The Power of the Press: Through the Front Pages

Our guest blogger, Helen Antrobus, tells us about her thoughts and findings when researching World War I newspapers while on her placement here at PHM.

When I first started my course in Museum and Art Gallery studies, somebody told me that the trick to handling museum objects is confidence and care, and it worked perfectly right up until I was researching the newspapers from the World War One years in the archives here at the PHM. They are delicate, damaged from age, and it’s scary even turning the page over- but, fears aside, I persevered, and you get used flaky pages eventually!

IMG_4908Newspaper headings will always catch our eye, even if we don’t want to see what is there. It is nearly impossible to ignore the bold titles of scandal, capitalised and printed in red so we can’t miss them even if we want to. If we don’t want our day to be filled with bad, sad, or shocking news, most of the time we had no choice.

Now, try to imagine the headlines if Britain were once again fighting in a World War. Imagine the front pages if the Armed Forces were living in trenches swarming with disease, fear, and lice. Imagine the anger towards the government, the anger towards the opposing side, and a nation living in terror.

Sadly, the people living in Britain during World War One did not have to imagine it- for them; it was an all too gruesome reality. The newspapers of the day express the public’s thoughts, concerns, and worse fears as they waited for any kind of news, or change. And whilst they may not have lived in an age of digital photography, the stories and images that their newspapers included were effective enough without need for it.

What is interesting about the newspapers of the time is, like today, they took sides. Whilst many of the newspapers reported news from the front and were diligent in supporting the efforts of the nation against the forces of Germany and her Triple Alliance, some were decidedly not. The Daily Herald was a notoriously left-wing newspaper during World War One, and became a staple of the anti-war movement.

Englishmen, do your duty and keep your Country out of a wicked and stupid war.’ This was the headline in the Daily Herald on August 4th, the day war broke out. This would mark the paper’s campaign against Britain’s involvement in World War One, and would be followed by more graphic front pages, designed to make an impact on the reader.

This front page (pictured), taken from the early days of the war is a clear example of this sort of anti-war propaganda. There are several striking features of this front page- the portrayal of dead soldiers piled up carelessly; the blunt caption accompanying it. What is most interesting is the lack of indication as to who the soldiers are. They are not English. They are not German. Through this, the Herald’s message is simple. The cost of war is life, no matter whose life it is. This was the beginning of their campaign for peace- throughout the war, they supported conscientious objectors and were outspoken against the treatment of the men who chose not to, or were unfit to serve.

The Daily Herald was angry at the government for entering into a ‘stupid and wicked’ war, just like pro-war supporters were angry with Kaiser Wilhelm. War had made the nation angry- they just couldn’t agree on who they wanted to take it out on. Newspapers were a huge influence on the public, as the media is on our opinions today.

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