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Famous Kitchener poster from the Great War a ‘myth’ August 13, 2013

Posted by J. Hawkes in Art, Military.
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It seems that the famous poster of Lord Kitchener, pointing at you and saying that ‘your country needs you’ which has inspired countless imitation by so many others (particularily the American’s Uncle Sam) is actually a myth as it was not a poster but a magazine cover.

“In his new book, Your Country Needs You, Mr Taylor traced the picture back to   its origins, on 5th September 1914, barely a month after the start of the   war.

On that day, the image was used on the front cover of the popular magazine   London Opinion, beneath the masthead, and alongside two promotional offers:   “This paper insures you for £1,000” and “50 photographs of YOU for a   shilling”.

It had been designed by Alfred Leete, a graphic artist, who had adapted a   portrait of Kitchener to give him the distinctive pointing finger. The   slogan was adapted from the official call to arms, which said: “Your King   and Country Need You”.

In a subsequent edition, a week later, the magazine, which had a circulation   of almost 300,000, said readers would be able to buy postcards of the image   for 1s. 4d for 100.

Despite this, Mr Taylor has not been able to track down any surviving examples   in public or private collections. He is now offering a £100 reward for   anyone who can find the first.

Mr Taylor, who will present his research at an event at the National Army   Museum, west London, next month, found that the original artwork for the   magazine was acquired by the Imperial War Museum in 1917 and was mistakenly   catalogued as part of the poster collection, contributing to later   misunderstanding about its use.

“There has been a mass, collective misrecollection. The image’s influence now   is absolutely out of all kilter with the reality of its initial impact. It   has taken on a new kind of life. It is such a good image and saying that it   was later seized upon. Some many historians and books have used it and kept   repeating how influential it was, that people have come to accept it…””

Mr Taylor’s book shows how the Kitchener image did inspire similar posters,   which were used, including one, which was produced by LO, 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.

However, Mr Taylor said there was no evidence the poster was particularly   popular or a dominant design of the war, as some historians have claimed.

The only occasion in which the image and the wording did appear in poster form   was an elaborate design, when the words and picture appear, in a smaller   scale, below five flags and surrounded by details or rates of pay and other   information, including the additional slogan – “Your Country is Still   Calling. Fighting Men! Fall In!!”. The effect is very different from the   image of popular imagination and again, Mr Taylor found no evidence it was   particularly widespread or popular at the time.

He found that the most popular poster of the era, in terms of numbers   produced, did feature Kitchener, but without the pointing finger and   featuring a 30-word extract from a speech he had made.”

Mr. Taylor’s new book Your Country Needs You does sound fascinating. But then I quite like First World War poster design, although most of them had far too much text, the reduction of ‘chattyness’ was a definite improvement in Second World War poster art, although I personally feel that the Canadian posters of the Second World War were far too standardised and government controlled, generally lacking in the vitality of First World War posters.