The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 9 No 1 - June 1992


by A Sinclair

Propaganda is a way of propagating ones particular doctrines or practices onto another party. In times of war, propaganda has been aimed at strengthening the morale of one's side and thwarting that of the other side. Posters are an ideal way of communicating propagandistic ideas. They are manipulative and therefore a means of persuasion.(1)

The South African National Museum of Military History is the proud owner of approximately 400 posters in its propaganda collection. The bulk of the collection consists of posters published in the Second World War. These have been acquired by means of donations by the SADF, other institutions and individuals.

Military and wartime posters were not generally regarded as great works of art as they were meant to convey a certain message. They had to be informative, instructive and influence people's perception of the war in a certain way.(2) The layout had to capture the attention of the audience immediately and hold it long enough for the audience to be interested in reading all the information.3 Second World War posters were divided into certain categories, these being:
a) Posters appealing to patriotism. b) Posters appealing to national security. c) Posters campaigning for war production. d) Posters illustrating the military and diplomatic developments of the war. e) Posters depicting the war atrocities of the enemy. f) Posters appealing for support for homecoming servicemen.

Due to the fact that South Africa could only rely on volunteers to fill the units of her forces during the war, a massive recruiting drive was instituted in an effort to encourage men to sign up. Posters with slogans such as 'Enlist today, you are wanted at the front' and 'The only dress for non-key men is a Union Defence Force uniform' were placed all around the country.(4) Different services also displayed their own posters. The Artillery units developed slogans such as 'Join the guns'. The idea was to convince the people that they had to do their national duty and defend their country. Patriotic posters thus became the most popular of the wartime posters appealing to the emotions of the nation.(5)

Poster 1

You can help build me a gun

National security posters were produced to warn the population about spies and informers as there was great fear of the enemy within the borders of South Africa.(6) One of the more famous series of posters of this type stated, 'Careless talk costs lives - keep it under your hat' emphasising that information leakage would be detrimental to the Allied war effort.(7)

Due to the tremendous industrial needs of the war, as much manpower was required at home in the factories as was required in the forces on the war fronts. Appeals such as 'You can help to build me a gun' and 'Help forge V for victory' were directed at the civilian population. Here the dependence of the soldier on the worker and the parallel created between the soldier on the front and the worker in the factory was stressed.(8)

There were also posters calling on the people to help fund the war effort, especially the national war fund.(9) These posters 'shouted' slogans such as, 'War loan - back the empire with your savings' and '1 pound for 15/6 - if you cannot fight - lend us your money'.

Poster 2

Help forge the V for victory.

An enormous assortment of posters existed in order to illustrate the military and diplomatic developments as well as the change in the fortunes of the war.(10) A whole series of 'Information war time posters' were produced in Britain illustrated with aeroplanes, tanks and important personalities. The Italians developed a series of propaganda posters depicting battle scenes in Spain, Abbysinia and Libya whilst in The Netherlands another poster was produced honouring the underground forces greeting the soldiers of the United Nations.

War atrocities by the enemy were often depicted on war time posters. Frightening slogans such as, 'I believe - Red Cross or Iron Cross' and 'Nazi war aims - Grab,grab, grab!' appeared stating that the enemy had inhumane tendencies and would not behave decently. These posters were supposed to address the public's hatreds and fears of the enemy.(11)

At the end of the war, posters propagated the assistance of homecoming servicemen in finding employment and settling back into civilian life. 'Thank you soldier, sailor and pilot' were general posters showing gratitude whilst more powerful examples stated, 'He has a claim on you' and 'Help him back to civil life'.

Poster 3

The only dress for non key men is a UDF uniform

In no other part of South Africa's military history have posters been used to such a great extent. This could be attributed to the fact that the South African Government has not felt the need to appeal to the nation's patriotism in such a manner at any other time. The above examples are located in the collection at the Military History Museum and explain the different roles that posters played in the Second World War. It is hoped that this valuable and informative collection will continue to prosper and donations of any kind are encouraged and welcomed.

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