Printing During the World Wars

In honour of Remembrance Day we thought it would be timely to look at the role played by the British printing industry during World War I and II.

During the First and Second World Wars, print was of utmost importance. Printed literature was a vital part of communications and also in encouraging people to enlist and help out with the war effort.

Shortages and a Printing Crisis

At the start of the First World War, there was a huge shift in the printing industry. The printing of books halted and newspapers got smaller. Jobs were on the line and many workers were made redundant. In conjunction with a large number of print tradesmen enlisting, the changes eventually led to a labour shortage in the sector. Fortunately, many experienced print workers stepped in and volunteered in order to keep this vital industry going, some even went to work on the battlefields as ‘field printers’

Printing on the Battlefield

The field printers used on-the-spot printing tools to provide a large range of literature, including battle-area material which was produced under direct military control using army presses housed on the backs of lorries.

The main work in World War I was printing and distributing manuals, regulations and orders. By World War II the field printing was more concerned with the immediate needs of battle and the field printers issued vast quantities of propaganda leaflets, sabotage instructions, surrender passes and newspapers that were dropped by air behind enemy lines.

The Army field printers had to carry out their work in cramped environments, working in all weathers, while moving through mud-logged battle zones as heavy artillery rained down all around.

Printed Propaganda

In both wars, printed propaganda was employed to shape opinions. Governments during the First World War devoted significant resources to producing material designed to shape opinion and action internationally.

Various cartoons were created to help boost morale, especially during the Second World War. The public was alerted to the atrocities of the German concentration camps, encouraging them to continue the war effort. Providing frequent printed items helped to bring people together and boost morale, so they continued to remain patriotic and loyal as the years went on.

Encouraging People to Enlist

Posters and literature were also produced to encourage people to sign up support the war effort and to fight for their country.

It is no secret that the printing industry was important during the two World Wars, providing vital information and support to the military. Without the online communications that exist today, printed items were vital to aid communications at all levels and to provide updates to the general public.

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