I wrote the following for the Bank Holiday weekend in April – didn’t quite find it a home, so decided going to post it on here:
As we approach the Bank Holiday weekend, and the Coronavirus pandemic continues, social media and the news is rife with comment and concerns that people are not taking note of the social distancing guidelines. With good weather forecast for the weekend, we hear that some people are still planning to have ‘leisure days out’, rather than comply with the three reasons permitted by the government to leave your house: for essential work, for essential shopping or medical appointments, or for your daily exercise.
The focus on the word ‘essential’ has led to debate as to what may be considered essential, whether that be to keep the economy going, or to benefit someone’s mental health, and how that should be balanced against increased risk that purchasing an item may cause those working in the factories producing and dispatching the items that we order online. Comparisons to the Second World War have been growing over the crisis, with alerts for the term ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ on the up. Some positive comparisons look back to it as a time ‘we all came together’; others are more negative, with Marina Hyde stressing the problems with warlike language around Boris Johnson ‘being a fighter’.
Whereas social media is one of the main sources of information in the current crisis, the poster in the Second World War was a significant support service to the wireless and newspapers. The poster had an advantage over these other forms of media, as it was hard to ignore, cheap to produce, and not reliant upon hard to obtain replacement parts, and with more restrictions on newspaper space by 1942, even more use was made of posters. The messages and slogans of many of those posters are still familiar to those of us who have been brought up in Britain. With the Second World War defined as ‘The People’s War’, there is a message of ‘it all depends on you’, and ‘we’re all in it together’ (although there was a thriving black market during the Second World War), several of these slogans could be repurposed well within the current crisis.
‘Is Your Journey Really Necessary’ were a series of posters commissioned by the Railway Executive Committee in 1942. Two posters designed by Bert Thomas were used through ‘til 1944. One design depicted a rank and file soldier challenging the viewer to think just how essential their journey is during this time of crisis, whilst the second depicted a wealthy couple looking hesitant as to whether their travel was necessary. Other designs encouraged those who had essential, but non-work, journeys to travel between 10 and 4, leaving public transport available for key workers. In June 1942, Advertiser’s Weekly noted that campaigns to reduce travel around Easter, led to 31.7% less figures for April 1942 over April 1941. What will the statistics for April 2020 demonstrate?
In 1944, the Ministry of Agriculture considered all their long-running campaigns, ‘Lend a Hand on the Land’, ‘Grow More Food’ and ‘Dig for Victory’ as successful enough to continue throughout 1945. By November 1939, an additional 500,000 allotments were created in and around urban areas in England and Wales. During the coronavirus lockdown, seed producers are struggling to keep up with demand as people take up gardening, with some seeking self-sufficiency in response to the challenges to the food supply chain. With the UK facing shortages of fruit and vegetable pickers because of travel restrictions for overseas workers, the ‘Lend a Hand on the Land’ campaign could return. The ‘Lend a Hand on the Land’ campaign looked to attract urbanites to use their holidays to work in rural areas, and ran into the post-war years, in conjunction with the ‘Holidays at Home’ campaign. People ‘discovered that farm work was a dignified, and notably cheap, way of taking a holiday in wartime’, although the overly idealised images caused problems for some farmers when the images did not match the realities and, as a consequence, the ‘wrong’ type of person was recruited, turning up ‘dressed for a picnic’ and ‘incapacitated in a matter of hours.’
In the war, soldiers told us ‘We are saving you, YOU save food’. Similarly, NHS key workers tell us (often within Tik-Tok dances) ‘We can’t stay @home, but you can’, or more snappily #StayHomeSaveLives, helping us to understand that all of our small actions make a difference. A large campaign during the war ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’, sought to encourage citizens that that small piece of knowledge that they shared, or the spreading of defeatism, all contributed to the bigger picture. Like many of the memes that we see shared online, Fougasse felt that humour got the message over more easily than strictures (although his work was combined with more serious designs). A careful watch was kept on rumours and steps were taken to make sure that explanations or denials were either put out through newspapers, or counter-rumours were circulated. Like the modern-day campaign against fake news, the MOI recognised the need to give the public more facts to stop them fabricating their own, using the whole gamut of communication available to them.
So, this weekend, is your journey really necessary?
Dr Bex Lewis is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her PhD was on British home front propaganda posters during the Second World War, she is the author of Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster, and wrote much of the content for https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/theartofwar/.
*Her PhD thesis can be found at: https://wp.me/P39dN1-6c1
 Calder, A., The People’s War, 1969, p.430.
 Chamberlin, E.R., Life in Wartime Britain, 1972, p.129.
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.