12 British Recruitment Posters From World War One

Peter Curry

3 mins

17 Oct 2018

Image credit: Plakatmuseum Vienna.

British propaganda in the First World War is often heralded as being a major contributor to victory. In 1933, the Nazi propagandist Eugen Hadamovsky stated:

“The German people were not beaten on the battlefield, but were defeated in the war of words.”

As perhaps the world’s first true ‘media war’, posters and newspaper adverts certainly played a role in sustaining morale, as well as encouraging young men to sign up.

Below are 12 different examples of recruitment posters used by the British to meet their wartime objectives.

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1. Women of Britain Say Go

Poster, ’Women of Britain say – “Go!” ’, May 1915, United Kingdom, by Parliamentary Recruiting Committee. Credit: Restored by Adam Cuerden / Commons.

2. Your Country Needs You

London Opinion “Your country needs you” cover. Credit: Library of Congress / Commons.

3. Remember Scarborough – Enlist Now!

British World War I poster “Remember Scarborough! Enlist Now!”. The poster refers to British anger about the German Navy’s Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby on 16 December 1914 which killed dozens of civilians. Credit: Lucy E. Kemp-Welch / Commons.

On 16 December 1914, the German navy attacked Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby, resulting in 137 fatalities and 592 casualties, many of whom were civilians. This poster channels the subsequent public outrage.

4. It is better to face the bullets than to be killed at home by a bomb

WWI poster – “It is far better to face the bullets than to be killed at home by a bomb. Join the army at once & help to stop an air raid. God save the King”. Credit: Restored by Adam Cuerden / Commons.

5. Men for the Army Remount Department

British Army recruiting poster seeking men for the Army Remount Dept. Credit: Imperial War Museum / Commons.

Horses were absolutely crucial to the war effort, with well over half a million being used by the British by the end of the war. The Remount department was thus a vital department in the war effort.

6. The Scrap Of Paper – Prussia’s Perfidy-Britain’s Bond

The 1839 Treaty of London guaranteed Belgium’s neutrality. In 1914, German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg infamously sneered at Britain’s willingness to go to war over a “scrap of paper.” This British poster encouraged enlistment by arousing sympathy for Belgium and support for the British Empire’s pledge of honour in its defence. Credit: Johnson, Riddle & Co. Ltd. / Commons.

Britain was a signatory to the Treaty of London (1839) which guaranteed Belgium’s sovereignty. Germany ‘trampled on the Treaty’ by invading Belgium and, judging from this poster, elicited a moral response from British politicians and public.

 7. Your King and Country Need You

Poster, ’Your King & Country Need You’, 1914, United Kingdom, by Lawson Wood, Dobson, Molle and Co. Ltd. Credit: Lawson Wood, restored by Adam Cuerden / Commons.

By December 1915, over two million men had joined up. Some historians argue that the central factor in high enlistment figures was that prospects in the army ‘compare favourably to those in civilian life.’

8. For King and Country

World War I recruitment poster. “Surely you will fight for your [portrait of King George V] and [map of Great Britain]. Come along, boys, before it is too late.” Credit: Library of Congress / Commons.

9. The Empire Needs Men

The Parliamentary Recruiting Committee produced this First World War poster. Designed by Arthur Wardle, the poster urges men from countries of the British Empire to enlist in the British army. Credit: Arthur Wardle / Commons.

10. Scarborough Raid Poster

British recruiting poster picturing damage from German naval artillery to a civilian house: “No 2 Wykeham Street, Scarborough….four people were killed in this house including the wife…and two children, the youngest aged 5.” Credit: Library of Congress / Commons.

11. Britain Needs You at Once

A WWI British recruitment poster. Parliamentary Recruiting Committee Poster No. 108. St. George and the Dragon served as a national symbol for several parties in the conflict (including Germany, ironically). Credit: Library of Congress / Commons.

12. Attest Now!

British conscription poster for the Military Service Act 1916, stating that if men were exempt from service, they should attest quickly. Credit: Parliamentary and Joint Labour Recruiting Committees / Commons.

Conscription was introduced  in the Military Service Act (1916) stating that single men aged 18 to 45 years old were liable to be called up for military service unless they were widowed with children or ministers of a religion. This poster called for people to avoid compulsory enlistment and join voluntarily.