Recruitment poster after German bombardment of Scarborough © IWM (Art.IWM PST 5119)

Recruitment poster after German bombardment of Scarborough
© IWM (Art.IWM PST 5119)

The war generated a flood of propaganda aimed at persuading people, at home and abroad, that Britain’s cause was just and the enemy were war-mongering barbarians.

Newspapers and magazines carried the message, advertisements were skilfully adapted to do the same, and posters issued by such bodies as the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee were to be seen everwhere, combining memorable slogans and striking imagery.  Many carried the Union Flag, the British Lion or John Bull as symbols of nationhood and patriotism.  The German Kaiser was mocked and vilified.

Parliamentary Recruiting Committee poster

Parliamentary Recruiting Committee poster
© IWM (Art.IWM PST 0408)

The actions of German armies during the invasion of Belgium, the aerial bombardment of British towns and cities, the use of poison gas as a weapon of war, the sinking of the Lusitania and the execution of nurse Edith Cavell were all used as indicators of German depravity.  Alleged atrocities in Belgium were investigated by the Byrce Commission.  The commission’s report in May 1915 asserted the truth of many of stories which had a profound effect on international opinion.  The war was portrayed as a moral cause, a fight between good and evil and between civilisation and barbarism.

Propaganda was also used to urge men to enlist in the armed forces, for women to take up munitions work or labour on the land, and for all to invest in government issued war bonds to finance the war.  Such propaganda exploited feelings of comradeship, patriotism and a sense of adventure and also sought to evoke a sense of enduring shame for those who failed to do their bit for the war effort.

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