'Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?', a British recruitment poster


Britain’s army at the beginning of the First World War was relatively small and professional. There was no conscription of population before 1916, and so recruitment of volunteers in large numbers became a huge challenge.

The Parliamentary Recruitment Committee was set up at the start of the War, and chaired by the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. It used local political party associations to form a network which campaigned through the circulation of leaflets and posters, and organising rallies and other public events. Considerable social pressure was brought to bear on men to volunteer, and those who did not risked vilification as ‘shirkers’ or cowards.

For many men, however, awareness of their responsibilities towards their families as wage earners proved a compelling disincentive to volunteer. Often, the levels of compensation offered to the families of men who enlisted were not sufficient to avert the risk of destitution to wives and children or elderly parents. Posters like this used that powerful sense of duty to family, but instead suggested that, in the future, children would hold their fathers to account on the service that they performed for their country rather than the social protection that they ensured for their immediate family.

This poster shows a sophisticated use of art and imagery in provoking a powerful emotional response. These visually strong examples are among the best remembered, and more commonly reproduced, war posters. However, British recruitment posters were often much simpler in design, using only text and single colours.

Full title:
Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?
Poster / Illustration
The War Office
Held by
British Library

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