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Women: The Target of WW2 Winning Propaganda

The Ministry of Information sounds like something from 1984: a nation intent on controlling its inhabitants, and that was precisely what it was. At the beginning of the Second World war, Britain knew that getting through the war—let alone winning it—was going to be tough. Germany was a fighting machine that had been preparing for all-out war a decade. Britain, meanwhile, had been nursing its wounds and hoping never to return to war again.

The grit and resourcefulness of the population was among the few assets it had.

In leaflets, posters, newsreels, and radio broadcasts, carefully chosen words were issued about how those at home could support the men fighting on the front. Movies made during the war depicted determined souls doing everything they could to fight against an evil, machine-like enemy. News focused on individuals doing their bit—local competitions to support vegetable growing, munitions workers meeting big targets—while minimizing bad news from the front line.

Women were especially targeted by the Ministry of Information. Many of the hardships of war fell on their shoulders: extra work, food rationing, saving fuel, preventing waste, keeping the blackout rules, and allowing your children to be evacuated or having evacuated children in your home.

There were also posters and leaflets about what to do if the Nazis invaded: keep going as usual and use anything on hand to fight on and sabotage the enemy—whatever happens, do not submit to the Nazis. When France and the low countries fell to the Nazis, it was noted that had the population been more prepared, they could have done a lot more to prevent Nazi domination. Posters such as the famous Keep Calm and Carry On! were printed ready to be released in the event of an invasion to stop everyone panicking and allowing the Germans to simply take over.

One of the most insightful pieces of research I found compared the way that posters portrayed women during the 1930s, before the war, and then during the war. Prior to the war, women were treated as delicate, pretty creatures who needed to be looked after and pampered. Almost as soon as the war began, women were portrayed as hard-working, resourceful, and quick-witted individuals who could take anything in their stride.

Sadly, following the war, a reversal was made, and women once again were propelled back into their homes. But many recalled their war work, and a change had taken place: women had shown that they could do all these things, and do them very well indeed.

Picture credit: IWM

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