British War Propaganda Bureau

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Group.png British War Propaganda Bureau Powerbase SpartacusRdf-icon.png
British War Propaganda Bureau.jpg
Formation2 September 1914
FounderDavid Lloyd George
Extinction1918
Typepropaganda
InterestsWorld War I

The British War Propaganda Bureau or Wellington House was a highly secret propaganda agency set up by the British government on the outbreak of the First World War. It operated under the supervision of the Foreign Office and directed its propaganda mainly at allied and neutral countries, especially the United States.

Origins and history

The Bureau was set up after the outbreak of the First World War by David Lloyd George who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer. Earlier in 1911 Lloyd George had set up the National Insurance Commission, which oversaw the introduction of the 1911 National Insurance Act, but also produced propaganda in favour of the legislation, thus becoming Britain’s first government propaganda operation. [1] Lloyd George had appointed a young journalist called Charles Masterman to lead the Commission, and in 1914 he again appointed Masterman – then a Liberal MP – to head the British War Propaganda Bureau. The organisation was known as Wellington House after a now demolished building where it was based on London’s Buckingham Gate. It was so secretive that even Parliament was not aware of its £2 million operation. [2]

Activities

Wellington House initially produced pamphlets and press summaries, but later also produced newspapers, films and photographs. By June 1915 it had produced 2.5 million pieces of propaganda in 17 languages. A year later it was producing six fortnightly newspapers and 4,000 photographs a week. [3]

The origin of this propaganda was always concealed and the very existence of the Propaganda Bureau was not made public until 1935. A secret document written by an insider recalled that:

The existence of a publishing establishment at Wellington House, and, a fortiori, the connexion of the Government with this establishment were carefully concealed. Except for official publications, none of the literature bore overt marks of its origin. Further, literature was placed on sale where possible, and when sent free was always sent informally, that is to say through and apparently from some person…to whose private patriotism the sending of the literature seemed due. [4]

The distribution of this material was largely through British steamship companies and other corporations who absorbed the cost. [5] The propaganda primarily targeted allied and neutral countries. Its most important aim was to bring in the United States on the side of Britain. [6] To do so it targeted not the American public, but rather key elites such as politicians and journalists, which were drawn from publications like the American Who’s Who. [7]

Personnel

Masterman recruited many of the individuals who had worked at the National Insurance Commission [8] as well as members of Britain literary and journalistic elite. On 2 September 1914 he invited 25 famous authors to a meeting at Wellington House including Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, Ford Madox Ford and John Buchan. [9] Several authors agreed to write propaganda works ostensibly as their own work and inspiration and published through their normal commercial publishing houses. A week later on 11 September, Masterman held another meeting, this time with leading newspaper editors. One result of this second meeting was the formation of the so called Neutral Press Committee under the leadership of the former editor of the Daily Chronicle G.H. Mair. It was agreed that the Committee would promote British newspapers and journals abroad as well as the transmission of ‘news abroad by cable and wireless’ – meaning that news would be broadcast to the US through the radio transmitters owned by British Marconi (the company which after the war became the major shareholder in the British Broadcasting Corporation ).[10]


References

  1. Richard Milton, Best of Enemies: Britain and Germany - 100 Years of Truth and Lies (Icon Books Ltd, 2007) p.26
  2. Philip M. Taylor, British Propaganda in the 20th Century, (Edinburgh University Press, 1999) p.35
  3. Philip M. Taylor, British Propaganda in the 20th Century, (Edinburgh University Press, 1999) pp.38
  4. British Propaganda During the War 1914-1918, cited in Randal Marlin, Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion (Broadview Press, 2002) p.64
  5. Randal Marlin, Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion (Broadview Press, 2002) p.64
  6. Philip M. Taylor, British Propaganda in the 20th Century, (Edinburgh University Press, 1999) p.35
  7. Philip M. Taylor, British Propaganda in the 20th Century, (Edinburgh University Press, 1999) pp.35-36
  8. Richard Milton, Best of Enemies: Britain and Germany - 100 Years of Truth and Lies (Icon Books Ltd, 2007) pp.26-27
  9. Richard Milton, Best of Enemies: Britain and Germany - 100 Years of Truth and Lies (Icon Books Ltd, 2007) p.27
  10. Richard Milton, Best of Enemies: Britain and Germany - 100 Years of Truth and Lies (Icon Books Ltd, 2007) p.27-28