History Reviewer

Cantwell, J.D. Images of War: British Poster 1939-45 London: HMSO, 1989

The first half of the book contains some illustrations, but is largely text covering a brief history of the Second World War. Cantwell claims that “No British poster of the Second World War had the dramatic impact or the ensuring quality of Kitchener’s ‘Your Country Needs YOU’ in the First.” But many poster slogans have never been forgotten by those who lived through the war years, but most people who DIDN’T live through that time could name at least one or two poster slogans: ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’, ‘Dig for Victory’, and ‘Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases’ – although I’m sure you can remember many more!

He claimed that “Visually, they cannot be regarded as great works of art; neither were they intended as such by the artists concerned, many of them distinguished within their own profession.” It was not only the message that was important, the posters also “tell us something about the prevailing manners and customs. They also mirror the changing fortunes of the war…”[p4]

The second half of the book is devoted to some of the many posters produced during the war, by the Ministry of Information, amongst others. The only shame is that with so many posters to choose from, and so little space, there are three or four series which are over-represented amongst the selection.

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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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