As Katherine previously mentioned here, our latest project in the Special Collections & Archives Division has been digitizing issues from “The Girl’s Own Annual.” A British serial intended for girls, young women and their mothers, “The Girl’s Own Annual” offers unique historical insight into the contemporary perceptions (and propaganda!) of World War I.
Overall, the tone of “The Girl’s Own Annual” is a mixture of edification and entertainment. There are articles on domestic projects (knitting patterns, sewing patterns) and serial fiction (the romances of the day!) These types of articles appear consistently in each issue. For this project, Katherine and I have focused our digitization efforts on volumes 38 and 39, which cover the period 1916-1918. Scattered between serial fiction and instructional pieces are articles that directly and obliquely reference the Great War. These articles give scholars a glimpse into the domestic attitudes toward the ongoing war–its portrayal and the propaganda.
Perceptions of the War
Articles such as, “The Women of the Army: Work that is being done in France by the capable, adaptable, cheerful contingents of our newest military service,” (vol. 39, no. 5) praises the efforts of women directly contributing to the war effort in France. Women are portrayed as supporting the war effort by performing necessary and sometimes complicated tasks. They performed the traditional secretarial and domestic duties, but the article also highlights some of the mechanical work the women perform on “aeroplanes” in need of repair.
Even the life of the Queen is touched by the war, and she actively supports the efforts of the soldiers fighting abroad. The article “The Queen’s Working Year: An unique account of Her Majesty’s activities, some of which have not hitherto been recorded,” (vol. 39 no. 7) gives an almost daily accounting of the Queen’s activities January through June 1917. These activities include paying “a visit to one of the cottagers near to condole with her on the death of a son who had laid down his life on the Front” and raising funds for “totally disabled soldiers.”
The accounts of the work of the Queen walks a fine line between inspiration and propaganda. Other articles in “The Girl’s Own Annual” are more blatant in their attempt to shape public opinion. In Vol. 39, issue 9 from 1918–after hostilities with Germany have stopped–Germany is presented as a continued threat. Writing on the “On the German Menace After the War,” the editor calls for a boycott of German goods, among other things. Through text and image, the continued threat from Germany is hammered home.
The layout of the article is striking–placed at the bottom of the page is a sketch of a sleeping baby, under which the caption reads: “We are fighting now to save the children of today from wholesale butchery at the hands of the Huns in the future.” The distrust and continued suspicion of Germany is blatant: “No matter how many treaties Germany may sign undertaking that hostilities shall end, how can we be certain that she will not continue to murder humanity wherever it is possible to do it without being actually caught in the act?” the editor rails.
It has been a pleasure to make “The Girl’s Own Annual” more accessible. It is my hope that both scholars and students will be able to gain fresh insight into the perceptions of World War I on the British homefront through this project.
Rebecca L. Bramlett is a graduate assistant in the Special Collections & Archives Division. She is working on her Master of Library and Information Science at Florida State University.