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War and Military

Second World War

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When hostilities broke out in September 1939, the Canadian government sought early on to centralize and manage the stream of propaganda messages that would bombard the Canadian public. Indeed, government officials consulted old First World War posters and other materials housed at the Public Archives to determine the best means of influencing public opinion and morale. The Bureau of Public Information (BPI) and its successor, the Wartime Information Board (WIB), would coordinate the creation of war posters, working with designers, artists, and printers to create colourful, eye-catching works. Private companies and organizations such as the Red Cross sponsored some posters, as they had in the First World War. But this time, the federal government managed the production of a far greater range and number of propaganda posters than it did in the previous conflict, taking advantage of cheap offset lithography technology.

The Second World War poster collection at LAC was started with contributions from the war government's departments and agencies heavily involved in the war effort. Beginning in December 1940 these groups, in particular the WIB, regularly transferred copies of posters to the Public Archives. In addition, a large number of items were likely sent to the Archives at war's end for preservation. Over the years, the collection has also been supplemented by donations from private individuals, including poster designers, such as Harry Mayerovitch and Hubert Rogers, and collectors, including Morris Norman. While there are also a few examples of Second World War posters from Britain, the United States and other countries; the Second World War collection consists mostly of Canadian materials produced by the federal government.

Colour poster with illustration of a soldier doing a wheelie on a motorcycle. In  the background is an image of a knight on a rearing horse. Title split between top and bottom

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Figure 21

The Minister of National Defence worked with the BPI and the WIB to produce recruiting posters such as this one designed by Eric Aldwinckle, which linked the new Canadian soldier with the valiant knight of the past.


Figure 21: Recruitment poster mirroring the image of a modern soldier with a knight


Colour poster with illustration of a traffic light. In the background are marching soldiers. Text is placed in each light and at bottom

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Figure 22
Colour poster with illustration of a head of a smiling soldier wearing a Canadian khaki field service cap, also known as as wedge cap. Title in blue at bottom on white background

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Figure 23

Figure 22: Recruitment poster, "Stop Waiting. Get Ready to Beat Hitler. Go. Enlist Now"

Figure 23: Recruitment poster, "Venez, les gars... l'armée vous attend!"


Pressure tactics were once again used to encourage men to sign up. Directly appealing to the viewer and implying that there was no excuse not to join targeted men who might have had doubts about fighting in the conflict.

Colour poster with illustration of a female and male soldier marching together. Inset at bottom: four black-and-white photographs of enlisted women at work. Title at top, text at centre and bottom

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Figure 24

The Second World War saw the active recruitment of women into the armed forces. Although women were still portrayed in some posters as delicate figures in need of protection, in many other instances they were pictured playing an active role in every aspect of the war effort, including the Canadian Army.


Figure 24: Recruitment poster, "Shoulder to Shoulder," Canadian Women's Army Corps


One feature that distinguished Second World War posters from those of the First World War was the concern about security and secrecy. Second World War posters are evidence of the concerns of government and military leaders that spies were in the country and that otherwise loyal and patriotic Canadians might inadvertently leak vital information.

Notice with black text on white paper and crest at top

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Figure 25

This early example of a security poster used lots of text and has a crest as its only image.


Figure 25: Notice warning against discussing war efforts, ca. 1940


Colour poster on a white background with illustration of three military personnel talking and a man's face (perhaps Hitler) in the background with an ear superimposed over a hand

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Figure 26

Later security posters used dramatic images and minimal text to convey the need to avoid careless talk.


Figure 26: Poster warning against discussing war efforts


A number of Second World War propaganda posters addressed the issues of morale and dissent, and sought to reassure Canadians of the necessity of the war and the need to maintain their support for it.

Colour poster with illustration of a merchant marine with megaphone, at sea, observing an air battle. Another crew member is firing on a plane which has been hit and is going down. Title at top and text at bottom

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Figure 27

This poster was one of a series that highlighted the bravery of Canadian servicemen.


Figure 27: War propaganda poster, "Ce qu'il faut pour vaincre," designed to increase morale and support for the war, featuring Capt. Fred Slocombe, 1943


Poster depicting a coal miner holding a jackhammer, in black, white and grey. Title at bottom

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Figure 28

Harry Mayerovitch created this dramatic image to promote the National Film Board's Coal Face, one of a series of documentaries showing the activities of Canadians supporting the war effort.


Figure 28: Figure 34: Advertisement for the film Coal Face: Canada Carries On, produced by the National Film Board


Black-and-white poster with illustration of a limp hand with a broken dog tag around the wrist. At right, there is a list of surnames, of various ethnicities, beginning with the letter "C" followed by the word "Canadian"

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Figure 29

Mayerovitch also designed this haunting image of a dead soldier clutching his dog tags. Although the viewer cannot make out the name on the piece of metal, the caption explained that no matter the background of the man, he was a Canadian. The Dominion government sought unity among Canadians and hoped that works such as this would reduce tension among ethnic groups.


Figure 29: Poster illustrating that all war dead are Canadian citizens, 1944


Engendering support for the military and the war effort in general was only one aspect of the propaganda campaign. Posters also encouraged all Canadians to play an active role in the war.

Colour poster with illustration of airmen standing one behind the other on a blue background. Title split between top and bottom

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Figure 30

Increased productivity was an essential element of the war effort, and this poster asked workers to make sure airmen were supplied with planes.


Figure 30: War production poster for the air force


Colour poster with illustration of a beaver chewing through a tree. A man ressembling Hitler is clinging to the branches above. Title centre right and at bottom

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Figure 31

While the war was a very serious matter, humour was employed occasionally in propaganda posters. In this poster Canadians were urged to dedicate themselves to their work to beat Hitler.


Figure 31: War production poster against Nazism, 1941 - 1942


Colour poster with illustration of a male soldier and factory worker and a female farm worker, in a lunging position holding a gun, an industrial tool and a hoe respectively. Title split between top and bottom

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Figure 32

This Hubert Rogers poster showed three determined Canadians-a soldier, a factory worker and a farm worker-committed to action in their own areas.


Figure 32: War production poster representing the military, manufacturing and agricultural sections of the war effort, Wartime Information Board, 1943


Colour poster with illustration of a white elephant on an orange background with a sign on its flank that reads "For Sale" in French. A man and woman examine the elephant. Title split between top and bottom

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Figure 33

In addition to contributing their labour, Canadian men and women (and even children) could show support for the war through demonstrations of thriftiness.


Figure 33: War production and savings poster against unnecessary purchases


Everyone-men, women and children-was encouraged to avoid unnecessary expenditures, to conserve food, fuel and other essentials, and to save and recycle things like bones, metal and paper.

Colour poster of a scoop of coal on an orange background. Title split between top and bottom

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Figure 34
Poster with a black-and-white illustration of two soldiers with a machine gun. Title and text in white and black on red background

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Figure 35
Colour poster with illustration of a smiling woman holding various household items, on a green background. Title in white at top, text in white on black background at bottom

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Figure 36
Colour poster with illustration of three women walking and holding various household items. A dog walks beside them, at right, with a bone it its mouth. Title in black on orange backgound, text in white and orange on black background at bottom

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Figure 37

Figure 34: War production and savings poster regarding the conservation of coal

Figure 35: War production and savings poster regarding waste paper for ammunition and other vital needs

Figure 36: War production and savings poster regarding a variety of goods for reuse or repurposing

Figure 37: War production and savings poster regarding a variety of goods for reuse or repurposing as war supplies, 1940 - 1941


Once again, the federal government turned to the Canadian people for loans, in the form of Victory Bonds, to finance a major war. Propaganda posters played a key role in attempts to convince men and women to invest in the military campaigns conducted from 1939 to 1945. The War Finance Committee, which engineered the propaganda for the Victory Loan, appealed to Canadians' sense of patriotism, their fears of the enemy, and their future hopes and dreams in hundreds of posters that were tacked up in practically every public place.

Colour poster with illustration of a golden lion on a red and blue background. A green maple leaf is under its belly. Text in red on white background at top, and in white on blue background at bottom

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Figure 38

Designed by Group of Seven member A.J. Casson, this poster won first prize in a 1941 design competition. Against a backdrop of factories and military equipment, the heraldic lion symbolizes strength and determination.


Figure 38: Victory Bonds poster, "Donnez nous les outils et nous finirons la tâche  --  Il faut en finir!"


Poster with black Chinese  pictograms on white background. The words "Victory bonds" in English at bottom

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Figure 39

In 1941 the War Finance Committee printed small posters in a variety of languages including Chinese, Yiddish, Polish, German, Russian and Icelandic as part of a plan to persuade immigrant groups to invest in the war effort.


Figure 39: Victory Bonds poster in Chinese, 1941


Black-and-white poster with illustration of a map of Canada. A Japanese soldier menaces the west coast, while a German soldier menances the east coast. Title and text at bottom

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Figure 40

This poster played on stereotypes of the enemy and suggested that the Japanese and Germans were approaching both coasts to instill fear in citizens and convince them to buy Victory Bonds.


Figure 40: Victory Bonds poster, "They Menace Canada on Both Coasts," 1942


Black-and-white poster with illustration of seven smiling children. Amidst the group is a "For Sale" sign. Title at top, text at bottom

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Figure 41
Colour poster with illustration of a woman holding a baby on a blue background. On their left a black claw-like hand with the Imperial Japanese Army's ensign on it threatens them, on the right there is a similar hand with a Nazi symbol on it. Text at top and bottom

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Figure 42

Figure 41: Victory Bonds poster, "For Sale / Canada's Children / Will You Outbid the Axis?," 1942

Figure 42: Victory Bonds poster, "Qu'ils ne leur touchent pas!", 1941


The threat to women, children and families was made very clear in these posters. Dire consequences would result if Canadians did not invest in bonds.

Colour poster with illustration of an older woman hugging a Canadian soldier, on a bright yellow background. Title in red split between left and right

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Figure 43

Figure 43: Victory Bonds poster, "Speed the Victory... Buy Victory Bonds," 1943


Billboards such as this one made emotional appeals, highlighting not only the need to protect family, but also the urgency of ensuring victory so that mothers and sons could be reunited forever.



Colour poster with illustration of a winking fox holding victory bonds in its arms. Title at top in red on bright yellow background, text in yellow at bottom on black background

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Figure 44
Colour poster with illustration of a winking hen sitting on victory bonds. Three chicks, in the foreground, wear tags that read "3% interest". Title at top in white on red background and text in yellow and white on black background at bottom

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Figure 45
Colour poster with illustration of four women in various uniforms looking at a crystal ball with a victory bond in it. Title and text at bottom

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Figure 46
Poster printed in brown on cream-coloured paper with illustration of a father, mother, son and daughter looking towards the horizon. Text appears in the sunlight in the distance. Title and text to the right

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Figure 47

Figure 44: Victory Bonds poster, "Soyez rusé comme un..."

Figure 45: Victory Bonds poster, "Sit Tight on Them... and They Hatch," 1944

Figure 46: Victory Bonds poster, "Notre avenir sera heureux et prospère"

Figure 47: Victory Bonds poster, "Hold Hard", April 1945


Along with using themes of patriotism and fear, the War Finance Committee also raised the issue of the future in their advertising posters. Partway through the war, poster designers sensed that Canadians needed a sense of hope. Citizens needed to believe that the war would serve some future purpose. Hence, the appearance of posters such as these, which encouraged clever Canadians to sacrifice and save for a bright and prosperous future.

War posters provide an important window on Canadian society and development, and offer insight into how political, military and business leaders sought to shape the war experience. Whether looking at the lithographs of the First World War or the offset lithographs of the Second World War, these visual artifacts will continue to catch the eye of all who view them.

Mary-Margaret Johnston-Miller
Archivist, Art Acquisition and Research
Library and Archives Canada
Canadian Archives and Special Collections

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