England expects: Seven striking First World War posters which urged men to enlist

By Culture24 Reporter | 05 February 2016
Within months of World War One breaking out, it became clear that recruiting enough volunteers to win the war was a huge task. The Parliamentary Recruiting Committee was put in charge of boosting numbers of volunteers, commissioning posters by leading artists in public display.

A new exhibition in Bath recalls a period when 3,000 men from the city signed up voluntarily – sometimes as a result of seeing persuasive posters on the walls of the local library and other venues. Of the 11,000 men from Bath who fought in World War One, around 1,000 were killed.

A photo of a graphic designed First World War poster appealing to the call of compulsion
© National Army Museum

Lord Kitchener Says

Horatio Herbert Kitchener (1850-1916) is best remembered for his appearance on Alfred Leete’s famous First World War poster, 'Your Country Needs You'.

A career soldier with a marvellous moustache, Kitchener served in Palestine, Egypt, South Africa and India prior to the First World War, eventually becoming Consul General to Egypt in 1911.

With the outbreak of the First World War he was made Secretary of State for War and oversaw the massive expansion of the British Army. However, organisational shortcomings lost him responsibility for strategy and munitions production.

Involvement in the failed Dardanelles Campaign in 1915 further tarnished his reputation. However, Kitchener’s offer to resign was rebuffed owing to his public popularity and status as a national figurehead.

Kitchener drowned in June 1916 when his ship, HMS Hampshire, struck a mine off the Orkneys.

A photo of a graphic designed First World War poster showing men at sea
© National Army Museum

Join the Royal Marines

From Truro to Taunton and Swansea to Swindon, this lithograph – featuring four marines manning a naval gun – suggested sign-up sites to local men, with the text box likely to have been left blank so that the specific details of recruitment offices could be added in each town or city.

A cloud of smoke rises towards the sky beyond the smiling marine. The title is superimposed in the upper right corner.

A photo of a graphic designed First World War poster showing a navy battle taking place
© National Army Museum

England expects

Viscount Horatio Nelson’s immortal words from his speech at the Battle of Trafalgar, in 1805, make for a stirring poster juxtaposing a striking sunset against a black and white Nelson, who is poised.

The Viscount stands to the right of a sea battle involving four warships.

A photo of a graphic designed First World War poster showing a man blowing a trumpet
© National Army Museum

Fall In

This chromolithograph recruiting poster, specified as after E.K. – possibly Eric Kennington, an official war artist – was produced in 1914, at a time when many were expected the war to be settled by Christmas.

Realising that the conflict would be long and on an unprecedented scale, Lord Kitchener aimed to create a mass army for the first time and appealed for volunteers for his 'New Armies' in August 1914.

Recruitment officers were sent to towns, cities, factories and clubs. Propaganda posters were placed all over the country to persuade men to sign up.

Around 30,000 men were enlisting every day by the end of August. Neither the Second World War nor more recent conflicts have generated anything like this degree of enthusiasm.

Men enlisted for all manner of reasons, including patriotism, the desire to quit a boring job for an exciting adventure or the chance to see another country. The poster is now part of the National Army Museum collection.

A photo of a graphic designed First World War poster appealing to men to enlist
© National Army Museum

Follow their noble example

The propaganda of guilt: the imagery at the top and bottom of this imperative poster could not be more contrasting.

While a well-dressed family eat at the dinner table, a chair is empty. The men, meanwhile, are picking their sights from the trenches. The poster was produced in 1915, appealing to those not swept up in the earliest enlisting phases of the war.

A photo of a graphic designed First World War poster showing naval officers on a boat
© National Army Museum

The navy wants men

Another customisable poster from the navy, this time showing men seemingly without a care, gazing over the top of a ship under a blue sky and the flags of the allies.

A photo of a graphic designed First World War poster showing a large key turning
© National Army Museum

The key to the situation

Exciting, strong imagery such as this poster ended abruptly with the introduction of the Military Service Act in 1916.

The legislation applied to unmarried men who were 18 or over on August 15 1915 and under 41 on March 2 1916.

  • World War One Recruiting Posters is at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath from February 27 - April 13 2016. Follow the gallery on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

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Three places to find First World War stories in

The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth
A touring exhibition from the National Museum of Wales, Efforts and Ideals contains all 66 works from the 1917 print portfolio, including contributions from some of the best known British artists of the period. Designed to encourage a war-weary public and raise support for the war effort, they show modern political propaganda in its early stages. Until June 28 2016.

Royal Air Force Museum, London
Discover the vital work of the Service men and women on the ground as well as the changing roles of those in the air as the essential use of 'eyes in the sky' for reconnaissance was complemented by the introduction of new technologies for bombing and fighting high above the ground in the permanent exhibition, The First World War in the Air.

Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, Cornwall
Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War provides a rare opportunity to find out about the shipwrecks along the south coast of England dating from the First World War. See artefacts that have been recovered from these sites and find out what sort of ships lie on the seabed and how they came to be there.
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