Sunday, January 3, 2016

Propaganda in WWII Britain

Richard Denham, co-author of the popular Britannia series, discusses the inspiration for his new book, The Citizen Survivor's Handbook.

'The Citizen Survivor's Handbook' is a work of fiction. However, it is heavily influenced by the propaganda published in Britain during the 1940s. During this time, particularly after the British evacuation of Dunkirk, there was a very real, plausible and imminent threat of Nazi invasion as part of their Operation Sea Lion.

It is situation that is hard to relate to for those of us too young to remember the war or the decades afterwards. The idea that you always had an ear out for the ominous drone of the air-raid sirens as you went about your business; the idea that not only could your home be destroyed in a Blitzkrieg aerial bombardment at any moment, but it was in the realms of possibility too that the Wehrmacht could march through your streets, and all the chaos and fear, real and perceived, that that would imply. It is against this backdrop, that we can understand why propaganda was so vital to all sides of the conflict.

I am fascinated by propaganda posters, they are a great glimpse into the past and a showcase of the (understandable) paranoia, hysteria and concerns of those who wrote them and the message they thought they needed to promote to everyone else. All of these posters would have served a purpose, and it is often hard with a modern mind not to scoff at some of them, as to us, they can often be unintentionally humourous or offensive.

The government knew that war had evolved, The Great War had changed that, and the conflict with Germany would create a huge strain, in terms of morale and resources on the country and it was vital to have and maintain home support. While propaganda was certainly nothing new, it came into its own during the Second World War. These posters were, in the main, created by the controversial Ministry of Information, a government department that was dissolved soon after the war. Many contemporary members of parliament were very disturbed by the agenda of this department and protested that there was a very real danger that Britain could sleep-walk into the fascist, brain-washed state with which they were at war.

The message behind some of these posters is overt and obvious, the famous Lord Kitchener "Your Country Needs You" and the well-known, but never actually distributed, "Keep Calm and Carry On" posters are still recognisable to us today over half a century later. Other messages may verge on the bizarre to those who never knew the horrors of the conflict first hand. One poster shows a soldier and his partner on a sofa with the message "Keep mum (stay silent), she might not be so dumb", implying that his girlfriend may at best, be a loud-mouth who will accurately report his military operations to everyone in town, and at worst, that she was a Gestapo agent who had been planted into his home. This isn't to mock the sentiment, but simply to point out how difficult it is for a modern mind to understand. Other posters urging mothers to send their children out of the town or implying that someone taking a day off due to sickness or losing a work-tool was aiding Hitler, are still quite suffocating even now.

A great example of how attitudes shift was the popular BBC comedy series, Dad's Army, which followed a bumbling group of Home Guard soldiers through various misadventures. The Home Guard was Britain's last line of defence in case of invasion, made up of elderly men and veterans of World War One. For those who've seen Dad's Army, it's hard to picture Captain Mainwaring and Private Pike ambushing a Panzer column, sabotaging a Luftwaffe airfield and fighting hand to hand in the English countryside against Fallschirmjäger troops but this was the whole purpose of their existence and what they were training for, and what they were expecting.

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'The Citizen Survivor's Handbook' is a tongue-in-cheek survival guide, wrapped up in the paranoia, suspicion, courage and resolve of those who experienced the Second World War, a tribute to an age few of us alive today know first-hand, and a reminder to us that though time is a healer, those thoughts and messages we now have the liberty to find amusing, were once a very real and serious message for a country who believed their world could turn upside down at any moment.

'The Citizen Survivor's Handbook' is available on kindle or as a paperback from Amazon and has been co-written by Richard Denham and Steve Hart, who is one of Britain's top "preppers", those who plan for potential disasters and how to survive them. For more information visit www.keepcalmandsurvive.co.uk.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting post (though I wish it would have had more examples). I think WWII was the time when the saying "loose lips sink ships" was born. Now we have the internet to worry about rather than our own loose tongues.

    Tam

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