Lord Kitchener Wants You

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"Britons: Lord Kitchener Wants You. Join Your Country's Army! God save the King."
Mediawatercolor; print
Release date(s)1914
CountryUnited Kingdom
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"Britons: Lord Kitchener Wants You. Join Your Country's Army! God save the King."
Mediawatercolor; print
Release date(s)1914
CountryUnited Kingdom

Lord Kitchener Wants You was a 1914 advertisement which was developed into a recruitment poster. It depicted Lord Kitchener, the British Secretary of State for War, above the words "WANTS YOU". Kitchener, wearing the cap of a British Field Marshal, stares and points at the viewer calling them to enlist in the British Army against the Central Powers. The image is considered one of the most iconic and enduring images of the war. A hugely influential image and slogan, it has also inspired imitations in other countries, from the United States to the Soviet Union.


Eric Field's original design that caught the attention of Lord Kitchener

Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, recruiting posters had not been used on a regular basis since the Napoleonic Wars and UK government advertisements for contract work were handled by The Stationery Office. Rather than pay the government rate to newspaper publishers, the Stationery Office contracted this work to R. F. White & Sons publishers. J. E. B. Seely, then the Secretary of State for War awarded Sir Hedley Le Bas, Eric Field, and their Caxton Advertising Agency a contract to advertise for recruits in the major UK newspapers. Eric Field designed the prototype full-page ad with the Coat of Arms of King George V and the phrase "Your King and Country Need You." Britain declared war on the German Empire on 4 August 1914 and the first run of the full-page ran the next day in newspapers owned by Lord Northcliffe.[1]

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Herbert Asquith had appointed Kitchener as Secretary of State for War.[2] Kitchener was the first currently serving soldier to hold the post and was given the task of recruiting a large army to fight Germany. Unlike some of his contemporaries who expected a short conflict, Kitchener foresaw a much longer war requiring hundreds of thousands of enlistees.[3][4]

According to one author, Kitchener reacted well to Field's ad although insisting "that the ads should all end with 'God Save the King' and that they should not be changed from the original text, except to say 'Lord Kitchener needs YOU.'" In time, Le Bas formed an advisory committee of ad men to develop further newspaper recruiting ads, most of which ran 11 vertical inches two columns wide.[5]

Alfred Leete designed the image as a cover illustration for the 5 September 1914 issue of London Opinion, a popular weekly magazine, taking cues from earlier recruiting ads.[6][7] At the time, the magazine had a circulation of 300,000.[8] In response to requests for reproductions, the magazine offered postcard-sized copies for sale. The Parliamentary Recruiting Committee obtained permission to use the design in poster form.[9] A similar poster used the words "YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU".[10]

Original versions by Alfred Leete[edit]


"He is not a great man, he is a great poster."[11]

Margot Asquith

Leete's drawing of Kitchener was the most famous image used in the British Army recruitment campaign of World War I.[2][9] It continues to be considered a masterful piece of wartime propaganda as well as an enduring and iconic image of the war.[12][13][14][15][16]

Recruitment posters in general have often been seen as a driving force helping to bring millions of men into the Army.[17] September 1914, coincident with publication of Leete's image, saw the highest number of volunteers enlisted.[9] The Times recorded the scene in London on 3 January 1915; "Posters appealing to recruits are to be seen on every hoarding, in most windows, in omnibuses, tramcars and commercial vans. The great base of Nelson's Column is covered with them. Their number and variety are remarkable. Everywhere Lord Kitchener sternly points a monstrously big finger, exclaiming 'I Want You'".[9] Although it became one of the most famous posters in history,[9] its widespread circulation did not halt the decline in recruiting.[9]

The placement of the Kitchener poster designed by Alfred Leete has been examined and questioned following an Imperial War Museum publication in 1997 suggesting that the poster itself was a 'non event' and was made popular by postwar advertising by the war museum.[18] A 2013 book researched by James Taylor counters the popular belief that the Leete design was an influential recruitment tool during the war. He claims the original artwork was acquired by the Imperial War Museum in 1917 and catalogued as a poster in error.[8] Though the image of Kitchener (Britain's most popular soldier) inspired several other poster designs, Taylor says he can find no evidence in photographs of the time that the Leete poster was used.[8] The most popular recruitment poster at the time featured Kitchener (without the pointing finger) and a 30-word extract from one of his speeches.[8]

The effectiveness of the image upon the viewer is attributed to what E. B. Goldstein has called the 'differential rotation effect.' Because of this effect, Kitchener's eyes and his foreshortened arm and hand appear to follow the viewer regardless of the viewer's orientation to the artwork.[19][20][21] Historian Carlo Ginzburg compared Leete's image of Kitchener to similar images of Christ and Alexander the Great as depicting the viewer's contact with a powerful figure. Ginzburg also notes the Kitchener poster as the genesis of "Big Brother" depictions in Orwell's 1984.[22] Pearl James commented on Ginzburg's analysis agreeing that the strength of the connotation lies with a clever use of discursive psychology and that art historical methods better illuminate why this image has such resonance.[23] The textual focus on "you" engages the reader about their own participation in the war.[24] Nicholas Hiley differs in that Leete's portrayal of Kitchener is less about immediate recruiting statistics but the myth that has grown around the image, including ironic parodies.[18][25]

Leete's image of Kitchener is featured on a 2014 £2 coin produced by sculptor John Bergdahl for the Royal Mint. The coin was the first of a five-year series to commemorate the centennial of the war.[26] Use of Leete's image of Kitchener has been criticized by some for its pro-war connotation in light of the human losses of the First World War and the violence of Kitchener's campaign in Sudan.[27] In July 2014, one of only four original posters known to exist went to auction for more than £10,000. The other three originals exist on display in State Library of Victoria, the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, and the Imperial War Museum.[28][29]


The image of Lord Kitchener with his hand pointing directly at the viewer has inspired numerous imitations:


  1. ^ Messinger 1992, pp. 214–216.
  2. ^ a b "Historic Figures – Lord Horatio Kitchener (1850–1916)". BBC.  Retrieved 31 March 2011
  3. ^ Jones, Nigel (2013-12-16). Peace And War: Britain In 1914. Head of Zeus. pp. 222–223. ISBN 978-1781852538. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  4. ^ Welch, David (2012-05-31). "War Aims and the 'Big Ideas' of 1914". In Fox, Jo. Justifying War: Propaganda, Politics and the Modern Age. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 79–80. ISBN 9780230246270. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  5. ^ Messinger 1992, pp. 216–217.
  6. ^ Stride, Helena (2008-05-12). "Call to arms". TES. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  7. ^ Pollock, John (2013-09-19). Kitchener: Double volume. Constable & Robinson Ltd. ISBN 9781472113344. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  8. ^ a b c d Copping, Jasper (2013-08-02). "'Your Country Needs You' – The myth about the First World War poster that 'never existed'". The Telegraph.  Retrieved 16 January 2014.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Simkins, Peter (1988). Kitchener's army: the raising of the new armies, 1914–16. Manchester University Press. pp. 122–123. 
  10. ^ Lord Kitchener "Your country needs you!". Sterling Times. Retrieved 31 March 2011
  11. ^ Gosling, Lucinda (2008). Brushes and Bayonets: Cartoons, Sketches and Paintings of World War I. Osprey Publishing. p. 28. ISBN 9781846030956. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  12. ^ "British First World War Recruiting Posters". McMaster University. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  13. ^ "Propaganda 1914–18". The National Archives. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  14. ^ Taylor, Philip M. (1999). British Propaganda in the 20th Century: Selling Democracy. Edinburgh University Press. p. 1. ISBN 0748610405. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  15. ^ Sooke, Alastair (2013-07-03). "Can propaganda be great art?". BBC. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  16. ^ Thatcher, Martyn; Quinn, Anthony (2013-10-01). The Amazing Story of the Kitchener Poster. Funfly Design. ISBN 9780956909428. 
  17. ^ "British History in depth: The Pals Battalions in World War One". BBC.  Retrieved 31 March 2011
  18. ^ a b Hiley, Nicholas (1997). "Kitchener wants YOU and Daddy what did YOU do in the great war?: The Myth of British Recruiting Posters". Imperial War Museum Review (Imperial War Museum) 11: 40–58. 
  19. ^ Cutting, James E. (1988). "Affine Distortions of Pictorial Space: Some Predictions for Goldstein (1987) That La Gournerie (1859) Might Have Made". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance (pdf) (American Psychological Association) 14 (2): 305–311. 
  20. ^ Koenderink, Jan J; van Doorn, Andrea J; Kappers, Astrid M L; Todd, James T (2004). "Pointing out of the picture". Perception 33 (5): 513–530. doi:10.1068/p3454. Retrieved 2014-03-03. 
  21. ^ Busey, Thomas A.; Brady, Nuala P.; Cutting, James E. (1990). "Compensation is unnecessary for the perception of faces in slanted pictures". Perception & Psychophysics (pdf) (Psychonomic Society) 48 (1): 2. 
  22. ^ Ginzburg, Carlo (2001). "'Your Country Needs You': A Case Study in Political Iconography". History Workshop Journal (Oxford University Press) (52): 1–22. 
  23. ^ James 2009, p. 21.
  24. ^ Chambers, R. (1983). "Art and Propaganda in an Age of War: The Role of Posters". South African Journal of Military Studies (pdf) 13 (4). Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  25. ^ James 2009, p. 18.
  26. ^ "The 100th Anniversary of the FWW – Outbreak UK £2 Brilliant Uncirculated Coin". Royal Mint. 2014-02-20. Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  27. ^ "Calls for 'offensive' Kitchener WWI centenary coin to be scrapped". Herald Scotland. 2014-01-14. Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  28. ^ Sim, David (July 8, 2014). "Lord Kitchener Wants You: Rare First World War Posters Go On Sale". International Business Times. Retrieved 2014-07-09. 
  29. ^ "About Us". Robert Opie Collection. Retrieved 2014-07-09. 
  30. ^ Capozzola, Christopher (2008). Uncle Sam Wants You : World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen. Oxford University Press. p. 3. ISBN 9780195335491. 
  31. ^ "Canadian Wartime Propaganda". Canadian War Museum.