Published on September 5th, 2014 | by Sally Wenham
The Recruitment Poster That Stood The Test Of Time
It is 100 years to the day that an iconic recruitment poster made the front cover of a London magazine which formed the basis of the drive to enlist soldiers following the outbreak of World War One in 1914.
Depicting the face of Lord Kitchener, who was the British Secretary of State for War at the time above the words ‘WANTS YOU’, the emotive poster was considered as one of the enduring images of the five year conflict and first appeared as the cover illustration for the 5th September issue of London Opinion magazine with the slogan ‘Your Country Needs YOU’.
With a circulation of around 300,000 at the time, this popular weekly publication originally featured the design which was the work of one Alfred Leete.
Evoking patriotism and guilt in those who had yet to enlist, this piece of wartime propaganda was thought to have been highly influential in driving recruitment of servicemen at that time. Almost one in four of the total male population of the United Kingdom had joined up by the end of the First World War.
Born on 24th June 1850, Horatio Kitchener was educated in Switzerland as well as at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. In 1902 he was appointed commander in chief of India before becoming the proconsul of Egypt in 1911 and then in the Sudan until 1914.
We learn that Lord Kitchener was the first serving soldier to be handed the role of Secretary of State for War who had already served in a number of Imperial campaigns including in the Sudan and South Africa. He was mindful that enlistees would be required in their tens of thousands to support the war effort.
One observation as to just why the advert was so effective and indeed has remained so iconic to this day, is that it has the ‘differential rotation effect’ whereby Kitchener’s eyes and foreshortened arm appear to follow the viewer no matter of the viewer’s orientation to the artwork itself.
Demonstrating further just how powerful the image and slogan featuring Lord Kitchener was thought to be at the time, it led to several other countries producing imitations based on this design including James Montgomery Flagg’s Uncle Sam poster which was produced by the US army during World War One.
Indeed, as well as consistently inspiring contemporary advertising campaigns, it is easy to understand how the image was therefore chosen to be incorporated onto the first in a series of five commemorative coins recently issued to mark the 100th anniversary since the Great War began.