London: Ministry of Aircraft Production, 1941. This striking Second World War artifact is a collection of six original British Ministry of Aircraft Production posters. This collection evokes the vital role of aircraft production in ensuring Britain’s survival during the early years of Winston Churchill’s wartime premiership.
These six posters are clearly part of a concerted, sustained propaganda effort, each printed in similar hues of eye-catching vivid red or orange, all printed on wartime stock suited to their urgent, ephemeral purpose. The four appear to span 1941 to early 1942. The only definitively dated poster in the collection prominently features an image of Churchill above a quote from his speech of 8 December 1941, the day America formally entered the war after the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor. Testifying to the critical importance of air power, Churchill’s final paragraph in that speech exhorted “all munitions workers and those engaged in war industries” to “make a further effort”, specifying that this applied “above all, to aircraft.” This poster measures 20 x 30 inches (50.8 x 76.2 cm) and is dated “12/41” at the lower left corner.
The largest of the posters, titled “This is what YOU are making…”, features a detailed structural rendering of “The Handley Page Halifax II” bomber. This poster measures 39.25 x 24.5 inches (99.7 x 62.2 cm). The Halifax performed its maiden flight little more than a week before the Second World War began and entered RAF service in November 1940, the Mk II with more powerful Merlin engines appearing in early 1942.
A ”WAR WORK PICTORIAL” poster measuring 30 x 20 inches (76.2 x 50.8 cm) is a series of six damaged aircraft vignettes featuring photographs and images centered around the printed theme “Some of our aircraft were damaged… But they got back! – thanks to the British Workers”. At the lower left is an illustrated exhortation to save scrap rubber and at the lower right a “cartoon strip from Gilbert Wilkinson’s popular wartime “WHAT A WAR” series.
The final three posters are Ministry of Aircraft Production Bulletins, each measuring 16 x 11 inches (60.6 x 27.9 cm), each in an orange or red print with no illustrations. “REPAIRS BULLETIN No. 5” relates the story of a significantly damaged “coastal command aircraft… full of shell-holes from a convoy raid” that “four days later… was back in service.”
“HALIFAX BULLETIN No. 7” is the story of how a Halifax holed “in 20 places” and the gallant, wounded captain who returned the bomber home after a raid on Kiel. The Handley Page Halifax bomber made its first daylight operation during a raid on Kiel on 30 June 1941.
“Wellington Bulletin No. 13” tells the story of a severely damaged Wellington bomber “returning from a raid on Emden” that managed to return home and land safely with only one engine functioning and “without flaps or undercarriage”. Designed in the mid-1930s, the Vickers Wellington was the first bomber to operationally carry the 4,000 pound “blockbuster” bomb during the April 1941 strike on Emden.
Condition of all four posters is very good or better, all clean and bright, all still folded as when originally distributed, none with any tack holes, adhesive, or any sign of ever having been displayed. Small splits starting at a few folds are the only flaws to report.
On 20 August 1940, Churchill encapsulated and immortalized Britain’s pilots when he uttered the words: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." But, as these posters testify, it was production and repair that supported the battle in the skies.
That is why, less than a day after he became wartime Prime Minister, Churchill created the Minister of Aircraft Production post and, over the objections of King George VI, appointed William Maxwell Aitken, First Baron Beaverbrook (1879-1964). “In his usual energetic and domineering style” (ODNB), Beaverbrook set the tumultuous, fraught, and improbably productive aircraft production pace that saw Britain through the early years of the war. Item #006269