Within months of the outbreak of the First World War, it became very clear that recruiting enough volunteers was going to be a challenge. The Parliamentary Recruitment Committee was set up at the start of the War to boost numbers of volunteers, and it was chaired by the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. The committee commissioned artists to create striking and emotive recruitment posters, and also organised rallies and other public events.
This First World War propaganda poster from Norfolk Library & Information Service’s collection is currently on display at Norwich Castle Museum, as part of the Nelson and Norfolk exhibition. It shows the gallant figure of Nelson standing in front of a scene of naval warfare, echoing depictions of the burning of L’Orient, the French ship destroyed by Nelson’s units at the Battle of the Nile.
Horatio Nelson’s reputation as a great war hero began during his lifetime (1758 – 1805) and still persists to this day. One of his greatest victories was at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, when he sailed his ships between the shore and the unprepared French fleet who were expecting an attack from the opposite direction. He was wounded several times in combat, losing the sight in one eye in Corsica and most of one arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife. His most heroic hour came shortly before his death in 1805, when he inspired his men to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar with the famous signal “England expects that every man will do his duty.”
“England Expects” is used in this recruitment poster to inspire patriotic courageousness and self-sacrifice among British men, one hundred and ten years after Nelson’s heroic demise. The line “Are you doing your duty today?” questioned whether men in 1915 were answering their country’s call as Nelson’s men had, and provoked guilt in those that were not.
Nelson and Norfolk features many other objects from Norfolk Library & Information Service’s heritage collection. The exhibition runs until 1st October 2017.