The remarkable homecoming of two First World War posters

20 May 2014 @ 9.24 pm
| History


This is Captain Harry Lawrence Oakley

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Born on December 28, 1882 in Poppleton he was the son of a chemist who ran shops on Coney Street and Fulford Road, York.

From an early age he showed a gift for cutting out silhouettes and figures from pieces of black paper.

Lawrence never drew the design first. He simply cut away, moving the paper rather than his small pair of scissors until the artwork was finished.

He trained as an artist at York School of Science, Leeds School of Art and at the Royal College of Art in London.

In 1913 Lawrence held an exhibition of his work in the Assembly Rooms, York, and operated a summer studio in places like Harrogate and Scarborough.

Then war broke out, and he enlisted.

And promptly designed this

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It was while waiting to start training that he created one of his most famous works, the Think recruitment poster.

He designed it in collaboration with the North Eastern Railway company in York, and was paid five guineas.

It was displayed on stations all over the rail network, and then became an official war poster used throughout Britain, in Australia and Canada.

The success of this poster led to further commissions, including the Remember poster which was used to recruit men for the Royal Navy.

This is how they looked

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This shows the Think posters in situ at York Railway Station in 1915.

After his training Lawrence joined the 8th Green Howards that May. But he continued throughout his military career to create silhouettes of the front.

His illustrations became a regular feature alongside the famous cartoonists of the day in The Bystander magazine.

These quirky powerful silhouettes depicted life on the front line in a whole new light.

Now the posters are back in York

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Pictured here with the iconic posters is Lawrence Oakley’s great nephew Jerry Rendell. He has kindly loaned both to York Castle Museum.

The posters will form part of the museum’s major exhibition, 1914: When The World Changed Forever, which opens on June 28.

Jerry, the author of Profiles Of The First World War: The Silhouettes Of Captain HL Oakley, said: “Captain Oakley would be very proud if he could see his posters returning to York for this exhibition.

“Oakley’s figure of the advancing soldier became an iconic image and was adapted and used in many forms.

“His work was popular during his lifetime but was never highly regarded by the critics – so he would be pleased to see that it is now getting the recognition it deserves.”

Rob Wake, York Castle Museum’s collections facilitator, said he was delighted that the exhibition could “tell the story of this incredible man from York“.

“His style of work is now synonymous with the First World War, with his many works capturing the many different aspects of the conflict – from famous officers to the men in the trenches.

“But it is his recruitment posters for which he is most well known and we are really pleased to be able to include examples of these in the exhibition – and the actual ones that Oakley kept as his own.”