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Recruitment begins

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1,300 men waiting to enlist at the Tower of London

Lord Kitchener was appointed Secretary of State for War and immediately began an enormous recruitment drive to strengthen the British military. On the outbreak of the First World War on 4 August 1914, the British Army was but a small professional force of 100,000, with more soldiers scattered throughout the Empire. In contrast, the German Army, which every German man was required to join, was considerably larger.

Propaganda posters were a major part of persuading men to sign up. The most famous of these is the stern moustachioed image of Lord Kitchener over the caption “Your King and Country Needs You”. It was originally drawn by ILN artist Alfred Leete for London Opinion’s 5 September 1914 issue, and was later adapted to become the iconic recruitment poster we know today. Recruitment posters often played on men’s perceptions of their masculinity and sense of patriotism. The young writer J. B. Priestly, like many young men, saw the war as “a challenge on what we felt was our untested manhood” and recruitment propaganda existed to exploit these notions for the war effort. The Illustrated London News and the Great Eight publications  played their part in this by publishing recruitment propaganda articles. One of the most striking examples of this could be found in The Sketch. It portrayed a man who had enlisted – confident and proud – and contrasted him with a dismal, hunched and unappealing man who had not joined the war effort.

Other examples of recruitment propaganda used alleged German atrocities in France and Belgium to inspire enlistment through a sense of duty. One such example featured a contemplative British soldier standing in front of Belgian refugees and a burning village. The Illustrated London News reflected this, particularly in its coverage of British nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed by the Germans. One article noted that the “thrill of horror and intense indignation” about Cavell’s execution would “be felt in the recruiting offices and on the field.” Notions of family were also used to recruit men for the war. A particular famous example of this is a poster of a mother and son looking out the window at a brigade marching to war with the caption “Women of Britain: Say – ‘GO!’” Articles in The Illustrated London News similarly showed photographs of groups of small children holding up signs which read “My Dad’s at the Front, Where is Yours?”

Kitchener’s recruitment drive enjoyed a great deal of success and by the end of August 1914 around 30,000 men were enlisting every day. The Sphere reported on several instances where thousands were signed up in one day. A line of 1,300 men were reported to be queuing to enlist for the war at the Tower of London in 1914. Recruitment drives ended in 1916 after the British government introduced legislation which called for universal military conscription. After this all men, between a certain age, were required by law to enlist for military service.

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