Media & Propaganda
Hello readers. I’m Kate Wills, and I have been fascinated by the Great War since my teens. I have written articles and present talks on the subject, and am Speaker Secretary of the Northamptonshire branch of the Western Front Association, and trustee of the Great War Forum. I happened to mention that most of my working life had been spent as news librarian for the Northampton Chronicle & Echo, which resulted in me being earmarked for the Media & Propaganda brief for Conflict & Community. Where better to start than with one of the greatest propaganda images of all time (the work of a Northamptonshire-born artist), and its effect in hurrying a young Northampton man into the army.
Let’s set off for war with 19 year old Charles Crutchley, of Wilby Street, Northampton:
“In early 1914, I was employed as a junior clerk in a bookbinding office. Each morning I had to pass the window display of the Army Recruiting Offices. Nobody in his right mind thought of war. The Spring of 1914 was, or so it seemed, such a tranquil period. It was the greatest pleasure to go for a bicycle ride in the country. Life was steadier. None of us could visualise four years of war, with all its beastliness and filth, its wholesale slaughter.
Kitchener made his famous appeal to the men of Britain. Great posters were displayed everywhere with his Lordship’s finger pointing accusingly. “Your King and Country Need You”, it read.
Many of my workmates enlisted. Few employers objected. Everyone felt they wanted to be in the fight of “right against might”. I felt proud to be accepted as a recruit in the 4th Northants Territorial Battalion”. (i)
Images with slogans that tugged at the heartstrings appeared everywhere. “Remember Belgium”, “Women of Britain say GO!” and “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?” Charles Crutchley responded to a poster carrying what became one of the iconic images of the 20th Century, Kitchener’s pointing finger; and we in Northamptonshire can be very proud that this image was created by Alfred Leete, a native of Thorpe Achurch near Kettering.
Leete was born into farming family in 1882, but his father’s poor health prompted a move to Somerset when Alfred was 11. Mr and Mrs Leete swapped the rigours of agricultural work for the more genteel life of running a boarding house on the seafront at Weston-super-Mare. Alfred had a talent for painting and drawing, and by 1914 his illustrations were appearing in quality magazines such as Tatler, The Bystander and Punch. Leete’s most famous work was published on the front cover of London Opinion on 5th September 1914.
Charles Crutchley was just one of many thousands of men who succumbed to the inducement of Kitchener’s fixed gaze and stern message, made all the more urgent by Leete’s use of bold colours and the unsettling reach of that accusing finger. The war would take Crutchley to Gallipoli, Palestine and Mesopotamia. Leete would heed the message too, and see action on the Western Front, though not before he had done more work for the war effort with his pen, by sending-up Germany and the Kaiser in a series of humerous cartoons.