With Britain’s centenary of involvement in World War I having arrived this week, seemingly every facet of the Great War—its brutality, its cultural upheaval, its still-mystifying origins—has been chronicled in a fleet of new books and essays. One relatively uncharted area of study can be found in The Huns Have Got My Gramophone, a collection of advertisements published in British newspapers and illustrated weekly magazines during the war. (The book, already released by Bodleian Library in England, arrives in America in early fall.)
The ads compiled in Huns both capitalize on the allure of battle-tested products like Burberry trench coats and Pratt’s motor fuel, and make direct appeals to military families to keep their loved ones on the front well-stocked and occupied during downtime with new goods and services.
“These were images that gave an intimate glimpse into people’s lives and their dreams and fantasies, just like advertising does now,” co-author Amanda-Jane Doran, an expert on Victorian publishing and illustration, explained by phone from Kent, England. “But this was a more naïve, more innocent time. Although advertisers were working hard to get people to part with their money, the whole science of sales and psychology wasn’t as advanced or as manipulative as it is now.”
Doran assembled the ads with Andrew McCarthy, a film director and military historian whose father served as a corporal in the Great War. (Of the diaries and letters the authors mined for real-time impressions from battle, which occasionally double as testimonials to a given product’s usefulness under fire, one of the voices is McCarthy’s father Reginald, born in 1896.)