A Guide To War Publications of the First and Second World War
In WW2 information leaflets and posters proliferated. Soldiers were bombarded with Field Regulations, airmen with the latest updates about airborne early warning, bomb sights and radio navigation and sailors with material that helped them identify enemy aircraft and submarines and told them how to operate the new ship board weapons to destroy them. An abundance of familiar slogans exhorted the population to do the utmost: 'Go To IT!', 'Come Into The Factories', 'Keep Calm and Carry On', 'Dig For Victory', 'Lend A Hand on the Land', 'Walk When You Can'.
Other messages warned of the consequences of irresponsible behaviour: 'Careless Talk Cost Lives', 'Loose Lips Sink Ships', 'Keep It Under Your Hat' and 'Be Like Dad, Keep Mum', the latter illustrating just how much social mores have, thankfully, changed in the last 75 years. This book is concerned with the plethora of printed ephemera that was designed to educate, instruct, inform and entertain.Such original material can still be bought and is easy to store - the posters also often making attractive items for display - but as with all other authentic historical material supply is finite and examples of wartime publications in first class condition command a high price. This is the first time a single volume has been dedicated entirely to a long overlooked component of wartime collectables.
It is designed to complement books which focus on traditional militaria such as uniforms, equipment and regalia and is intended to reveal just how much material was produced, across the board, by each of the warring nations. It will advise enthusiasts about what was produced, what is still available and where to find it and, importantly, how to conserve and store such vintage printed items.
Though glossy and fit for the coffee table, this book is clearly aimed at collectors of war memorabilia, mentioning rarity, prices and other issues such as condition, with a final chapter on looking after collectibles, especially paper items. Ward's Top Ten tips page cries out to be put up on the wall of any serious collector.
However, most of us are not serious collectors, but the book is still worth a read, by the general reader. For one thing, much of it goes beyond what the title would suggest, well into post-war planning and the Cold War, but also between-wars children's entertainment, Crazy Gang posters from 1931 and the introduction in 1927 of Oxydol, who sponsored the first soap opera.
It is well illustrated, only 14 of the first 50 pages are without a colour illustration and some have several. The potted histories give a sufficient background. We get the expected "Your Country needs you", "Make do and mend" and "Keep calm and carry on", though we are told that the latter poster was hardly seen by anyone until rediscovered in 2000. There is quite a lot of information in the captions; who knew that the thousand much-feared V2 rockets that found their target only killed, on average, 5 people?
The ration book covers will be familiar to anyone of 70 years and over. But there is a great deal that would be new to almost everyone, e.g. numerous Penguin wartime "Specials", "Bored stiff", a poster which urges proper training and efficiency in factories and military bases as major factors in winning the war. And though I read Crompton's "William" books avidly from about 1950 onwards, I had no idea that they included "William the Dictator", "William and the ARP" and at least four others which seem to have disappeared from libraries by the time a generation of children who hardly knew the war had learned to read. There is a decent coverage of German posters and other items but not much from any other country. One would advise readers to arm themselves with a magnifying glass before opening the book; many posters have texts that are just too small to be legible with the naked eye, which this reviewer found rather frustrating.
There are some minor errors and infelicities, for instance on p.10 he means "Exhorting" rather than "extolling. It is hard to see why Ward needs to repeat the "Keep calm and carry on" story, and why the two accounts of Penguin Specials were not merged, or distribute Appendix 1 on the Third Reich through the text. There is a good deal to learn from this book and one closes it grateful that all those WW2 instructions about using gas masks and surviving nuclear war were never needed.
Friends of The National Archives