Death Day: May 15th 2010

Death Day Poster

Strand: Either: ‘Death and the Arts’ or ‘Death and Culture’

Title: Death at War


In the Second World War, the second ‘total war’ of the Twentieth Century, death was a daily reality for both those on the fighting fronts and those on the Home Front in Britain.  The Ministry of Information (MOI), officially formed at the outbreak of the Second World War, was the central governmental publicity machine, working with other official bodies, including the War Office. Its role was to tell the citizen ‘clearly and swiftly what he is to do, where he is to do it, how he is to do it and what he should not do’.

Posters produced by the MOI needed to deal with the ever-present reality of death, whilst it was often difficult to be too realistic, as graphic images of death would not necessarily have been well received. How did governmental bodies deal with the representation of death, ensuring that the seriousness of their message was conveyed, whilst avoiding too “starkly realistic posters” for those who “already knew so much of reality”. Are there clear differences between the images aimed at soldiers, industrial worker and civilians? Was humour ever seen as an appropriate tool in relation to the possibility of death? What were some of the more subtle symbols of death which recurred within wartime posters, particularly within health and “Careless Talk” campaigns?

Biographical Details:

Dr Bex Lewis is Lecturer in History, Associate Lecturer in Media Studies and Blended Learning Fellow at the University of Winchester.  The focus of her research is upon British propaganda posters, further information can be found on Her most recent publication is a chapter for London Transport Posters: A Century of Art and Design, and she was a major contributor to:

For more: Facebook Group: Death at Winchester

By Second World War Posters

Mass Communications Academic, @MMUBS. British Home Front Propaganda posters as researched for a PhD completed 2004. In 1997, unwittingly wrote the first history of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster, which she now follows with interest.

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