Saraband will soon be releasing a new book that explodes the popular myths surrounding the famous World War I recruitment poster featuring Lord Kitchener with pointing finger, exhorting you to 'do your bit'.
Your Country Needs You by James Taylor argues that although the Lord Kitchener image is much loved and indisputably a design classic, an official recruitment poster of the image never even existed!
'Just like many other people, I’m fascinated by the simple striking image of Lord Kitchener,' says Taylor. 'With his steely stare, accusing finger and the memorable slogan "Your Country Needs YOU", it is a poster that we all feel we know so well. It’s widely believed to have been the most popular design of World War I and one that was instrumental in recruiting millions of men for active service.
'However, the truth is: that simply wasn’t the case. It’s an urban myth.
'Government records and photos from the time reveal the quite shocking fact that "Your Country Needs YOU" is, in fact, an imagined poster. Although there were more than 200 wartime posters produced by official and private organisations, there is no evidence of the existence of a poster featuring a finger-pointing Lord Kitchener with mass appeal.'
In his book, which is also a celebration of stunning WWI propaganda posters, Taylor asserts that the Kitchener image started life as the cover of the popular magazine ‘London Opinion’ on 5 September 1914 – and that a belief in the influence of a poster bearing the same image has come about only because the notion has been incorrectly reinforced by eminent historians and newspaper accounts over the last century. Also, 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, hence contributing towards the ensuing confusion.
'This new research flies in the face of the popular and academic thinking about the poster,” says Taylor. “The finger-pointing Lord Kitchener design is so simple and yet so striking, especially when combined with a slogan that’s easy to remember. It is the adaptability of the design and slogan that has ensured its long-term popularity.'
Your Country Needs You by James Taylor is published on 29 August 2013. It tells the true story behind the poster, and celebrates its designer Alfred Leete and his fellow artists of the period. The book contains over 100 full colour reproductions of propaganda posters.
Your Country Needs You is being launched at the National Army Museum in London on September 7, 2013. The museum will be hosting a special event celebrating British war posters from the English Civil War to the present day. For more details, see www.nam.ac.uk/whatson or call 020 7881 6000.