Messages and Meanings: Words of War
First World War Recruiting Poster

First World War Recruitment Poster
© National Museums Scotland
Resource Rights Holder: Dumfries and Galloway Council


  • What propaganda messages does this recruiting poster convey? Why is it set in Bruges? What happened in Belgium in the early years of the war?

  • Look closely at the recruiting poster for the Dundee Territorials. What was the Territorial Army? What do the words and images tell you about wider social conditions at the time? What is the range of jobs on offer in the Army?

  • Who were the 'Pals' battalions'? Why were they formed? Why was this initially thought to be a good idea? What part did these battalions play on the Western Front in 1916? Why did the army change its mind about these in 1916?

  • Why were so many young men in Scotland keen to join up at the start of the war? Why did this change? How was the recruiting processed changed by the war?

Why was there such a high level of recruiting in Scotland at the beginning of the war?

Between 1914 and 1916, Scotland produced more volunteers than any other country in the UK. The reasons for this initial enthusiasm are bound up with Scottish national identity, its economic situation, and a compelling propaganda campaign that appealed on many levels.

Here, a solitary Scottish soldier confronts the viewer from the empty street in Bruges where he stands guard. The German invasion of Belgium on 4 August 1914, and the massacre of its civilians, brought worldwide condemnation and moral outrage.

The words below refer cynically to the 1839 Treaty of London guaranteeing Belgium's neutrality – which the German Chancellor had dismissed as a 'scrap of paper'.

As this pre-war poster shows, recruiting on a local level was already part of everyday life in Scotland. The Dundee Territorials –  a reserve force – were not expected to go abroad, but by 1915, along with hundreds of newly formed volunteer battalions, they were fighting in France.

The new battalions of the British Expeditionary Force were the results of a national recruitment drive headed by the Secretary of State, Lord Kitchener.  

Kitchener's 'New Armies' of volunteer soldiers included many 'Pals' battalions' – made up of men from the same local area, or who worked in the same industry. These men had enlisted together, with the promise that they would be able to serve alongside their friends, neighbours and work colleagues.

In Scotland, where soldiering had long been an honourable and respectable occupation, there were many inducements for men to enlist in local regiments.

Army service offered economic and social opportunities, and a far better quality of life than many could hope to achieve as civilians: a guaranteed rate of pay; a good diet (including meat every day); clothing and accommodation and a chance to escape the poverty of overcrowded industrial cities.

Scotland's long and historic military tradition had always attracted men into the army and both Highlanders and Lowlanders were proud of their reputation as good fighters.

Rousing pipe bands were used to stimulate recruitment. Scottish comedian, Harry Lauder, organised his own recruiting band who toured round Britain in full regalia, playing wherever crowds might gather, encouraging young men to enlist.

It's estimated that more than 100,000 Scotsmen did not return from the war. Men who enlisted and fought together as 'pals', often died together in the same conflicts. The impact on small rural communities and large industrial cities was both devastating and far-reaching.


  • There were 25,000 underage soldiers in the First World War. Find out about their experiences.

    How might watching older brothers or friends go off to war make you feel? Why were some ‘boy soldiers’ allowed, once their true age was discovered, to continue to serve in the army, and others brought home? 

  • Find out more about the Pals and other battalions formed along the same lines.

    BBC: The Pals Battalions

    McCraes Battalion Trust: The Contalmaison Cairn

    Investigate the 16th Royal Scots Regiment – also known as 'McCrae’s Battalion'. Who was in this battalion and why was it significant? Where is there a memorial to members of this battalion?


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First World War Recruitment Poster

© National Museums Scotland
Resource Rights Holder: Dumfries and Galloway Council

Recruitment Poster

This recruiting poster for the Scottish Regiments dates from 1919. The poster reads 'Recruits Wanted for the…

Recruiting poster for Dundee Territorials

© National Museums Scotland

Vesta Tilley

published by The Philco Publishing Co
bromide postcard print, 1900s
Given by Terence Pepper…

Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener of Khartoum

by and after Alexander Bassano
bromide print, circa 1902 (1885-1895)
NPG Ax136825…

Wiltshire Regiment: cap badge and shoulder stripes

© The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum

Wiltshire Regiment: cap badge

© The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum

Pipe banner of the 92nd Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force

1915. Pipe banners, tied to the bass drone of the bagpipes, were part of the Scottish military tradition

Sir Harry Lauder

published by Rotary Photographic Co Ltd
vintage postcard print, 1900s
NPG x137790…

As I Find

Contemporary response: Watch the film by Jan Bee Brown (5:52)