One could perhaps expect something of an increase in news-stories about the first World war to pop-up in the run into it’s 100th anniversary. There will be the very human stories such as this from the Birmingham Mail about a Private Henry Tandey who could well have killed a wounded Hitler (and thus could have produced a very different 20th century) or this from the Daily Mail about a “Captain Robert Campbell” who was a POW in a German camp and how he was let out by the Kaiser to go see his dying mother. All very touching and interesting to read if i might add. And in addition to all that there will be the stories about individual historians that are trying their utmost (rightly or wrongly) to challenge a national consensus, for example the stories of Max Hastings’ new book which i touched upon in my last blog post which the things i said there will be subject to a critique by myself in the near future.
The following as reported by the Daily Telegraph certainly belongs in the latter camp, and there’s very little to say about it other than to point out the sheer sensationalism of the article and of the historian being reported upon here. Because according to it the Lord Kitchener poster, perhaps arguably the single most iconic army recruitment poster of either World war …. “never existed”!?
“..[N]ew research has found that no such poster was actually produced during the war and that the image was never used for official recruitment purposes. In fact, it only became popular and widely-used after the conflict ended. […] As part of his research, he [James Taylor] studied the official records of the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, the body responsible for recruitment posters, in the National Archives at Kew. These documents provided details of the production of almost 200 official recruitment posters produced during the war and indicated which ones were deemed popular. The so-called ‘Your Country Needs You’ poster is absent. He also analysed thousands of photographs of street scenes and recruitment offices from the period in search of the image, again, without finding it.”
But is that true?
“Mr Taylor’s book shows how the Kitchener image did inspire similar posters, which were used, including one, which was produced by LO [London Opinion], with the word BRITONS, above the same picture of the Field Marshal pointing, with the words “wants YOU – Join Your Country’s Army!”, beneath, and the words ‘God Save The King’ printed along the bottom.”
To properly understand this one needs to have a look at both versions described in the paragraph side by side. The one on the left is the version being derided as being mythical, the one on the Right is the Kitchener poster being conceded as genuine.
Of course the way to prove that the poster on the left is a genuine poster is to find it within any old photo taken during the war but on the Internet that is not as easy to do as it sounds. Because of the modern popularity of the “poster” a “Google images” search will only turn out either with replicas such as a recent “Colman’s Mustard” advertising campaign or digitisations which is what you see on both cases above without substantial indications that what you’re looking it are taken from photos of originals. That being said i know of 2, and only 2, potential examples of the left poster. This and something akin to it appearing right at the beginning of this 1959 doc about the Great War here. I have to give credit to a good friend of mine for alerting me to these examples.
If you have any more examples of the left poster (as opposed to the Right one) in old photos, please feel free to share them. As for the rest of the Telegraph article it conveys truths that have already long been known about. The poster failed to halt a relative decline in recruitment in late 1914, and those who have seen my old poster collection thread will know the poster was later adapted by the Nazis, the Soviets, and indeed Churchill (among others) for their own propaganda purposes. So i don’t think i really have much more to say on the matter.