Keep Calm and Carry On

There’s something about all of the recent (and not so recent) ‘Keep Calm’ posters and other memorabilia floating around the internet and stores.  While I like the original poster, most of the others annoy me.  And until very recently, I didn’t understand where the message on all of these products was coming from.  I knew it was British.  I knew it was some sort of propaganda poster.  But I didn’t know much about the phrase, other than it was being plastered on anything and everything imaginable.  I even succumbed to purchasing this tea tin at a TJMAXX.  Totally not historical, I know.  Bought I’ve found out that the message on the tin definitely is.

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The year is 1939.  Hitler invades Poland.  Great Britain sees war is inevitable, and begins coining phrases in secret for propaganda posters to help maintain morale in the event of war.  The Ministry of Information, which dealt with censorship and propaganda previously, had been closed just after the First World War.  Great Britain didn’t want to re-open the office, signaling to the public that there would be another war.

Three posters were developed, each on a bold background and bearing the crown of King George VI: Freedom is in Peril; Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory; and Keep Calm and Carry On.

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The first two were widely distributed and posted throughout England. In the end, the posters were ridiculed by the press, and disconnected the King from his people.  The third of the posters, ‘Keep Calm,’ was kept in storage, hidden, just in case Britain’s worst possible scenario happened:  Germany invaded Britain.  But because the other two were not well received by the public, and Germany never made a land invasion, the posters remained in storage.  After the war, all the posters in storage were turned into pulp because of paper shortages from the war.

Crownfolio at Quad Royal mentioned in his blog that this poster was created in the event there was a massive air bombing strike against Britain from Germany.  As many people know, this did happen, and is known as the Blitz, short for Blitzkreig, or ‘Lightning Storm.’ By the time Germany began bombing London in 1940, morale was spread thin and food and clothing rations had been in place for several months.  London children were being sent to the countryside without their parents.  Public opinion on the posters must have been extremely low, especially since London needed reassurance during the Blitz.

In 2000, a Northumberland bookseller found one of the ‘Keep Calm’ posters folded in a box of books.  He framed it and placed it in his shop.  Because the poster is over 50 years old, the copyright on the phrase and design sits in public domain, allowing the bookseller to sell copies.  This started the frenzy we have today.  Now, with hard times looming over thousands, the phrase has inspired a way to keep going through the gloom and upsets of daily life.

My tea tin now sits in my kitchen, playing host to a lovely bunch of rosemary.  It stares at my from my windowsill, reminding me everyday to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On.’

Which ‘Keep Calm’ phrase is your favorite?

Further Reading:

Hughes, Stuart. “The Greatest Motivational Poster Ever?” BBC News. 4 February 2009. Web. 27 May 2013 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7869458.stm.

Imperial War Museum. “1940: Britain’s Finest Hour.” Imperial War Museum. 2010. Web. 26 May 2013 http://1940.iwm.org.uk/.

Lewis, Rebecca.  The planning, design and reception of British home front propaganda posters of the Second World War. Dissertation, Southampton University. 2004. Web. 26 May 2013 http://ww2poster.co.uk/2009/04/1939-3-posters/.

Slack, Chris. “Keep Calm and Carry On… to the bank: Original wartime poster shows up on Antiques Roadshow.”  Daily Mail Online. 24 February 2012. Web. 27 May 2013  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2105518/Keep-calm-carry-Only-surviving-stash-original-iconic-poster-appears-Antiques-Roadshow.html.

“Original ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ Posters on AR.” The History Blog. 6 March 2012. Web. 26 May 2013  http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/15388.

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Filed under 1940s, World War II

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