Saturday, 27 August 2016

James Montgomery Flagg's World War 1 Propaganda Posters



James Montgomery Flagg's Posters


Even if you don't know his name, you'll more than likely have seen James Montgomery Flagg's face. He features in one of the most iconic American images of World War I. His poster of Uncle Sam pointing at the viewer above the text "I Want YOU for the US Army" features the artist himself, which he claimed was more about saving the fees for a model than making himself famous.

Flagg himself considered his Uncle Sam poster to be the "most famous poster in the world", but it wasn't his only patriotic contribution to the war effort. In all he produced 46 posters during the period from the US's entry into the war in 1917 to 1918. He was employed once again during World War II, producing posters for both the US Government and the Red Cross.



Early Life

Flagg was born in New York on 18 June, 1877. He was a precocious talent; at age 12 St Nicholas magazine paid him $10 for a drawing. Within a couple of years Life Magazine were regularly accepting his work and at 15 he was taken on to the staff by Judge magazine.

In his early twenties he took a few years off to travel to Europe and studied in London and Paris. He met one of his heroes, John Singer Sargent, whilst he was in London and despite taking an immense dislike to him, continued to be influenced by his work. Sargent's style can be detected in some of Flagg's portraiture.

On returning from Europe Flagg attempted to make a living as a portrait painter, a largely unsuccessful venture, but one which Flagg was able to pursue due to his marriage to an older, wealthy socialite named Nellie McCormick. By 1904 Flagg had tired of painting portraits and returned to magazine work and achieved far greater success. He was commissioned by so many magazines that he later claimed that he needed to produce a piece of work each and every day to keep up with demand


Flagg and the Division of Pictorial Publicity


When the US government felt that entry into World War I was inevitable it swung into action with a huge propaganda campaign to persuade Americans that war was the right course to follow. The Committee on Public Information (CPI), led by George Creel, was formed on 13 April 1917. The CPI used every medium it could to disseminate its message, including newspapers, newsreels, movies and radio. Just in case there were some Americans who didn't have a radio, or who didn't watch movies, Creel came up with the Division of Pictorial Publicity. This organisation was to spread the message through posters.

The Division of Pictorial Publicity was headed up by a hugely popular illustrator, Charles Dana Gibson. Gibson recruited his several of his fellow artists, including James Montgomery Flagg. The group met up at Keene's Chop House in New York each week and decided what to design.

I Want YOU for the US Army Poster


Flagg's most famous poster didn't start out as a poster, but rather as a magazine cover. On 6 July 1916 Leslie's Weekly featured the image on the cover with the question "What Are You Doing for Preparedness?". He later adapted it for the famous poster.

This neatly follows the story of a famous British poster of World War I. In 1914, Alfred Leete illustrated a cover for a British magazine which later became Britain's most iconic World War I image. Echoes of Leete's Lord Kitchener poster can clearly be seen in Flagg's Uncle Sam poster.


The Uncle Sam poster is all about patriotism. Not only does it feature Uncle Sam, but the predominant colours are the colours of the flag: red, white and blue. Uncle Sam looks stern, authoritative and brave; what young man could resist?

More Flagg World War I Posters


Although Uncle Sam is perhaps the most enduring of Flagg's images, he produced many more. Most were in the same patriotic colours, but occasionally they were monochrome, like the poster shown left. Columbia, Uncle Sam and US servicemen were popular characters with Flagg, and the stars and stripes generally featured somewhere in the poster.
After World War I

Flagg continued his work as an illustrator after the war and also returned to portrait painting and fine art. He produced work for Franklin D Roosevelt, whom he admired, and supported the New Deal. When World War II broke out he went back to propaganda posters, again featuring as Uncle Sam. It was a time of personal tragedy for Flagg; his long time companion and muse, Ilse Hoffman, committed suicide at the close of the war.

As far back as 1903 Flagg had been asked by Photoplay Magazine to draw portraits of leading Hollywood stars. Despite being married, he had affairs with several starlets. As well as bedding the leading ladies, he befriended one of the greatest male stars of the day: John Barrymore.

Flagg continued to enjoy drawing film stars into the 1940s. He was particularly impressed with Hedy LaMarr, Joan Fontaine, Merle Oberon and Greta Garbo.

After World War II, Flagg wrote his autobiography Roses and Buckshot,which was published in 1946. Increasingly he found that magazines preferred to use photographs rather than illustrations and Flagg found this difficult to bear. He died in 1970 aged 82.


Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Laurence Binyon: For the Fallen

The line "At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them" is carved beneath the names of the men of Newquay who died in WW1. Photo copyright Judith Hancock

Laurence Binyon and Remembrance Day

You may not have heard of the poet Laurence Binyon, but if you've ever visited a war memorial or attended a Remembrance Day service in a Commonwealth country, you will probably have either read or heard some of his words. In particular, one stanza of his World War 1 poem For the Fallen captured the public imagination when it was published and remains popular today. Binyon's words captured the grief felt for the loss of a generation of young men and the determination of those left behind to remember them.
For the Fallen
Because the lines from For the Fallen are read at so many Remembrance Day services, they are of course associated with great loss and grief. It would be easy to imagine that Binyon wrote his poem in the midst of World War 1, when the British Army was dug into the mire of the Western Front and suffering catastrophic casualties. In fact, he wrote the poem barely a month into the war, in September 1914, far away from the front lines, on a cliff top in Cornwall.
Binyon was moved to write the poem following reports of the heavy casualties suffered by the British Expeditionary Force at the Battle of the Marne (5-12 September 1914). The poem was first published in The Times on 21 September 1914.

Ode to Remembrance
The Ode to Remembrance is the most commonly quoted part of For the Fallen. It consists of the third and fourth stanzas of the poem, though it is the four lines of the latter that are more frequently used.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left to grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon, Poet, Dramatist and Scholar
Robert Laurence Binyon was born in 1869 to a clergyman, Frederick Binyon and his wife Mary Dockray. According to census records, the Binyons moved from parish to parish during Binyon's early life. As a young man, he attended Trinity College, Oxford, where he read Classics. His talent as a poet was also recognised; in 1891 he won the Newdigate Prize for poetry.
1901 Portrait of Binyon by Walter Strang. Public Domain
Despite his literary talent, Binyon took a job with the British Museum's Department of Arts and Paintings and built up a considerable expertise in the area of Oriental art. Binyon produced not just poetry during this time, but catalogues and books about Eastern art. He toured America giving lectures in 1912 and 1914, and again after the war.
Binyon was a Quaker, and so could have avoided the war by attesting to be aconscientious objector. In addition, by the time of the war he was in his mid-forties, yet he nonetheless went to France as a volunteer and worked as a hospital orderly caring for French casualties.
After the war he continued to work at the British Museum. He published several plays as well as continuing to write poetry. After his retirement from the Museum in 1933 he was appointed Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard and then took up a position at the University of Athens, before returning to Britain in 1941. He died in 1943 and is commemorated in Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey on the memorial to Great War Poets.

Commemorative plaque at The Rumps
By Andy F at English Wikipedia [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
Laurence Binyon and Cornwall
Laurence Binyon certainly wrote For the Fallen in Cornwall. It is generally accepted that he wrote it on the cliffs at Pentire Head, overlooking The Rumps at Polzeath. In 2003 the poet's grandson, Edmund Gray, joined a ceremony to unveil a plaque to his grandfather's memory. Binyon isn't the only poet to have been inspired by the beauty of this area; Sir John Betjeman, the late Poet Laureate, lived nearby and is buried at St Enodoc Church.
Another Cornish seaside village, Portreath, also claims to be the place where Binyon wrote the poem. This village too has a plaque commemorating Binyon.

Binyon's Other War Poems
For the Fallen is by far the best known of Binyon's war poems, but it is not the only poem he wrote during the war. Whilst in Britain he also wrote The Witnesses, The Zepplin and The Bereaved. His time with the Red Cross brought him into the war zone and during this time he penned Dark Wind, Guns at the Front and The Arras Road.
The poetry he wrote during the war years was published in 1919 in a collection entitled The Four Years.



Monday, 15 August 2016

Famous Writers Who Served in World War 1

World War 1: A Terrifying Muse

"Write what you know" is standard advice to aspiring writers. Many of us struggle for inspiration, life seeming too mundane to commit to paper. During the Great War, there was no shortage of material to inspire and haunt the men and women who served in trenches and hospitals. Some wrote about the people they met or lost, the living nightmares they witnessed or the hopes they had for a peaceful future. A few works are explicitly about the war, whilst in others experiences are woven into the detail of their books. In all cases, their books are enduring memorials to the life and times of those who served in World War 1.


J R R Tolkien
Unlike many young men of his generation, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien did not rush to join up when Britain declared war in August 1914. He was at that time studying at Oxford and engaged to be married. He ignored hints from shocked relatives that he was failing in his duty and instead undertook to complete his degree before entering the army. Once he had completed his finals, he took a commission in the Lancashire Fusiliers and trained as a Second Lieutenant for 11 months at home.
Tolkien, by now a trained signals officer, departed for France in June 1916. He was newly married and his wife, Edith, naturally fretted for her husband, so Tolkien devised a code for use in their letters by which they could evade the censors. Edith was thus able to keep track of his movements on a map at home. She cannot have been comforted when she learned that his battalion were involved in the Battle of the Somme. However, unlike some of his friends, Tolkien survived and by October 1916 he was removed from the trenches as he had contracted Trench Fever. He suffered ill health for the remainder of the war and did not see front line action again.
It was while convalescing in 1917 that Tolkien began writing The Fall of Gondolin, an early tale of Middle Earth. Perhaps this story of a city beset by an evil enemy with fearsome dragons and serpents, might have been inspired by the Germans' attacking with their tanks. Some have also suggested that in the shrieking of the Nazgul in Lord of the Rings might be similar to the shrill scream of artillery shells as they travel through the air before impact. Tolkien himself said that the Dead Marshes "owed something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme".
The war left Tolkien physically and emotionally exhausted; he was ill and had lost all his closest friends. Although he confirmed that the Lord of the Rings was not based on history, it is clear that elements of his experiences in the war found their way into his work.

Vera Brittain: From Undergraduate to Pacifist
Vera Brittain wrote her memoir of her experiences of the Great War inTestament of Youth. At the time that it was published, hers was the only female voice that recalled the war. It is perhaps still the most passionate and intimate. Testament of Youthmade Brittain an instant success on its publication in 1933. However, her belief in pacifism, borne of her wartime experiences, saw her sink out of favour once war was declared again in 1939 and there was even unfounded gossip that she was a Nazi collaborator.
In 1915, Brittain was studying English Literature at Oxford University, thereby achieving an ambition to break free of her conservative middle-class family. Only a year into her course, she left her studies to in favour of nursing with the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) so that she could do her part for the war effort. It was a move that left her exhausted and heartbroken, but which inspired her to write one of the most moving accounts of the war.

Brittain's decision was partly due to so many of her friends enlisting. She was particularly close to four men: her brother Edward; Edward's friend and later Vera's fiancĂ©, the poet Ronald Leighton; Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow. All four were killed during the war leaving Brittain devastated and committed to pacifism. Testament of Youth conveys the nervous tension suffered by Brittain and the enduring damage caused by war.
After writing Testament of Youth, Brittain wrote Testament of FriendshipTestament of Experience as well as novels. Her wartime correspondence was published posthumously in Letters of a Lost Generation. She is also well-known for her role as a feminist and pacifist.

Agatha Christie
Like Vera Brittain, Agatha Christie served as a nurse with the VAD. She married Archie Christie in December 1914 but the couple were rarely together as Archie was stationed in France with the Royal Flying Corps. Bored and alone, Agatha offered her services at her local hospital. She had limited nursing skills but felt that she had a vocation for the work and proved herself a capable and caring nurse.
Christie used her experiences in the war to enrich her writing. She was from a wealthy background but at the hospital found herself mixing with men and women of the working class, allowing her to write about a wider range of characters. In addition, her home town of Torquay played host to a number of Belgian refugees, planting the seed for the idea of her famous Belgium detective, Hercule Poirot.
After nursing for a couple of years, Christie was transferred to the hospital dispensary. She was not all together happy as she greatly enjoyed nursing, but nevertheless threw herself into the new challenge and qualified as an Apothecaries Assistant. The knowledge she gained of poisons and medicines can be seen in her books, which include more than 83 cases of poisoning.
The dispensary was quieter than the wards and Christie used the time to start a novel. The Mysterious Affair at Styles was written in 1916, although not published until 1920. Hercule Poirot made his debut in a case of poisoning.

More British Writers Who Served in WW1
  • ·         C S Lewis - served in the 3rd Somerset Light Infantry before being wounded by friendly fire in 1918. He honoured a pact made with a fellow officer that should one of them die, the other would care for the family left behind. Lewis shared his home with Mrs Jane Moore, the mother of his friend, until she was obliged to live in a nursing home. He still visited her every day until her death.
  • ·         A A Milne - the creator of Winnie the Pooh had a varied military career, beginning as an officer with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, then the Royal Corps of Signals and ending up as a military intelligence propagandist.
  • ·         Dennis Wheatley - master of the occult novel who served as a 2nd Lieuntenant with the Royal Field Artillery, later with the City of London Brigade and the 36th (Ulster) Division. He saw action at Passchendaele, where he was gassed.
  • ·         W Somerset Maugham - initially one of the "Literary Ambulance Drivers", he was later recruited by the British Secret Intelligence Service", spying in neutral Switzerland and Russia prior to the Revolution in 1917.


F Scott Fitzgerald  shortly after the end of WW1
Public Domain
F Scott Fitzgerald
It was more the anticipation of war, than the experience of war, that impressed itself upon a young F Scott Fitzgerald. Struggling at college, due to his concentration on his writing rather than his course, he decided that he would drop out and join the army. However, he was concerned that he might die without having made his mark on the literary world, so rushed to complete a novel, The Romantic Egotist, before joining his unit He received a rejection note, but was advised that he should submit further manuscripts.
Fitzgerald took up a commission with the US infantry and the new 2nd Lieutenant was posted for training to Alabama. During a dance at a country club he met Zelda Sayre, the 18 year old daughter of a judge and fell in love. Happily for the young couple, Fitzgerald was spared active service, the war ending before his unit was deployed.



Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway tried to enlist in the US Army at the age of 18, but was rejected due to poor eyesight. Instead, he joined the Red Cross as an ambulance driver and consequently witnessed the carnage of the war first hand. His service went above and beyond that of simply driving the ambulance; he was cited for bravery by the Italian authorities.
Hemingway arrived in France around May 1918 and was then sent to Milan. He was quickly immersed in the war as an explosion at a munitions factory on his first day obliged him to carry mutilated corpses to the morgue. Not long after, he was seriously wounded whilst he was distributing supplies to Italian soldiers in the front line. A shell landed nearby, knocking him unconscious and peppering his legs with shrapnel. Several soldiers were killed and wounded. Hemingway carried a wounded man on his back to the first aid post, suffering more wounds from machine gun fire for which he was awarded a medal.

In a hospital in Milan, Hemingway recovered and formed a relationship with a nurse some years his senior, Agnes Von Kurowsky. The relationship and his experiences in the war inspired his novel A Farewell to Arms. The effects of the war on his generation are explored in The Sun Also Rises, which features another VAD nurse, Lady Brett Ashley, and Jae Barnes, a man still suffering the effects of a war wound.


Hemingway's Citation for Bravery
Hemingway received the Italian Silver Medal for Valour. The citation read:
"Gravely wounded by numerous pieces of shrapnel from an enemy shell, with an admirable spirit of brotherhood, before taking care of himself, he rendered generous assistance to the Italian soldiers more seriously wounded by the same explosion and did not allow himself to be carried elsewhere until after they had been evacuated."









More American Writers of WW1
  • E E Cummings - enlisted in the Ambulance Corps. He was openly critical of the war and was arrested in 1917 and held for over three months by the French military on suspicion of espionage. The experience led to his novel The Enormous Room. On returning to the US, he was drafted and spent the remaining months of the war at a training camp.
  • Raymond Chandler - enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, before going to the trenches with the Gordon Highlanders and ending the war with the Royal Air Force.
  • Dashiell Hammett - served as an ambulance driver with the US Army in 1918, but contracted Spanish flu and later tuberculosis.
  • Gertrude Stein - already a resident of Paris when the war broke out, Stein and her partner Alice Toklas, used their car to deliver hospital supplies.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Causes of World War 1


The New York Times carries news of the event that would draw Europe into war (Public Domain)

The Immediate Cause of World War 1
On 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia, a young man named Gavrilo Princip set in motion the events that would spark World War One. Princip, a physically small and weak teenager, held no military rank nor did he hold a position of power, yet his actions on that summer morning plunged the world into the bloodiest conflict it had ever known. On the face of it, his crime, dreadful though it was, doesn't appear to merit the industrial scale slaughter that followed.
Gavrilo Princip (Public Domain)


The man Princip murdered was Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir-presumptive to the throne of Austria-Hungary. Princip's motives for murder were political; he was a Serb who wanted Bosnia to be part of Serbia, rather than under Austro-Hungarian rule. His actions might have been expected to result in his trial and execution (in the event, he was imprisoned and died in 1918) and perhaps some retribution against his nationalist comrades. Just how did this local crime turn into a global war?




The Long Term Causes of World War 1

Gavrilo Princip's assassination of the Archduke may have been the spark that lit the fuse for World War One, but Europe was already a powder keg waiting to explode. Pressure had been building in Europe throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, with the leading nations vying for power and influence. By the early years of the twentieth century the scene was being set for war, though undoubtedly no one could have imagined that when it came it would be so prolonged or so bloody.
In broad terms, the four factors that built up during the decades preceding World War One and which caused the war were:
·         Nationalism
·         Imperialism
·         Militarism
·         Alliances
These factors were not always discrete and could overlap. For instance, German militarism found expression in the national identity whilst growing militarism all over Europe led to the system of alliances.


The Growth of Nationalism Before World War 1
During the pre-war period the European powers were not suffering any crises of identity. France, Germany and Britain all had their own very clear national identities and revelled in them. People were not afraid to show their love of country and saw it as their duty to show their support. Just as they loved their own countries, they tended to have a deep-seated distrust of their neighbours.
Germany was a relatively new nation, formed when the German states, led by Prussia, unified in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). The Germans were proud of their military tradition, their technology and Teutonic history. In 1888 Kaiser Wilhelm II succeeded to the throne and quickly pushed out Otto Von Bismark, the Chancellor who had used all his guile to keep the fine balance of power between the major powers. Germany now had at its helm the Kaiser, an arrogant and unstable man who never appeared in public unless wearing a military uniform; Germany's die was cast.
France was a nation with a smouldering hatred of Germany since the Franco-Prussian War. The French were defeated and a humiliating treaty was signed at Versailles which took from the French their territory of Alsace-Lorraine. They wanted it back. A few years after the Franco-Prussian War the French adopted The Marseillaise as their national anthem. One verse calls the French to arms and hopes that the impure blood of the enemy will water their fields. Germany is not stated to be the enemy, but no doubt many Frenchman had that in their minds as they sang the words.
Great Britain was a nation unburdened by any sense of humility during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The sun didn't set on her empire, her navy ruled the waves and a great many Britons were probably sure that God, if not actually British, was certainly on their side. Rule Britannia, indeed!
Whilst the major players were secure in their national identities many other people were trying to establish their own. In particular, the people of the Balkans were struggling against oppression. Austria-Hungary ruled a vast territory which included many different races, many of whom wanted independence. Gavrilo Princips was one such person, backed ultimately by the Serbian government.

Wilhelm II (left foreground) and his cousin George V (right) in Berlin 1902
Imperialism in the Run-Up to World War 1
Europeans had started expanding their territories into Africa and Asia as early as the sixteenth century. Colonisation expanded rapidly during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as governments realised how lucrative their colonies were. Not only did the colonies produce natural resources but they provided a market for European goods. By the nineteenth century the empires of the various European powers were largely funding their economies.
The main colonial rivals were:
  • ·         Britain
  • ·         France
  • ·         Belgium
  • ·         Italy
  • ·         Holland
  • ·         Germany

Britain's empire was the largest; at it's peak the British had annexed around a quarter of the world's land and ruled around a fifth of the total population. The Kaiser had ambitions to rule an empire that was at least equal to that of his cousin George V. Since so many countries had already been swallowed up by other European powers, the Kaiser's empire-building was bound to lead him into conflict over land.
The Arms Race and Militarism
Kaiser Wilhelm had a deep-seated envy of Britain and in particular its navy. The Royal Navy was the largest in the world and the Kaiser was determined to out-gun it. Several other nations, notably Japan and the United States, also increased their navies, but nothing like on the scale undertaken by the British and Germans.
In the dying years of the nineteenth century, Germany passed laws to allow the expansion of her navy. Britain responded in kind, and in 1906 the first of a revolutionary kind of battleship, HMS Dreadnought, was launched. Dreadnought was just the first of the new ships; more followed, with the British public demanding "we want eight and we won't wait!". The navy had no intention of stopping their ship building, planning to have a fleet that was at least the size of the combined fleets of the next two largest navies. Their planning worked; Britain entered with war with the largest fleet of all the nations.
Whilst Britain was preoccupied with the seas, France and Germany made plans for a land war. Both countries doubled the size of their armies between 1870 and 1914. Unlike Britain, they also had universal conscription to bolster their standing armies. In addition, Germany was a country steeped in militarism. Ever since Prussia was conquered by Napoleon, the Prussian nobility had been trained as army officers to ensure that such an ignominious defeat was not repeated . Since the former Prussian nobility held senior positions in the German civil service and government, the interests of the State and the army were closely linked.
Germany, renowned for her efficiency, also drew up plans for war, which they thought was inevitable. The Schlieffen Plan, designed to knock out France, intimidate Britain and hold Russia at bay, was put into play following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Alliances Prior to World War 1
Triple Alliance countries are shown pink.
Triple Entente countries are grey.
The build up of militarism and the race for colonies was bound to create tensions between the European powers. Whilst on the one hand the arms race was used to intimidate potential aggressors, on the other diplomacy was employed to foster mutually beneficial defensive alliances. Throughout the last part of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, Europe split into two camps.
In 1882 the Triple Alliance was formed. This was a military alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. The allies promised to support each other in the event of an attack by any of the other European powers.
France had been isolated since the end of the Franco-Prussian War and following the Triple Alliance Russia too felt insecure. In 1894 the two countries entered into the Franco-Russian Alliance.
The British and Japanese signed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1902 which marked the end of Britain's previous policy of "splendid isolation".
Italy reneged on the Triple Alliance by entering into a secret agreement with France, guaranteeing that Italy would not join an offensive against France.
In 1904 the French and British laid aside their ancient enmity and signed the Entente Cordiale.
Britain and Russia entered into the Anglo-Russian Entente in 1907 which ended a period of tense relationships between the two Empires. The signing of this agreement brought about what was known as the Triple Entente, the alliance between Britain, France and Russia. The Triple Entente also had various other agreements with the United States, Spain, Portugal and Brazil and, as mentioned above, Japan.
In addition, there were various treaties, agreements and alliances between the European powers and their smaller neighbours. Russia was bound to Serbia by such an agreement and Britain was determined to honour Belgium's neutrality. Germany either overlooked or ignored these considerations.
The Start of the War
Men joining up in Toronto (Public Domain)
As per the Schlieffen Plan, the Germans marched into France through Belgium. They had assumed that Britain would ignore the treaty of neutrality, but they were proved wrong. Despite the arrival of the British Expeditionary Force in France on 7 August 1914, the Schlieffen Plan looked likely to succeed. However, by 12 September the combined French and British armies held up the German offensive at the First Battle of the Marne (5-12 September 1914). Russia's mobilisation was quicker than expected and troops intended for France had to be diverted to the eastern front. The Germans were denied their quick victory and very quickly both sides started entrenching. The Great War had begun.