"Forward to Victory"
: An Investigation of Commercial Advertising in Britain During the Second World War

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores newspaper advertising in the Second World War in a way that has not been done before. By systematically investigating advertising in the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror it identifies in a more nuanced manner than previous studies of the Homefront how the development of the war impacted upon industry and the public. The thesis builds on the extensive literature on the British Homefront and the limited literature on the history of advertising in a number of ways. Throughout the research, the timeliness, adaptability, pragmatism and increasing sophistication of advertisers in the way they deal with changes in civilian morale, the military situation and government control of markets has been highlighted. This has opened new avenues of research into the period and highlighted the value of advertising as a historical source.
While existing literature indicates the difficulty of measuring morale on the Homefront, this thesis identifies that advertisers’ utilised references to the past and the future in response to changes in civilian morale across the war. The conclusion is drawn that as well as providing insight into morale on the Homefront, advertising could be used as an indicator of morale in other historical circumstances. To assist this, a new type of advertising used at liminal points, Janus advertising is identified, which refers to both the past and the future, allowing consumer attitudes to times of transition to be identified.
The thesis also contributes to our understanding of the depiction of gender roles in the military during the war. While the contradictory expectations of both men and women which extant literature identifies, are noted, the thesis indicates that advertisers represented the full range of roles undertaken by women in the military. While this decreased when the performance of the military in the latter part of the war improved, the breadth of these representations indicates a level of comfort with non-traditional gender roles that has not been noted before.
Potentially the most important contribution this thesis makes to our understanding of the Homefront, due to the breadth of its impact, comes through the discussion of brands’ reaction to government control of markets. While all literature on the Homefront refers to rationing, discussions of supply side controls are generally minimal or completely absent. By identifying the full extent of supply side controls on supply and shortages and their impact on both industry and consumers something which the literature on Homefront fails to do, the thesis completely changes our view of how markets were organised and how this impacted on the public and industry.
Date of Award8 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorRobert James (Supervisor) & Brad Beaven (Supervisor)

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