Go! It's your Duty Lad: Join To-day
1915, 20th century
This artefact belongs to : © National Archives of Canada
Keys to History
The British believed that they could fill their army with volunteers because they always had. Conscription was a European institution. A Parliamentary Recruiting Committee supported local efforts by sponsoring the design and publication of suitable posters. This one, featuring a working-class mother reminding her son of his patriotic duty, was typical of many such appeals, and close to a million young men thronged recruiting centres and allowed a huge and unprecedented expansion of the British Army.
However, British casualties on the Western Front in 1914 and 1915 were enormous and volunteering, however popular, had limits. The demands of a wartime economy increased wages and attracted workers from the recruiting centres. By mid-1915 public hostility to so-called "slackers" was pressing the British government to consider conscripting young bachelors. Across the Atlantic, Canada was still attracting thousands of volunteers for its much smaller army, but British experience warned thoughtful officials to be careful.
In 1915 a widowed mother in Britain or Canada often depended on her son's earnings, as few working men earned enough to leave their families financially secure. Inviting a son to "go for a soldier" threatened a woman with economic insecurity and was, indeed, patriotic.
Like their British counterparts, Canadians in 1915 were accustomed to being reminded of their duty, and in wartime there was no doubt what they were invited to "JOIN TODAY".
This poster from the Parliamentary Recruiting League was distributed in 1915; copies were sent to Canada for use in a different environment.
Would a mother urge her son to sacrifice his life by joining the army? A recruiting poster tells her -- and him -- what patriotism demands. It's his duty, and hers.