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The beautiful designs and colours of wartime British homefront posters

a poster with a central image showinbg a ship moving out of a busy shipyard

Rowland Hilder, Britain and America have two million tons more shipping than in August 1942. National Archives / Public Domain

How designers and artists responded to the Ministry of Information’s propaganda war during World War Two

Hundreds of original wartime artworks from the National Archives’ stunning collection of more than 2,000 pieces by war artists working for the Ministry of Information during the Second World War have been put online thanks to a digitisation grant from Wikimedia UK.

The first 350 images comprise rarely-seen classics from the Ministry of Information’s propaganda war, including Drake Brookshaw’s beautiful Apple Picking and works by one of the twentieth century’s great graphic designers, Abram Games, via some lesser-known recruitment posters for the women’s branch of the army, the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS).

Also nestling among the often anonymous exhortations relating to everything from fuel economy, agricultural production to recycling, patriotism and the general war effort – are Dame Laura Knight’s depictions of the Women’s Land Army (WLA).

The set is also rich in portraits of wartime leaders, with General Montgomery, General Alexander and Air Chief Marshall Tedder making appearances, but it is the role of women and the homefront in wartime that are best represented through both artworks and recruitment posters.

Innovative designs and vibrant colour palettes offer an insight into the propaganda war and the Ministry of Information’s efforts to raise the morale of a country gripped by austerity, under threat of invasion, subject to air attack and the privations of war.

Posters of Women in wartime

a coloiur watercolour sketch of a land girl adjusting a plough pulled by two horses

Laura Knight, Horse-drawn plough, land girl. Circa 1944. National Archives / Public Domain

a patinug of a woman in WRNS uniform leaning out of a railway carriage

Unknown (Davis) WRNS rating at railway carriage. National Archives / Public Domain

a poster with head of a woman in ATS cap and the word ATS

Abram Games, ATS Recruitment Poster. 1939 – 46. National Archives / Public Domain

a painting of woman in Royal Air Force uniform in a control tower

William Little, recruitment poster artwork for the WAAF. National Archives / Public Domain

a poster featuring a helmeted young woman and the letters ATS

Abram Games, ATS recruitment poster. National Archives / Public Domain

Other themes include industry, safety during the blackout, and the importance of agricultural production in wartime via a lively series of recruitment posters for the Lend a Hand on the Land programme, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries initiative encouraging people to take working holidays on farms.

Wartime Lend a Hand on the Land posters

a lend a hand on the land poster featuring smiling people tilling the fields

Unknown (“Nunney”), Lend a hand on the land at a Volunteer Agricultural Camp. National Archives / Public Domain.

a painting of a man and woman picking apples from a tree

Drake Brookshaw, Apple Picking. National Archives / Public Domain

a poster featuring people in a field harvesting

Eileen Evans, Lend a hand with the potato harvest at a farming holiday camp. Oct and Nov free travel – and reduced accommodation terms. National Archives / Public Domain

a oster featuring men and women harvesting hay and wheat

Unknown artist (“Showell”), Whatever your front line job, this is your second line job. Lend a hand on the land. National Archives / Public Domain

Another sometimes overlooked part of Britain’s graphic response to the war effort is revealed by the online collection of posters and artwork designed for industry and war production with themes that resonate across the decades.

Wartime posters for industry and production

a poster showing a sailor calling from a submarine conning tower in a shipyard

(Anon.) A-Hoy there! We Want More Ships! The National Archives (United Kingdom)

a poster featuring a set of pliers crushing a swastika

Frank Newbould, Give us the tools and… National Archives / Public Domain

a charcoal drawing of a thick set man heaving a rope

Artist unknown, Man heaving on a rope. National Archives / Public Domain

a poster featuring a woman steering a canal barge

Unknown artist (“Ing”), You’re doing a fine job…carry on, canal workers. National Archives / Public Domain

a poster showing factory workers mimicking the actions of a group of sailors attacking with machine guns

Harold Pym, Combined Operations Include You. The National Archives (United Kingdom) / Public Domain

See the collection, War art in the National Archives United Kingdom, on Wikimedia Commons.

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The National Archives

Kew, Surrey

The National Archives is the official archives and publisher for the UK Government, and for England and Wales. We work to bring together and secure the future of the public record, both digital and physical, for future generations. The National Archives is open to all, offering a range of activities…

 

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