On the Unreliability of Historical Memory


The Daily Telegraph reports:

It is perhaps the best known and most enduring image of the First World War: the commanding, moustached face of Lord Kitchener, his accusing, pointing finger and the urgent slogan “Your country needs YOU”.

The picture is credited with encouraging millions of men to sign up to fight in the trenches, many of them never to return.

But new 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.

James Taylor, who has researched the history of recruitment posters, said the popular understanding of the design and the impact it had was almost entirely mistaken.

“It’s widely believed to have been the most popular design of First World War, instrumental in recruiting millions of men. But the truth is: that simply wasn’t the case. It’s an urban myth,” he added.

As part of his research, he 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.

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…..

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive

    when I first saw it I thought it was Stalin, which would have really been odd.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Podcaster

    44626-004-B4959DF7.jpgWhat a shame Lord Kitchener never became PM.

    Imagine the headline possibilities:




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  3. Profile Photo Inactive

    The picture of Lord Kitchener looks exactly like the actor who played him in the film “Breaker Morant,” which by chance I watched a couple of days ago.  What a great film.  One of the best war films ever.

    • #3
  4. Profile Photo Inactive

    In a few years people will recall with certainty the day they heard:

    • President Bush say “strategery”
    • Sarah Palin say, “I can see Russia from my house.”
    • Al Gore say, “I invented the internet.”
    • #4
  5. Profile Photo Inactive


    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Member

    I’d always thought that was supposed to be George V.

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Inactive
    historius: when I first saw it I thought it was Stalin, which would have really been odd. · 6 hours ago

    Especially since in Soviet Russia YOU need your country.

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Contributor

    This is just like the “No Irish Need Apply” signs, which never existed in the US: http://tigger.uic.edu/~rjensen/no-irish.htm

    • #8

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