A series of photographs, commissioned by the British Council in 1943, are on display for the first time in a new exhibition, “Lacock as Propaganda”, at the Fox Talbot Museum in Lacock, Wiltshire. The black and white photographs depicting daily life in the village of Lacock during the Second World War were commissioned to illustrate a promotional pamphlet, English Villagers, published in 1945.
The pamphlet English Villagers formed part of a series published by the British Council called ‘The British People – How they Live and Work,’ the other 4 pamphlets focussing on everyday British life were published between 1945 and 1948. The purpose of the photographs was, undeniably, propagandist – but for what purpose?
The original silver gelatine prints in the exhibition, taken by Harold White during 1943-4, show many aspects of everyday life in Lacock. Only by looking very carefully at the prints are traces of the war visible. The photographs embody the notion of a ‘Peoples War’ showing how daily life continued undeterred and how the Home Front was represented by all elements of the community, from school children to the local postman, contributing to the war effort: an important reminder of British morale during the war.
“On another level, the photographs act as a metaphor and bitter reminder of what could be lost, and what was at stake if the enemy were to win,” said Emma Stokes, one of the National Trust team who has helped research the exhibition.
“The publication date at the end of the war suggests that the photos were being used as propaganda, but in a different way. The British Council’s work at this time embraced the idea of Empire and our relations with other countries, the belief was that the English identity and culture was something that other Nations could learn from, hence the distribution of exhibitions, pamphlets, films, and books overseas and throughout the colonies. This form of propaganda is underpinned by a different anxiety, not that of war but the decline of Empire in the post war era. You cannot escape the fact that Lacock was certainly used as propaganda, but propaganda for what? The war effort or reasserting the British identity after the war?”
Whether the English Villagers pamphlet was promoting the war effort on the Home Front or whether it was a last stab at asserting a British identity in other parts of the world remains unclear but it does provide a unique glimpse of this period in Lacock’s social history.
The exhibition of original prints is supported with audio recordings and visual displays that capture the essence of Lacock in the war years. There are children’s trails and activities to accompany the exhibition so the story can be enjoyed by all. A series of events supports the exhibition including a 1940’s cinema screening of the Ealing classic Went the day well? As well as ‘make do and mend’, ‘dig for victory’ and ‘become a war hero’ workshops for children. In addition visitors can contribute their own memories directly into the BBC People’s War archive in the museum.
Through its People’s War Initiative the BBC is delighted to be supporting the National Trust’s Lacock as Propaganda exhibition,” says James Harrison, BBC People’s War Co-ordinator for the South West. “Through these images we are told a great deal, in the same way that the BBC’s People’s War project has revealed the stories of everyday people living in extraordinary times. We hope that these pictures will inspire visitors to tell their war time stories to the People’s War website so, like Harold White’s Lacock photographs, the memories of British people in World War Two will not fade.”
The “Lacock as Propaganda” exhibition runs until 18 December at the Fox Talbot Museum. Normal admission applies, National Trust members free.
Opening times until 30 October, daily, 11am-5.30pm
Saturdays and Sundays, 31 October to 18 December, 11am-4pm
For more information about visiting the exhibition see www.nationaltrust.org.uk or for the People’s War website visit www.bbc.co.uk