Exercise 4.2: The British landscape during World War II

Taylor describes how images of the landscape were used to rally support for the war effort, of portraying a country ‘worth fighting for’. The underlying message was quite subtle “Landscape was a route to levels of emotion which were acceptably patriotic without being too nationalistic”. The images reinforced the historical point that the country had not been conquered for a thousand years. Patriotic propaganda portrayed the beauty of the countryside and idyllic villages and contrasted this to the nightmare of Nazi Germany as “an industrial society run amok”.

The article describes how the countryside changed as a result of the war (road signs obliterated, military buildings and manoeuvres, restricted access) and that the landscape images were used to recall the pastoral beauty.

Interestingly the Article then describes how, when the war began, picture editors started to turn down traditional landscape pictures, preferring those which showed the countryside supporting the war effort, for example by showing evacuee children in a rural setting. This also helped to promote the view that the countryside belonged to all the people.

Articles from Picture Post contrast the ‘British way of life – a shepherd with his flock in a village High Street’ with the ‘German way of life – street filled with marching soldiers’.

Finally Taylor describes how “The cliffs at Dover came to stand for a complete ring of natural bulwarks. Moreover, the white cliffs remained unsullied”. The cliffs came to represent “the absolute and inviolate boundary of the country”.

I found it interesting to read just how views of the landscape had been used as propaganda during the war and the way in which the age old stereotypes of countryside and village life were used to demonstrate something worth fighting for”.

I wondered if such images would be used in similar circumstances today, or was it just a product of its time. It is, of course, difficult to give a definitive answer to that question, but as shown by the Daily Mail poster of 2002 the image does still have a very strong resonance for a section of society. My own feeling is that the make up of the country’s population has changed significantly since the war and I am not so sure that traditional images would have the same effect. It is also worth remembering that how information is disseminated now has changed hugely, Picture Post has been replaced by Facebook. Nevertheless single images can have a powerful impact, but at the moment I suspect that several images might be required to appeal to different sections of the population.