Posters of the Great War
Frederick Hadley & Martin Pegler
Pen & Sword, 2013 (in association with the Historial Museum of the Great War, Peronne)
This book may seem out of character for Martin Pegler, who will be familiar to many as the author of several books on small arms, such as the excellent ‘Sniping in the Great War’. As the former senior curator of firearms at the Royal Armouries, he is certainly an authority in this area. However for this book he has teamed up with Frederick Hadley of the Historial for an exploration of propaganda posters of the First World War, drawing on the Historial’s own extensive collection.
There is a brief introduction to the history of propaganda and how the First World War saw an explosion in the use of posters as a means of reaching the masses, but the bulk of the book is given over to pictures of the posters themselves.
Seven chapters cover the subjects of recruiting, loans and money, the soldier, the enemy, the family and home front, films, and after the war. The topic of each chapter is briefly introduced, with a short commentary for each poster, which together are extremely informative about a wide variety of facets of the war. For example, I was unaware that Britain still owes over £30m of war loans to the US from the First World War.
All of the belligerent countries had a prolific output of propaganda, and thankfully Posters of the Great War takes a balanced look; as well as British, French, American, Russian and Italian posters, those of Germany and Austria-Hungary also feature. The posters highlight the similarities and differences between the approaches to propaganda taken by each country. A variety of techniques and styles are used to evoke feelings of empathy, compassion, guilt, horror, and patriotism. Classical imagery and depictions of warriors and liberty abound.
Some of the posters will be widely recognised as their legacy has lasted beyond the war, but certainly for myself it was the first time I had seen the majority of them. In light of recent claims that the infamous Kitchener image was never in fact used, the brief discussion of this poster is also particularly interesting.
With a book such as this that focuses on images, quality is particularly important. Thankfully the image quality is superb, with all posters reproduced in full colour. This is another impressive addition to the Pen & Sword catalogue.
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Posters of the Great War: Published in Association with Historial de la Grande Guerre, Peronne, France