London: Printed for H. M. Stationery Office by Lowe & Brydone Printers, Ltd., circa 1940. Poster. This original Second World War propaganda poster featuring some of Winston Churchill’s most famous words was printed for His Majesty’s Stationery Office in London during the Battle of Britain. The poster measures 30 x 20 inches (76.2 x 50.8 cm), featuring six British pilots in flying gear against a blue and white sky upon which are printed the words “NEVER WAS SO MUCH OWED BY SO MANY TO SO FEW” attributed on the poster to “THE PRIME MINISTER”. Though undated, the presumed printing date is circa late 1940, after Churchill’s 20 August speech to the House of Commons in which he uttered the words quoted on the poster.
The bottom left margin of the poster reads “PRINTED FOR H. M. STATIONERY OFFICE BY LOWE & BRYDONE PRINTERS LTD., LONDON, N.W.10 51-9533”. Condition is very good, particularly given the age and perishability. The poster remains complete, the image bright and clean, with no loss and only trivial wear and soiling confined to the white border extremities, including a short, closed tear to the upper right margin. No stains or appreciable soiling are noted on the image itself. A horizontal and vertical crease testify to where it was originally folded into quarters, ostensibly for original distribution. The creases are quite faint and unobtrusive, likely owing to the fact that the poster has been carefully and capably backed with linen. The linen backing extends approximately .5 - .75 inch (1.3 – 1.9 cm) beyond the poster borders and the corners and upper and lower center of these linen borders show tack holes.
When Churchill became Prime Minister on 10 May 1940, the war for Britain was not so much a struggle for victory as a struggle to survive. Churchill’s first year in office saw, among other near-calamities, the Battle of the Atlantic, the fall of France, evacuation at Dunkirk, and the Battle of Britain. Hitler intended the massive, sustained attacks by his Luftwaffe to achieve air superiority preparatory to an invasion of England. Initially targeting the Royal Air Force, the air assault eventually widened to bombing attacks on airfields and infrastructure, production facilities, and civilian targets meant to terrorize Britons and destroy their will to fight.
Churchill's speech to House of Commons of August 20th, 1940 was occasioned by the Battle of Britain and famously honored RAF pilots. Churchill’s words came early in the sustained Luftwaffe attacks that had begun weeks before. “…the German air power, numerically so far outstripping ours, has been brought so close to our Island that what we used to dread greatly has come to pass and the hostile bombers not only reach our shores in a few minutes and from many directions, but can be escorted by their fighting aircraft… The great air battle which has been in progress over this Island for the last few weeks has recently attained a high intensity. It is too soon to attempt to assign limits either to its scale or to its duration… The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion.” Churchill encapsulated and immortalized the struggle with his next words: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
“Nearly 3,000 men of the RAF took part in the Battle of Britain – those whom Winston Churchill called ‘The Few’. While most of the pilots were British… Men came from all over the Commonwealth and occupied Europe… even some pilots from the neutral United States and Ireland.” (Imperial War Museum) Without diminishing their heroism, of course an enormous, lesser-sung host – women as well as men - of ground crew, factory workers, Observer Corps, anti-aircraft gunners, searchlight operators, barrage balloon crews, radar operators, plotters, and others supported and sustained the “Few”. Item #006777