5 Questions

29 Mar

I’ve recently become greatly interested in the “gift books” that were so popular in the English-speaking world during the war.  King Albert’s Book (Christmas 1914), edited by Hall Caine and intended as a tribute to that stalwart Belgian monarch, was the one that initially attracted my eye; I’ve since discovered all sorts of others.

One such volume is The Lord Kitchener Memorial Book (1916), edited by Sir Hedley Le Bas.  It contains a panoply of fascinating documents, pictures, facsimiles and tributes, but one of its most interesting features is an extensive collection of recruiting advertisements that were run in the press.  Sir Hedley, who was intimately involved in their distribution, prefaces the collection with a short essay describing how they came about.  He writes of having always hoped that press advertisement could be harnessed by the Empire as a force for good on a practical level, but… well, see for yourself:

But never in my wildest moments did I visualise the possibility of the British Empire rallying great armies to the flag in the hour of bitter need, by the help of newspaper advertising, and less did I think that I, as an old soldier, as the nominal head of the Government’s advertising programme, would become, in a strictly technical sense, a sort of super recruiting agent.  It may not be very wonderful to people outside of Fleet Street, but I never look back on the strange situation created by the war, the need for a call upon men on an unexampled scale, and the method of making that call, without marvelling.

[. . .]

It is often said there is nothing new under the sun, and certainly “advertising for an army” was not a new idea.  Strange as it may sound, here in England we were advertising for an army one hundred years ago.  I have before me an old proclamation addressed “To the warriors of Manchester.”  The advertisement, a quaint specimen of early publicity, was inspired by much the same conditions that set England advertising for an army in 1914.  The announcement refers to “these times of common danger” and to the “ruthless plunderer of nations.”  A hundred years ago Europe was passing through the ordeal of battle with which we, in 1916, have grown sadly too familiar, and England was resisting a “ruthless plunderer of nations” — not the Wilhelm who will always be associated with many bitter memories, but a much worthier foe — the great Napoleon.

Doubtless, the old advertisement, quaintly worded as it is, produced the desired end, which was to raise an army for Gibraltar.  One smiles at the quaintly moving appeal of this hundred year old advertisement.

The sentence with which I’ve chosen to conclude the above transcription will hopefully occasion similar smiles.

Sir Hedley is clear about what was at stake, and so attempts to justify the sometimes (from a modern perspective) extravagant rhetorical lengths to which recruitment advertisements went in those years of peril.  “The problem before the Government,” he writes, “not as a shy experiment but as a dire necessity, was to raise an entire army on a scale that made the country gasp when Lord Kitchener first outlined it.”

It was with this end in mind that advertisements like the following were printed:

5 Questions to those who employ male servants

I believe most of it should be legible enough once you click to enlarge (my apologies for the poor quality of this reproduction), but the rhetorical turn at the end deserves to be repeated:

“A great responsibility rests on you.  Will you sacrifice your personal convenience for your Country’s need?  Ask your men to enlist TO-DAY.”

Many of the advertisements issued during this campaign embraced this “some questions for X” format; most of them were directed at the men likely to volunteer, but some — like the one above and like this one directed at the “Young Women of London” — were instead directed at those in a position to exert their personal influence on potential recruits.  The scope and nature of influence that the above advertisement suggests make it a fascinating point of insight into British war culture.

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