King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
The Cartoon in Wartime Propaganda

1914 - 1918

"The Incorrigables" World War One trench cartoon from Punch"The Incorrigables" World War One trench cartoon from PunchCartoons and graphic art were exploited extensively, and persuasively, as propaganda during World War One. Campaigns focused on recruitment - conscription was only introduced in 1916, while the armed forces had an insatiable demand for manpower.

Cartoons emphasised the moral case for war, in particular the need to resist German militarism. Patriotism, appeals to comradeship and the stigma of cowardice played their part and it was even implied that serving one's country made a soldier more attractive to women. The aims were to sustain recruitment, strengthen morale and, significantly, encourage a sympathetic response within the US and persuade it to interve in the conflict.

Women of Britain recruitment poster, World War OneWomen of Britain recruitment poster, World War OneThe organisation of British propaganda - at home and abroad - was fragmented with no department in overall control. The War Office's Directorate of Military Operations, the Foreign Office's News Department and the secret War Propaganda Bureau at Wellington House under Charles Masterman, which aimed propaganda at Allied and neutral countries, were all influential.

Wellington House attracted famous authors including John Buchan, author of The Thirty Nine Steps, John Galsworthy and Rudyard Kipling. More two million books were published, and more than a thousand pamphlets and numerous posters and films, were commissioned.

War photographers and artists included John Singer Sargent and Paul Nash responsible for powerful and enduring images of war in paintings such as Gassed (1918) that depicted the effects of the use of poisoned gas. Their honesty conflicted with sanitised, though highly effective, propaganda work on posters that avoided mention of the worst horrors of war.

Reorganisation in 1917 saw the creation of the Department and later Ministry of Information and responsibility for propaganda output transferred to leading newspaper proprietors, notably Lord Beaverbrook of the Daily Express and Lord Northcliffe, owner of the Daily Mail, who was put in charge of propaganda aimed at enemy countries and based at Crewe House in London.

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