‘Enlist now!’ is a striking collection of colour recruitment posters from the First and Second World wars and beyond. The posters are examples of the types of appeal made to men and women to join various war efforts. Almost all of the posters are Australian. Some are published by government departments – federal and state – others by recruiting committees and private organisations. The trail features many of Australia’s best known poster artists and designers of the first half of the 20th century.
- Recruitment posters use psychological techniques to convince young adults to enlist. Techniques in the trail include appeals to: the need of young people in particular to belong to a desirable group; guilt in letting others down; shame both now and in the future; pressure for an immediate response; and fear of what a brutal enemy might do in Australia. The First World War posters use all of these appeals. The Second World War examples emphasise belonging.
- One of the psychological appeals made in the posters is that, by enlisting, the individual joins a group of admired people. Groups of fit manly young servicemen are shown beckoning to others in the First and Second World War posters, while attractive young women invite others to join them in the Second World War posters. Those shown in these types of posters are always confident and healthy. Enlisted women are carefully portrayed as remaining feminine.
- The technique of instilling guilt and shame is well represented in the trail. In these posters the pride of parents and children is diminished if a loved one enjoys civilian life at the expense of those suffering and dying in the military. One of the most famous examples of this message is the British poster ‘Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?’. There are also numerous Australian examples, including ‘Make her proud to say …’ and ‘Will they never come?’.
- The posters identify a profound shift in views about women in war. In the First World War posters women are rarely visually portrayed and are referred to as weak and clinging, needing men to fight for them and sometimes wrongly stopping their own men from enlisting. By the Second World War, women – particularly vibrant young women – are portrayed as vital to the war effort in many fields, including the Land Army and Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force.
- Many posters in the trail were created to counter Australia’s lack of conscription for fighting overseas. This is especially evident in the posters from the First World War, when conscription was only for training, despite two referendums on the issue. From 1916 casualty rates increased and the number of volunteers declined, resulting in a shortage of soldiers for the Australian Imperial Force.
- The posters demonstrate the power of language and image to communicate meaning. Most rely on one strong clean image combined with a small amount of written text for their appeal. Colours are generally bright when the message is one of belonging but more sombre when the appeal is to guilt or shame. Words are overlaid, but are almost always secondary to the image, serving to highlight and reinforce the message, for example ‘Remember Gallipoli!’ and ‘Come!’.
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