For king and coun­try

Country Life Every Week - - My Favourite Painting -

Only in 1935 did the British pub­lic learn that First World War pro­pa­ganda had been of­fi­cially or­gan­ised by the gov­ern­ment. Twenty-five lead­ing au­thors, sum­moned in Au­gust 1914 by the new Pro­pa­ganda Bureau to mount a cam­paign to counter Ger­man ac­counts, were sworn to se­crecy con­cern­ing White­hall’s role in re­ports de­signed to in­flu­ence the me­dia and the pub­lic. An of­fi­cial 1915 pam­phlet on ‘al­leged Ger­man out­rages’ against Bel­gian civil­ians, pub­lished in 30 lan­guages, set the tone for a jus­ti­fied war against a bru­tal foe.

More than 1,160 pam­phlets would be writ­ten by lit­er­ary fig­ures. A monthly mag­a­zine edited by John Buchan ran to 24 is­sues and he was pro­moted to Lt-col, in charge of a new Depart­ment of In­for­ma­tion at £1,000 a year. A re­or­gan­i­sa­tion in 1918 drew in news­pa­per mag­nates Lord Beaver­brook, Lord North­cliffe and oth­ers to in­ten­sify the cam­paign.

Writ­ers and artists were dis­turbed by their par­tic­i­pa­tion. In a 1917 let­ter to G. K. Chesterton, the poet Hi­laire Bel­loc lamented that ‘it is some­times nec­es­sary to lie damnably in the in­ter­ests of the na­tion’.

Only of­fi­cial pho­tog­ra­phy was al­lowed —any­one else tak­ing pic­tures was to be shot—and some 90 lead­ing artists were com­mis­sioned to il­lus­trate the war, in­clud­ing John Singer Sar­gent, Au­gus­tus John, John Nash, Paul Nash, Wyn­d­ham Lewis, Stan­ley Spencer and Wil­liam Or­pen.

Paul Nash told a friend: ‘I am not al­lowed to put dead men into my pic­tures be­cause ap­par­ently they don’t ex­ist.’ Sar­gent was told by the Prime Min­is­ter, David Lloyd Ge­orge, to show col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween British and Amer­i­can troops—in­stead, he painted Gassed, show­ing blinded sol­diers fil­ing past a tan­gle of bod­ies.

Af­ter the war, Ger­man lead­ers, in­clud­ing Lu­den­dorff and Hitler, sug­gested pro­pa­ganda had in­flu­enced the out­come and the Nazis adopted British tech­niques.

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