Never Mind ‘Keep Calm & Carry On’ – London’s Wartime Posters

London War Posters

The startling success of those Keep Calm and Carry On posters – which the British government had originally created to be used in the event of German invasion during World War II – has been a stark reminder of the uses to which public advertising can be put. Never mind getting your hair color just so, or buying that soda you fancy for lunch, what if, among the usual enticements, there were messages from your government?

What if those messages were encouragements, suggesting ways in which you could play a decisive role in preventing that invasion from happening? Or ways in which you could help clear up your community, which was being regularly torn up by enemy bombers?

And if some of those messages took on a stern, patrician tone, well maybe that’s just a reflection of the times.

Here’s a collection of genuine posters from the early 1940s that, unlike Keep Calm, actually saw active service on the streets of London. It’s a peek into an entirely different world…


Note: “‘arf a mo'” means “half a moment.” No one talks like this any more. I blame all this modern beat music.


A private advert taken out in 1942 with one very clear message: let’s give the same grief to the Germans that we’re receiving every night. You’ll notice the blackout sheets on the chemist shop underneath too.


This is my favorite. There’s something hugely Orwellian about this image, even though it was taken some six years before 1984 was first published.


A surprisingly prescient poster, given that the Allies had retreated out of Europe when it was put up. German forces were battling the Russians on the Eastern Front at the time, and the D-Day landings were still a way off.


This could pretty much sum up London’s experiences of the war. A pile of rubble in a residential street, the dome of St Paul’s cathedral in the background, miraculously unharmed, and a sign on a railway bridge for the Lord Mayor’s National Air Raid Distress Fund.


Whereas this one is just baffling. Why are shoppers such a threat to national security during rush-hour that they warrant their own poster? And during a period of national responsibility (see Orwellian banner above), did Londoners really need to be reminded to be considerate of fellow travellers?


This is how you convince people to sign up for a stint in the armed forces, a massive blackboard on a massive easel.


Nothing unusual about this poster, with the actual model standing alongside. Oh, apart from the fact that it’s been nailed to a bookshelf, obv.


And we finish with a stark reminder of the job in hand. With bombs falling on an almost nightly basis, it became imperative to find volunteers who could help transport the wounded to hospitals and medical centres. The expression on this man’s face speaks volumes.

(All images courtesy of AP Images)

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser is a British writer, broadcaster and the the author of the book Stuff Brits Like. He is Anglophenia's resident Brit blogger, having written BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog, the Top of the Pops website, and for NME, the Guardian and elsewhere. Favorite topics include slang, Doctor Who and cramming as much music into Anglophenia as he can manage. He invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic
View all posts by Fraser McAlpine.