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Wartime London

Churchill poster

The Underground Group, and later London Transport, produced a wide variety of public information posters during the First (1914-18) and Second (1939-45) World Wars.

The majority of wartime posters advised staff and passengers on emergency rules and regulations. Others were more overtly patriotic, often focussing on the valuable war work undertaken by transport employees. Some First World War Underground posters even urged onlookers to enlist with the armed forces.

During the Second World War, posters were also used to explain tube 'etiquette' to the vast numbers of war workers and servicemen using the underground for the first time.

Stories

Read more about poster commissioning during the First and Second World Wars with our Story collection. 

Underground posters and the First World War - online essay

Underground posters and the First World War

London Transport Posters and the Second World War - online essay

London Transport Posters and the Second World War 

Explore our wartime poster collection in more detail by category below, or see our galleries below for a few of the most iconic and memorable artworks.

All wartime posters

First World War | Second World War | Propaganda | Rules & procedures | Sheltering | War work

Did you know?

You can also purchase print-to-order copies of posters from our online shop - just click Visit our Poster Shop from any poster collection record.

Seeing it Through

'Seeing it Through' was a series of posters commissioned by London Transport in 1944, painted by Eric Henri Kennington and with accompanying poems by Alan Patrick Herbert. They commemorate the everyday acts of heroism made by civilian workers during the Second World War.

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This poster featured a painted portrait of Mrs M J Morgan, a 'clippie' from Athol Street Garage in Poplar. She saved four children in an air raid by pushing them under the seats of her bus.  

Seeing it through; woman conductor

Seeing it through; station woman

This photo features a painting of of Elsie Birrell, who was an Underground porter at Stockwell Underground station. She was one of the first women porters to be recruited in 1940.  

Seeing it through; station woman

Poster; Seeing it through; policeman, by Eric Henri Kennington, 1944

A policeman features on this poster from the series, with an accompanying poem celebrating their work in the Capital – asking “What would London do / Without her guides, and guardians, in blue?” 

Seeing it through; policeman

Poster; Seeing it through; firefighter, by Eric Henri Kennington, 1944

This poster thanked the firefighters, and remembers in the poem the service they had given in the Blitz, which had ended roughly four years before this poster was created. 

Seeing it through; firefighter

Poster; Seeing it through; bus driver, by Eric Henri Kennington, 1944

This ‘motorman’ – or train driver – was key to keeping London moving during the war. The poem ends with the poignant line “Master of a trying trade, Seldom do we think of you, Never do we feel afraid.” 

Seeing it through; bus driver

Poster; Seeing it through; motorman, by Eric Henri Kennington, 1944

The final stanza of the poem reads “Bus driver, bus driver, the sirens have gone: The bombs may come down, but the buses go on” and pays tribute to the drivers of London who kept the buses moving throughout the war. 

Seeing it through; motorman

First World War

First World War posters often carried a direct propaganda message. Before conscription was introduced (1916), the Underground published recruitment posters urging men to volunteer.

Another series, depicting rural England, was commissioned to send to British troops overseas as a reminder of what they were fighting for. Back home, posters advised Londoners of wartime regulations and what to do in the event of an aerial attack. Some posters continued to advertise day trips, until fuel shortages put an end to non-essential travel.

More First World War posters

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Roll of Honour, by M Greiffenhagen, 1915

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Passengers are requested to keep the blinds drawn at night, January 1915

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Enlist now; war, unknown, 1914

Poster; London memories; Wimbledon Common, by Emilio Camilio Leopoldo Tafani, 1918

London memories; Wimbledon Common, by Emilio Camilio Leopoldo Tafani, 1918


Second World War

LT's war posters used modern design to convey essential information to passengers and staff. Thoughtful passenger behaviour was encouraged in the humorous cartoons of Fougasse and David Langdon. More direct appeals for co-operation, or advice on sheltering and the 'blackout' were expressed in easy to read layouts.

Other posters celebrated LT's contribution to the war effort and London's resilience. These included the striking series of images produced by Fred Taylor (1942), Walter Spradbery (1944) and Eric Kennington (1944).

More Second World War posters

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Air raid precautions, by Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1938

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A message from Billy Brown to guards and platform staff, by David Langdon, 1941

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Help us save paper, unknown, 1940

Poster; Our heritage Winston Churchill, by Robert Sargent Austin, 1943

Our heritage Winston Churchill, by Robert Sargent Austin, 1943

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Electricity, unknown, 1942

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Her Majesty the Queen broadcasting to the women of the Empire, unknown, 1943


Propaganda

There was a marked difference between 'propaganda' posters produced by the transport companies during the two wars. Those published by the Underground Group in the Great War (1914-18) presented the conflict as an idealised struggle and urged men to enlist. LT's war posters (1939-45) stressed the individual's role in helping the war effort at home, reinforced with examples from history and the Blitz.

In both cases, the approach taken reflected the wider poster campaigns of the British government.

More propaganda posters

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The proud city; St Paul's Cathedral, by Walter E Spradbery, 1944

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Seeing it through; station woman, by Eric Henri Kennington, 1944

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Join the army today, unknown, 1915


Rules & Procedures

Wartime conditions called for new posters advising passengers on changes to the transport system. Hans Schleger ('Zero'), James Fitton and David Langdon produced designs during the Second World War concerning the blackout, air raids and anti-blast window netting on buses and tubes.

Other regulations related to the threat of gas attack and the use of public transport to evacuate children and others from the city.

More rules and procedures posters

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Wear or carry something white, by Bruce Angrave, 1942

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In the blackout before you alight make sure the train is in the station, by Zero (Hans Schleger), 1943

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Dont alight from a moving bus, by James Fitton, 1941


Sheltering

The deep tubes were first used as air raid shelters in the First World War. The posters shown here are all from the Second World War.

They include instructions on how to reserve a space, rules of behaviour, and details of refreshments provided by LT. The 'cockney crossword' poster provides answers to a puzzle issued to shelterers on the back of an earlier safety leaflet.

More sheltering posters

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Admission of shelterers, 1941

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Tube refreshments, unknown, 1940

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Notice; shelter in Underground stations, unknown, 1940


War work

Transport workers were essential to the war effort, especially during the Second World War. Posters celebrating war work were important for staff morale. They also raised awareness of the large number of women undertaking jobs previously done by men. The poster campaigns by Eric Kennington and Fred Taylor were based on photographs of real members of staff.

More war work posters

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Seeing it through; woman conductor, by Eric Kennington, 1944

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Back room boys, they also serve; cable maintenance, by Fred Taylor, 1942

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A word of thanks, by Austin Cooper, 1942

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'Seeing it Through' was a series of posters commissioned in 1944 which commemorated the everyday acts of heroism by civilian workers during the Second World War.

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