Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Keep Calm and Carry On
The poster featured here was printed in 1939 by the Ministry of Information. Some reports indicate the item was distributed but never hung. Others say there was minimal use of the poster, but because it was met with distain, the campaign it was part of was scrapped. It was originally thought that only two copies of the item existed, but during a 2010 episode of Antiques Roadshow, a participant arrived with twenty in his possession. Prior to that in 2000, a bookshop owner discovered one of the posters in a box and hung it in his shop. It became quite popular and morphed into other iterations since then.
The Ministry of Information was formed the day after Britain declared war on Germany. It’s mission was to “promote the national case to the public at home and abroad in time of war.” It did this through the use of propaganda and controlling news and information. Initially it was responsible for censorship, issuing official news, home publicity, and publicity in Allied and neutral countries.
Comprised of four groups: press relations, publicity users, publicity producers, and coordination and intelligence. However, senior officials were unsure about their responsibilities which caused confusion between departments. This led to resentment from the press who felt the ministry was delaying access to news. In addition, the Ministry’s first campaign “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution, Will Bring Us Victory” was criticized for being class-bound. (The poster above is one of three from this campaign). Others felt the ministry was over staffed and out of touch with reality.
Three months after being sworn into office as the Minister of Information, Lord McMillan was replaced by Sir John Reith. However, when Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister and Winston Churchill replaced him, Reith was fired. A close ally of Churchill’s and critic of the previous administration, Duff Cooper, was appointed. However, Mr. Cooper was quickly run out of office amid complaints of Gestapo tactics.
Fortunately for the English people, the next appointee, Brendan Bracken, an Irish-born businessman, remained in his position until the end of the war. During his tenure, he managed to promote a closer working relationship with other governmental departments. He also repaired relations with the press when he maintained that the MOI should not hamper the right to free speech. He also felt the ministry should be dissolved at the end of the war, stating that its activities “made it inappropriate for peacetime.”
He got his wish. The MOI was dissolved in 1946.
A freelance writer for over ten years, Linda Shenton Matchett writes historical fiction. Her novella Love’s Harvest is available on Amazon. She is currently seeking a publisher for her series about WWII war correspondent Ruth Brown. Visit her at www.LindaShentonMatchett.com