Lord Kitchener Wants You
"Britons: Lord Kitchener Wants You. Join Your Country's Army! God save the King."
Lord Kitchener Wants You was a 1914 advertisement which was developed into a recruitment poster. It depicted Lord Kitchener, the British Secretary of State for War, above the words "WANTS YOU". Kitchener, wearing the cap of a British Field Marshal, stares and points at the viewer calling them to enlist in the British Army against the Central Powers. The image is considered one of the most iconic and enduring images of the war. A hugely influential image and slogan, it has also inspired imitations in other countries, from the United States to the Soviet Union.
Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, recruiting posters had not been used on a regular basis since the Napoleonic Wars and UK government advertisements for contract work were handled by The Stationery Office. Rather than pay the government rate to newspaper publishers, the Stationary Office contracted this work to R. F. White & Sons publishers. J. E. B. Seely, then the Secretary of State for War awarded Sir Hedley Le Bas, Eric Field, and their Caxton Advertising Agency a contract to advertise for recruits in the major UK newspapers. Eric Field designed the prototype full-page ad with the Coat of Arms of King George V and the phrase "Your King and Country Need You." Britain declared war on the German Empire on 4 August 1914 and the first run of the full-page ran the next day in newspapers owned by Lord Northcliffe.
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Herbert Asquith had appointed Kitchener as Secretary of State for War. Kitchener was the first currently serving soldier to hold the post and was given the task of recruiting a large army to fight Germany. Unlike some of his contemporaries who expected a short conflict, Kitchener foresaw a much longer war requiring hundreds of thousands of enlistees.
According to one author, Kitchener reacted well to Field's ad although insisting "that the ads should all end with 'God Save the King' and that they should not be changed from the original text, except to say 'Lord Kitchener needs YOU.'" In time, Le Bas formed an advisory committee of ad men to develop further newspaper recruiting ads, most of which ran 11 vertical inches two columns wide.
Alfred Leete designed the image as a cover illustration for the 5 September 1914 issue of London Opinion, a popular weekly magazine, taking cues from earlier recruiting ads. At the time, the magazine had a circulation of 300,000. In response to requests for reproductions, the magazine offered postcard-sized copies for sale. The Parliamentary Recruiting Committee obtained permission to use the design in poster form. A similar poster used the words "YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU".
Original versions by Alfred Leete
Leete's drawing of Kitchener was the most famous image used in the British Army recruitment campaign of World War I. It continues to be considered a masterful piece of wartime propaganda as well as an enduring and iconic image of the war.
Recruitment posters in general have often been seen as a driving force helping to bring millions of men into the Army. September 1914, coincident with publication of Leete's image, saw the highest number of volunteers enlisted. The Times recorded the scene in London on 3 January 1915; "Posters appealing to recruits are to be seen on every hoarding, in most windows, in omnibuses, tramcars and commercial vans. The great base of Nelson's Column is covered with them. Their number and variety are remarkable. Everywhere Lord Kitchener sternly points a monstrously big finger, exclaiming 'I Want You'". Although it became one of the most famous posters in history, its widespread circulation did not halt the decline in recruiting.
The placement of the Kitchener poster designed by Alfred Leete has been examined and questioned following an Imperial War Museum publication in 1997 suggesting that the poster itself was a 'non event' and was made popular by postwar advertising by the war museum. A 2013 book researched by James Taylor counters the popular belief that the Leete design was an influential recruitment tool during the war. He claims the original artwork was acquired by the Imperial War Museum in 1917 and catalogued as a poster in error. Though the image of Kitchener (Britain's most popular soldier) inspired several other poster designs, Taylor says he can find no evidence in photographs of the time that the Leete poster was used. The most popular recruitment poster at the time featured Kitchener (without the pointing finger) and a 30-word extract from one of his speeches.
The effectiveness of the image upon the viewer is attributed to what E. B. Goldstein has called the 'differential rotation effect.' Because of this effect, Kitchener's eyes and his foreshortened arm and hand appear to follow the viewer regardless of the viewer's orientation to the artwork. Historian Carlo Ginzburg compared Leete's image of Kitchener to similar images of Christ and Alexander the Great as depicting the viewer's contact with a powerful figure. Ginzburg also notes the Kitchener poster as the genesis of "Big Brother" depictions in Orwell's 1984. Pearl James commented on Ginzburg's analysis agreeing that the strength of the connotation lies with a clever use of discursive psychology and that art historical methods better illuminate why this image has such resonance. The textual focus on "you" engages the reader about their own participation in the war. Nicholas Hiley differs in that Leete's portrayal of Kitchener is less about immediate recruiting statistics but the myth that has grown around the image, including ironic parodies.
Leete's image of Kitchener is featured on a 2014 £2 coin produced by sculptor John Bergdahl for the Royal Mint. The coin will be the first of a five-year series to commemorate the centennial of the war. Use of Leete's image of Kitchener has been criticized by some for its pro-war connotation in light of the human losses of the First World War and the violence of Kitchener's campaign in Sudan.
The image of Lord Kitchener with his hand pointing directly at the viewer has inspired numerous imitations:
British World War I recruiting poster featuring the national personification, John Bull, circa 1915. "Who's absent? Is it you?"
Reichswehr recruitment poster by Julius Ussy Engelhard, 1919. "You too should join the Reichswehr"
Russian White Army recruitment poster, 1919. "Why aren't you in the army?"
Soviet Union poster, 1927. "You, if you are not yet a member of the cooperative – sign up immediately!"
Brazilian Constitutionalist Revolution recruitment poster, 1932. "You have a duty to fulfill. Ask your conscience!"
Soviet Union poster by Dmitry Moor, 1941. "What have you done to help the front?"
United States home front poster. "Are YOU doing all you can?"
United States 1985 Smokey Bear poster. The "Only You" refers to his famous quotation, "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires"
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