Today marks the 100th anniversary of the publishing of one of the most famous posters from WW1 — the one of Lord Kitchener pointing a finger at the viewer telling them that their country needs them.
Yet, the history of the poster is a curious one — for while it is today iconic and instantly recognisable, it was hardly used at all during the war itself.
It didn’t even start out as a government poster. Its first incarnation was on the front cover of the London Opinion magazine, where a graphic artist, Alfred Leete adapted an existing portrait of Lord Kitchener and added the famous accusatory finger.
There seems to have been some occasional reuse of the image, with variants during the war, but a historian, James Taylor says that he can find almost no evidence that the poster was widely used during the war.
Other poster featuring Lord Kitchener were widespread, but none of them had that famous pointing finger or the simple short statement that their country needed them. Although the magazine sold postcards of its original front cover, the design seems to have not been used a lot on actual government posters.
It seems to have become famous after the event. Considering that it was used as government propaganda, maybe we should be used to late delivery of its objectives!
Part of the myth around the poster may have started by the Imperial War Museum originally miscataloging the magazine cover as a war poster, and later researchers picked up on that.
Yet, even that wont explain why the poster is such a familiar image today, when those it exhorted to fight would have probably never seen it.
One hundred years after its first publication, the mystery of the poster’s post war popularity remains unsolved.