In 1939 the dark clouds of World War II were hanging over Great Britain. The British government resurrected a department called the Ministry of Information and charged them with the task of propaganda and publicity during the war. The MOI was given the assignment of designing three posters that would build morale throughout the country during the testing times that lay ahead.
They were told to use a “special and handsome typeface” that would be difficult for their enemies to counterfeit.14 The background was to be a bold color. And the only image on the posters was to be the crown of King George VI.
The first two were readied quickly and distributed in September of 1939. The first poster said, “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution will Bring Us Victory.” 800,000 were printed. The second poster read, “Freedom Is In Peril. Defend It With All Your Might.” 400,000 were printed.
These two were posted all over the country: in public transport, notice boards, public shops, and billboards. The hope was that the messages would bring out the duty of the individual citizen in stressful times.
But the third poster, of which two and a half million were printed, never got circulated. It was to be issued only in the event that Germany invaded Great Britain. Since that event never occurred the poster was not seen in public. At least not for about sixty years.
The British leaders devised messages to prepare their people to handle anxiety producing times. It carried London through fifty-seven consecutive nights of bombing.
And so did the British as they were pulled into World War II. The first two posters helped people understand their role in victory and their role in defending their freedom. But the third poster was never issued because Germany never invaded Great Britain. Most that had been made were burned or trashed at the end of the war. That’s why few people had seen or remembered the third poster.
Until one turned up in 2000. Stuart and Mary Manley owned Barter Books in Northumberland in the northeast corner of England. They had bought a number of boxes of books at an auction. Stuart was rummaging through a box of old books and found something folded up in the box.
When he straightened it out he found a poster. Red background. Crown on top. The only words were these: Keep Calm and Carry On.
The Manley’s framed the poster, displayed it at their bookstores, and people started asking for copies. Now you find the message on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and bumper stickers.
The British leaders were strong leaders. They knew that the main job of a leader is to be a calm presence.