Child Propaganda, 914-1918, Arzweiler, Lothringen, Europeana 1914-1918 / Jürgen Wärzner, CC BY-SA

Introduction

The First World War brought the most imaginative and vicious state propaganda ever seen - sparking passions that prolonged hostilities.

Films, photographs, sound recordings and posters urged men to enlist and were among the most powerful tools. But some attempts to stir up patriotism among ordinary citizens were more subtle.

As these stories illustrate, sometimes the most effective propaganda tactic was simply to convince people of the importance of self-sacrifice.

In the Munitions Factories

Alwine Auch was just 17-years-old when she was recruited to make bombs at the “Fortuna” factory in Bad Cannstatt, Stuttgart.

Like many women across Europe, she was employed to help the war effort on the home front, which in Germany sat uneasily with policies intended to support the family.

Alwine is pictured (back row, third from the right) in this postcard of factory workers in 1917, which was contributed by her son Gustav Käfer at the public participation day in Stuttgart in 2011.

The original caption says the munitions were made with “heart and hand for the Fatherland”. Close examination of the picture suggests the items being manufactured were bombs for the 7.6cm light mortar (Leichte Minenwerfer) – a weapon used by most infantry battalions in the latter part of the war.

Postcard Alwina Käfer-Auch at Fortuna Factory - front, 1917, Bad Cannstatt, Stuttgart, Europeana 1914 -1918 / Gustav Käfer, CC BY-SA
Postcard Alwina Käfer-Auch at Fortuna Factory - front, 1917, Bad Cannstatt, Stuttgart, Europeana 1914 -1918 / Gustav Käfer, CC BY-SA
Postcard Alwina Käfer-Auch at Fortuna Factory - back, 1917, Bad Cannstatt, Stuttgart, Europeana 1914 -1918 / Gustav Käfer, CC BY-SA
Postcard Alwina Käfer-Auch at Fortuna Factory - back, 1917, Bad Cannstatt, Stuttgart, Europeana 1914 -1918 / Gustav Käfer, CC BY-SA

'I gave gold for iron'

The owner of this dull iron ring would once have been wearing a sparkling gold version, probably given to her by a loving husband on their wedding day.

But as Germany tried to meet the colossal costs of the First World War, patriot citizens were urged to swop their gold ornaments and jewellery for base metal replacements to pay for it.

This ring, inscribed “Gold gab ich für Eisen, 1914” (I gave gold for iron) is an example of the officially sponsored programme of fund-raising for the German war effort. Similar drives were also made in various parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Interestingly, this revived an idea used in the Wars of Liberation, when as long ago as 1813 the Prussian royal family appealed to their womenfolk to make similar donations.

Iron jewellery, which until then had been used mainly as a symbol of mourning, suddenly acquired a new status.

Engraved ring "Gold gab ich für Eisen" (I gave gold for Iron), 1914, Europeana 1914 -1918 / Brigitte Bieche, CC BY-SA
Engraved ring "Gold gab ich für Eisen" (I gave gold for Iron), 1914, Europeana 1914 -1918 / Brigitte Bieche, CC BY-SA
Engraved ring '"Gold gab ich für Eisen" (I gave gold for Iron), 1914, Europeana 1914 -1918 / Brigitte Bieche, CC BY-SA
Engraved ring '"Gold gab ich für Eisen" (I gave gold for Iron), 1914, Europeana 1914 -1918 / Brigitte Bieche, CC BY-SA