Abstract Accepted: Depicting Death at War


For: (accepted)


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:  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”. What are the moral, religious and other discourses drawn upon and depicted within the posters? 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 Research Fellow in Social Media and Online Learning for CODEC, University of Durham. She is both a communications historian and a digital practitioner, with a particular interest in mass-popular forms of communication. The focus of her research, which she is currently developing to book form, is upon British propaganda posters. Further information can be found on Her most recent publication was an article for The Poster Journal on ‘The renaissance of Keep Calm and Carry On’. She has also featured in a range of press coverage, and published with both London Transport Museum and The National Archives.


Conference Paper Accepted

youareneedednowOn 10-11 September 2009, the ‘Group for War and Culture Studies‘, University of Westminster are holding a 2-day international conference “Men at War: Masculinities, Identities, Cultures”, at Swansea University (in association with Gender & Society and Conflict & Memory research groups). I submitted an abstract for a paper, which has now been accepted. The abstract , within the theme of ‘War Propaganda and Masculine Identities’, was as follows:s

“Men at Work: Visible and Invisible Men in Second World War Posters”

Dr Bex Lewis, Honorary Research Fellow/Associate Lecturer, University of Winchester

The Ministry of Information (MOI), officially formed at the outbreak of the Second World War, was the central governmental publicity machine. 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’.

Considering posters produced by the MOI during the Second World War, this paper will identify masculine identities, both visible and invisible, defined as ‘normal’. These images were interpreted by artists, accepted by the government, and published in wartime posters aimed at the ‘civilian army’.

Image courtesy of Onslow’s Auctioneers.


1939: The Three Posters (PhD Extract)

On seeing Paul Matson’s re-interpretation of the series of the first three posters, I thought I’d add an extract from my PhD thesis (please reference me if you quote… I have noticed phrasings very similar to my thesis surrounding this story, mostly collated from my original research). It was great to hear last week that my PhD thesis is being digitised by the British Library (which only happens if there is enough demand to read it!)… not surprising though as it’s an interesting subject!

Added in 2017: likely artist for the poster designs is Ernest Wallcousins, although the slogan itself is still up for debate.

EXTRACT FROM: Commissioning, Planning, Distributing and Displaying Posters 

For more information on the numbers, read here. The first half of the chapter has been added here.

Extract from PhD thesis. © Rebecca Lewis, 2004 Please note that this information is COPYRIGHTED, so please reference this URL, or the thesis itself.


The Second World War was often perceived as a classless ‘People’s War’ because, regardless of any prevailing inequality and exploitation, ‘the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship’.[1] Propaganda was needed to appeal to the masses, including a reasoned appeal that would ‘show the extent to which every man and woman is a participant in the war’, and the importance of a combined team effort.[2] Although it was ‘impossible to foresee’ what conditions would prevail during the first weeks of war, it was felt necessary to prepare for the worst. The MOI was to assume that the public would be subjected to an appalling series of shocks, resulting in shattered nerves, a lack of confidence in ultimate success, and therefore a lack of will to work for victory.[3] It was expected that there would be ‘an imperative need for a copious issue of general reassurance material’, particularly in the early months of the war, which would be the sole responsibility of the MOI.[4] Disregarding Leeper’s conviction that it was impossible to prepare effective propaganda in advance,[5] the government started planning for the first posters in earnest in early 1939.[6] By mid-June 1939 the first poster-roughs were ready for inspection.[7]


War and The Media: The Changing Context of Reportage and Propaganda in The Twentieth Century

University of Kent @ Canterbury : 30th August – 4th September 2001

“This is the first major international conference on the impact of the media on war. Enormous social and technological changes have radically changed our lives over the past 150 years. The aim of the conference is to analyse how these developments have altered the relationships between politicians, the military and the media in the shaping of policies that may lead to conflict and the manner. The complex relationship between propaganda and censorship and the effect of the media on the formation of public opinion together with journalistic ethics and motives are also probed.”

Associated Publication: Connelly, M., & Welch, D. (eds), War and the Media: Reportage and Propaganda, I.B. Tauris, 2004