London: Red Cross & St. John Fund, circa 1941. This original poster from early during the Second World War testifies to both the British wartime alliance with Russia and the important role played by Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine, in rallying material and moral public support for that wartime alliance.
This circa 1941 poster measures roughly 20 x 30 inches (50 x 75 cm). Printed in blue, black and red on thin white stock, the poster is both striking and perishable. This is the first copy we have offered. The image is of a sailor clambering into a life raft below the printed headline “HE DIDN’T HESITATE TO FACE EXTRA DANGERS” (with “EXTRA” in red print). The image was topical given the tremendous shipping losses to U-boats, the cost of sustaining Britain - and of Britain sending material aid to Russia. Centered below the image is a large white box with black print “WILL YOU GIVE AN | EXTRA PENNY EACH WEEK | TO THE RED CROSS | & ST. JOHN?” The “EXTRA” in red echoes that in the headline. Below the box, printed in white on the illustrated stormy blue sea background, is the statement “A QUARTER OF EVERY CONTRIBUTION GOES TO MRS. CHURCHILL’S | RED CROSS “AID TO RUSSIA” FUND”. Diminutive print in the bottom white center margin reads “Red Cross & St John Fund, registered under the War Charities Act, 1940” with “F.7.” printed at the lower right. Condition of the poster approaches very good. The poster remains complete and unrestored, the colors vivid, the surface respectably clean. Minor wear and wrinkling to extremities are substantially confined to the margins. There are six fold lines, three horizontal and three vertical, ostensibly from original mailing. Though undated, this poster almost certainly dates from 1941.
The Second World War alliance between Britain and the Soviet Union was essential but uneasy. Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on 23 August 1939, promising mutual non-aggression. On 22 June 1941 the Pact was unceremoniously terminated when Nazi forces invaded the Soviet Union. Churchill, long a vehement anti-communist, nevertheless embraced the exigent practicality of wartime alliance with the Soviets and on 12 July 1941 the Anglo-Soviet Agreement was signed.
Churchill’s wife, Clementine, added a human dimension to an alliance born of necessity. In 1941 the Aid to Russia fund was set up with Clementine as the chairman. Among the various fundraising methods was a “penny-a-week fund. Wage earners were given the option of volunteering a penny a week… deducted from their pay…. Within just 12 days £370,000 had been raised.” By war’s end, the Fund raised nearly £8,000,000 and provided clothing, blankets, medical supplies and other items to the Soviet Red Cross. “To amass such support from a country which was itself struggling with wartime shortages was a considerable achievement.” The effort was intensely personal for Clementine. “Many who sent in letters with donations received personal, signed replies… Clementine even took the time to thank all the school children who contributed…” (National Trust & International Churchill Society)
At the close of the Second World War, Clementine made a tour of Soviet hospitals that had been helped by her British Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund. For five weeks, from late March to early May 1945, Clementine journeyed throughout the Soviet Union. Clementine was still in Russia on V-E Day; her husband “wrote a speech for her to deliver via broadcast to the Russian people in celebration of the Allied victory: “It is my firm belief that on the friendship and understanding between the British and Russian peoples depends the future of mankind.”" (Gilbert, Vol. VII, p. 1350) Her efforts had been significant and her sentiments were laudably hopeful, but charity and sentiment were not enough to overcome fundamentally different British and Russian conceptions of the nature of postwar rights and freedoms and the intractable conflicts that resulted. Item #006262