Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Your Country Needs (Wants) You: The Evolution and Impact of Kitchener's Image

The Original Use of the Image

On 5 August 1914, the day after Britain declared war on Germany, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener (1850–1916), already a national war hero, became secretary of state for war. He foresaw a long and costly campaign, needing a much bigger army than the current British Expeditionary Force, and appealed for volunteers for a much-expanded BEF.

Nearly half a million men joined up between 4 August and 12 September, including 33,204 on 3 September alone. A key factor in stimulating enlistment was locally raised "pals battalions," which promised men enlisting from the same community or workplace that they would fight together. Many other men, however, enlisted for adventure or to escape from an arduous, dangerous, or humdrum job.

It was initially intended only as a front cover design for the magazine London Opinion on 5 September 1914, created by professional illustrator Alfred Leete, supposedly in a single day. The cover bore the message "Your Country Needs You."

The slogan was then slightly tweaked to simply "Wants You" and the image was privately produced as a poster shortly afterward. But there is little photographic evidence of it on display in public places and only a handful of original copies survive today.

The Recruiting Poster

However, it did not appear in poster form until the end of September 1914, after signing-up peaked. Its supposedly vital influence on recruitment is largely a myth.

Though 2,500,000 men joined the British Army voluntarily between August 1914 and December 1915, even this was not enough to supply the front line, and conscription had to be introduced in January 1916.

Source: The British Museum Website

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