Pictures of World War I

Each Worth 1000 Words…


The Printed Word in WWI

The governing bodies of the individual countries that comprised the Allies and the Central Powers each enforced their own rules upon what the news media could or could not communicate to the general population. Government and military broadsides from France and Belgium revealed a story of struggle and occupation, while propaganda posters from all nations told stories, both true and false of war through one of history’s largest public information campaigns.

Germany enforced heavy censorship throughout World War 1. German citizens were not allowed to learn of defeat or the extent of the casualties along the fronts. The Russians still impose strict censorship. The British Government also tried to impose censorship on the news that was reported from Europe for all of the war period. In 1914 the primary source of communication was a ‘one-to-many’ mass distribution structure. This system lent itself to the development of propaganda roles for the news media to play.

For education teaches the public how to think but propaganda teaches what to think.

The Newspaper From Kitchener To Kaiser

Newspapers were the primary source of information and most people had access to either a national or local daily newspaper. Even in small country villages pages from the local newspaper were posted on noticeboards to be read by the general public. At the outbreak of World War One the British government invoked a new Official Secrets Act and the Defense of the Realm Act (DORA) the purpose of which was to impose press censorship and to ban all war reporting.

The local press, largely free to write what it wanted, was able to continue with the already established habit of the printing of soldiers letters. These letters had been mailed to home from men and women serving with the forces. This was an example of an effective strategy used for subversion of censorship.

Printed publications included posters, pamphlets, leaflets, periodicals, postcards, letters, and newspapers. There were over one hundred trench newspapers that were produced for limited periods of time.

Shooting Soldiers and Solder Shots:  The Photograph in WW1

Photomechanical printing techniques enabled the mass reproduction of photographs. Photography was in its infancy and developing rapidly as a form of imagery. It was able to record accurately what was happening now and to whom it was happening. There are official pictures of the heads of state, the generals, the soldiers, the volunteer and all the peoples who participated in the First World War. There are pictures of battles, armaments and there are color pictures making their debut.

Later in the war the Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders also appointed their own photographers to the Western Front. Their pictures were offered for sale to newspapers.

The Kodak pocket camera first appeared in 1897. Cameras were forbidden on the Western Front, but a few soldiers carried them and took photographs which later appeared in local newspapers. Photography also had obvious military applications and some pictures that were taken by the survey companies of the Royal Engineers on the Western Front were also released to the press.

Masters of The Message During & After The Great War

Most propaganda was printed as cartoons on posters, in newspapers and magazines, in newspaper editorials, and in pamphlets distributed on the street. The continuing importance of the news press in maintaining and manipulating the course of the war was clearly illustrated by the appointments of Northcliffe to the new post of Director of Propaganda in Enemy Countries, and Beaverbrook as head of the equally new Ministry of Propaganda. Northcliffe and Beaverbrook were newspaper press barons of that time.

Other Media

The first two official cine-cameramen (experienced newsreel cameramen, wearing uniform) were attached to GHQ in late 1915. Their newsreel films were shown both in Britain and to the troops in France. Some of the film taken was made into a full-length documentary, The Battle of the Somme, which broke box-office records. Similarly books, plays, music and poetry all had profound effects on the general public and the politics of those days.

Radio, telephone and telegraph were all in their infancy and controlled by governments. Their impact on the mass population was not to be seen until 1920s and into the advent of the Second World War.

What is certain is that mass media left unique war records for the present age to interpret.