain.

For young men in the fullness of youth it was an opportunity not to be missed.

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In Britain, for example, within a month of the Secretary of War Lord Kitchener’s appeal for volunteers more than 500,000 men had enlisted.

No one wanted to miss out, no one thought they might lose, and no one doubted God was on their side.

But the Great War was to be the first industrial war, a war of fearful new weapons and big guns, of death and destruction on an unprecedented and unimaginable scale.

So much so that the need for money became as important as the requirement for men, and posters appealing for people to send not just their sons to fight but to spend their savings on War Bonds became as familiar a sight as the sentimental parting and the heroic figure gun in hand standing astride a beaten enemy minus the blood and the mud.

But there was little glory to be had in the mechanised slaughter of trench warfare.

There was to be no gentle transfer from life to Valhalla carried by angels to sit alongside the warrior elite.

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As the reality of war, the sight of maimed men, the endless casualty lists in newspapers, the rationing of food and essential goods emerged so did enthusiasm decline and propaganda change from heroic sacrifice to bitter hatred of the enemy – the Beastly Hun, Perfidious Albion, the Cossack Hordes.

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Atrocity stories became manifest particularly on the Allied side – the German sinking of the Lusitania, their rape of Belgium, the murder of Nurse Edith Cavell, the Crucified Soldier.

By 1916, all the major combatants had resorted to conscription to fill the thinning ranks as the rate of desertion began to outstrip that of recruitment.

Following the carnage of 1914-18, the scenes of joy and wild enthusiasm that greeted the declaration of war throughout the capitals of Europe during those glorious summer days would not be repeated upon the outbreak of the Second World War just 21 years later.

The Great War may not have been ‘the war to end all wars’ but it was the war that destroyed once and for all the love of war.

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