ANC-C42420 | Enlist!

 
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Poster
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1916, 20th century
ANC-C42420
This artefact belongs to : © National Archives of Canada
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Keys to History

Most recruiting for the Canadian Expeditionary Force occurred spontaneously. Close to a million Canadians offered themselves, sometimes repeatedly. Local militia units competed to organize battalions of about a thousand men. Later, ambitious citizens offered themselves as colonels. Funds were contributed locally for advertising and to provide machine guns or field kitchens. The Minister of Militia, Sir Sam Hughes, revelled in the mood: it proved that Canadians were as devoted to the Empire as he was. After April 1915 the 6,000 casualties at Ypres meant no one could pretend that the war would be a short picnic in France. Yet after that tragedy almost 350,000 men (out of only 4 million men in the population) volunteered for war. Many echoed the sentiments of this poster. A new recruiting target of 150,000 men, set early in 1915, was raised to 250,000 men in October. Then, in his New Year's message for 1916, Sir Robert Borden pledged half a million Canadian soldiers to the British Empire.

Brilliant propaganda, masterminded by Sir Max Aitken, a Conservative member of Parliament and Canadian newspaper magnate in Britain, persuaded contemporaries and posterity alike that the Canadians had done brilliantly at Ypres. Despite losing half its men and considerable ground in the face of a German attack behind brutal shelling and poison gas, Sir John French, the British commander, praised the raw Canadians and told them they had "saved the situation". Others were more critical, but the positive spin gave Canada enormous pride. This poster appeals to Canadians' pride after their first battles of the 20th century.

  • What

    This poster boasts of the names Canadians had already made famous by the end of April 1915 and invites volunteers to make their own names.

  • Where

    A cynic might note that Canadians had never been near Langemarck, had lost the village of Saint-Julien, had suffered a further 2,468 dead and wounded in a disastrous failure of an attack at Festubert on May 22-23, and another 366 casualties in a bungled attack at Givenchy on June 15th a month later.

  • When

    The battles named on the flag took place during April and May 1915. This poster was published early in 1916 as recruiting volunteers for the C.E.F. became increasingly urgent.

  • Who

    C. J. Patterson, an illustrator, depicts a soldier wearing Canadian uniform, presumably a veteran of the battles at Ypres in April and May 1915, who invites recruits to add further names to their country's proud history.