“Side by Side Britannia” and British American Friendship

July 14, 2016 § Leave a comment

Side by Side

Original Poster by James Montgomery Flagg, printed 1918

World War One, 1914-1919, was a hugely pivotal and defining aspect of the 20th Century. Not only did it, as the first example of total mechanized warfare, change the way nations operated on a geopolitical scale but it also set in motion cultural shifts that are continuously felt today. Social structures across Europe began to break down and the United States emerged from the war victorious and in a new position of power.

This victory formed an alliance between the United States and Great Britain that has persisted through World War Two and into the 21st Century. To commemorate this alliance 26 days after the official armistice the United States celebrated Britain’s Day. On the 7th of December, 1918 festivities took place in cities all across the country. This holiday remembered the noble sacrifice made by British troops and honored the alliance between the two powerful Empires. British and American flags flew together proudly while dinners and outdoor concerts helped mark the occasion. Special contingents of Canadian soldiers were welcomed in towns and cities along the U.S-Canadian border as Canada was an important member of the British Empire and the United State’s closest neighbor. The celebratory nature came coupled with eulogies and solemn words spoken in remembrance of the soldiers who lost their lives fighting on land and at sea.  

To mark Britain’s Day as a national event James Montgomery Flagg was chosen by the U.S. Government to create a poster. As one of the most famous artist and illustrators of his day, Flagg was an easy choice. His 1917 “I want YOU for the U.S. Army” poster featuring the now iconic Uncle Sam, gave a face and style to the United States’ war effort. It’s even said that he used himself as the model for the stern and commanding image. In his 1918 poster, Side By Side Britannia!, the choice to show Uncle Sam arm in arm with the lady Britannia epitomizes the relationship forged by war while also paving the way for a brighter future. Uncle Sam stands proud and jovial while Britannia walks by his side, stoic in her centurion’s helmet and Roman toga (her image was first seen around the time of the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43). Both figures are seen walking forwards over the crest of a hill flanked by animals that represent their nations. The white eagle could symbolize the purity and and freedom of the United States while Britannia’s lion, a symbol of the British Empire dating back to the 12th century, epitomizes strength, courage, and honor.

As you can see this poster has a strip of white across the bottom with red lettering. Each copy of this poster had the white band left blank by the printing house, in this case the American Lithographic Company of New York,  and the red text would be printed later to reflect the information that was unique to each location the poster was hung. In this specific case the red lettering was added in Denver, Colorado and gave the dates and locations of the city’s Britain’s Day celebration. This handy device helped with military recruitment and celebrations but was also implemented by travel boards all over the U.S. and Europe. It’s a fascinating addition that can help establish where a poster was hung and in some cases the specific dates it was on display. Many artifacts and pieces of cultural history aren’t able to open windows to the past this wide and with such clear views backwards.  


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