At the outbreak of war in 1914, Asquith's government drafted in imperial warhorse Lord Kitchener to add some military experience to the cabinet as Secretary of War. Kitchener was the country's most celebrated warrior: his colonial exploits in the Sudan, India and Egypt were the stuff of legend.
The government's hope was that Kitchener's persuasive presence would boost recruitment to the forces and an advertising campaign was duly launched. A sober ad in The Times declared that 'An addition of 100,000 men is urgently needed for His Majesty's army.' Public reaction was good.
During the government's main recruiting drive, up to six million posters were printed, to more than 140 different designs. They also produced many smaller strip posters for use on taxi cabs and trams and in railway carriages. Several designs included Kitchener's name and/or image, but the famous 'pointing finger' design was not among these official posters.
The now-iconic 'Your Country Needs You' poster actually started life as an illustration by cartoonist Alfred Leete in the London Opinion, a small circulation weekly magazine. Few people saw it in this form, but the magazine later printed it privately and displayed it on billboards. It made little impression on the public, who told pollsters that they were more likely to be swayed by less coercive images.
The poster's journey from obscure billboard ad to 20th century icon began after the war, when imitations began to appear in several countries. By the late 1920s, anti-war campaigners were citing it as evidence that many conscripts had been bullied into fighting in the Great War by aggressively militaristic imagery.
Uncle Sam Imitation
One of the most famous imitations of the Kitchener poster is the Uncle Sam 'I want you' version that was used to recruit during WWI and WWII. A further spin-off was created by anti-Vietnam War protestors in the US in the early 1970s. It showed a bedraggled and bloodied Uncle Sam holding out a beseeching hand and declaring 'I Want Out.'