When war broke out in 1914,

the British government, through the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, set about producing posters to swell the ranks of Britain's small professional army with volunteers.

Initially, these posters focused mostly on providing information on how to enlist and on stirring up patriotism. In 1915, though, a number of posters seemingly aimed at shaming (directly or indirectly) men into enlisting appeared.

The best known of these posters is probably Daddy, what did you do in the Great War? (click here for image), but perhaps equally hard-hitting is the one below addressed To the young women of London

enter image description here

The Wiki article says:

Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker have written that the campaign of mass propaganda, including what they describe as the "guilt-inducing and brutal messages" such as "Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?" were not the only contributing factor to these recruitment figures, writing that recruiters "quickly decided that using the latest forms of mass advertising had a negative effect".

The above passage isn't very clear about whether or not these posters helped or hindered recruitment and, as SJuan and Pieter Geerkens have pointed out in their comments, the stats appear to have been misused.

While it is true that later posters switched emphasis, the obvious reason for this was that conscription was introduced in 1916 so this kind of 'persuasion' was no longer necessary.

Did these kinds of posters, on balance, have a negative effect?

Are there any primary sources from the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee citing evidence of this 'negative effect'?

Were there any newspaper editorials (for example) or prominent people who voiced opposition to such posters as the ones cited here?

  • 2
    not worth an answer, but recruitment propaganda against a common known and feared enemy ALWAYS works way better than propaganda shaming oneself.
    – CptEric
    May 8, 2018 at 14:30
  • 1
    The comparation between volunteer numbers can be tricky: in 1914 there were five months of war; in 1915 it was the whole year. Also in 1914 the government would have had to setup the recruitment infrastructure almost from scratch. OTOH in 1914 there would have been a lot of volunteers that would not have needed propaganda at all to enlist.
    – SJuan76
    May 8, 2018 at 16:47
  • Just a comment, but IIRC, women handed out white feathers, as symbols of cowardice, to men not in uniform. So the consensus might have been that men should enlist. Of course, its relatively easy for non-combatants to cry "Coward!".
    – TheHonRose
    May 8, 2018 at 20:23
  • War started in August 1914. That means 1914 campaign vastly more successful, at ~200,000 volunteers/month than 1915 campaign at only ~110,000 volunteers/month. May 9, 2018 at 3:25
  • 1
    @PieterGeerkens Yep, you and SJuan have a good point and I'll edit to reflect that. May 9, 2018 at 5:49

1 Answer 1


It's hard to separate the effects of the posters from the larger effects of mass propaganda, and of using shame as a strategy in general, most notably the notorious White Feather campaign.

But the latter's effect is usually seen as effective in the short term, boosting enlistment numbers. Views of the campaign subsequently turned negative, and it wasn't so prevalent during WWII. I suspect that's what the "negative effect" is referring to.

The campaign is where young women were encouraged to hand out white feathers - symbols of cowardice - to healthy unenlisted men, in order to shame them into enlisting. Due to gender roles and the view of masculinity at the time, this was effective and helped increase enlistment, but the community quickly took a dim view of the campaign and the women who participated in it, especially when the recipients of the feathers were undeserving, such as discharged servicemen or those on leave, and adolescents.

For more info, see The White Feather Campaign: A Struggle with Masculinity During World War I

  • 1
    "Undeserving" is a problematic word IMO here. Further, this campaigning lead also to the issueing of badges on the "home front", indicating that the wearer was making important contributions to the war effort, as scientist, worker etc. This campaign backfired on several levels. May 9, 2018 at 10:49

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