Poster power

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Poster showing a soldier talking to a man carrying a box

Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

At one time I had a yen to be a commercial artist but decided, at the age of 12, to become a reporter instead.

Public artworks that made the biggest impressions on me were the huge posters that screamed at you from Liverpool’s many cinemas. One I particularly remember for its wonderful colourful images advertised the classic double horror feature “The Blob” and “I Married a Monster from Outer Space”. It certainly grabbed everyone’s attention on the bus.

Later I learnt about the big contribution artists made to the war effort by boosting morale and passing on information.

Liverpool was Britain’s most important port in the Second World War, handling at least one third of the country’s imports brought in by convoys running the gauntlet across the Atlantic. Greatly assisted by other west coast ports, she was the main terminus for the convoys. By early 1941 Liverpool had also become a major naval base and the HQ of Britain’s North Atlantic campaign.

Recognising the port’s key role, Germany made her the target for 68 bombing raids – more than any other British port outside London. Liverpool’s ships and merchant seamen played a crucial part in ensuring Britain’s survival, as did her dockers, ship builders and repairers. 

Posters on display in the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Battle of the Atlantic gallery highlight key areas. There are two showing variations of the Careless Talk Costs Lives campaign, perhaps the most famous in the Second World War. One shows a group of men talking in a pub and a picture of a ship sinking with the slogan: “She sails at midnight. He talked … this happened”.

The second is headed S.O.S and includes the lines:

Idle words – things heard or seen
Help the lurking submarine

A colourful poster shows ships entering harbour and being unloaded. The cargoes are put directly into steam trains similar to the ones that steamed along Liverpool’s dock road until the 1960s. In another, shown here, a cloth-capped dock worker is told by a soldier:

“Go to it chum! That’s war work – we get munitions in return for that lot!”
Our good go out. Food and munitions come in.
"We must have exports", Ernest Bevin

One declares: “Dockers help nail these lies! Back up the seamen – speed the turn-round.” This His Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO) poster is illustrated with a German propaganda leaflet dropped over Britain in 1941.

Merseyside’s 30,000 dockers, whose average age was over 50, played a vital role in the unloading of cargoes. Younger men joined the armed forces or went to other industries.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).