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Teaching the First World War
Teaching the First World War

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2.1 War poetry – Example 1

This section provides a worked example of how students can use the primary source analysis skills we’ve already practised and apply them to war poetry.

Students’ skills development: analysing the poem ‘The Call’

Jessie Pope ‘The Call’ (1914)

Who’s for the trench—

Are you, my laddie?

Who’s fretting to begin,

Who’s going out to win?

And who wants to save his skin—

Do you, my laddie?

Who’s for the khaki suit—

Are you, my laddie?

Who longs to charge and shoot—

Do you, my laddie?

Who’s keen on getting fit,

Who means to show his grit,

And who’d rather wait a bit—

Would you, my laddie?

Who’ll earn the Empire’s thanks—

Will you, my laddie?

Who’ll swell the victor’s ranks—

When that procession comes,

Will you, my laddie?

Banners and rolling drums—

Who’ll stand and bite his thumbs—

Will you, my laddie?

Pope, 1915




The author, Jessie Pope, was a writer, poet and journalist who contributed to a range of popular newspapers and magazines.



The poem was written in the autumn of 1914, shortly after the outbreak of the First World War. Britain had not yet introduced conscription and so propagandists sought to encourage men to enlist voluntarily – students could be asked to speculate on how effective a poem like this might have been for this purpose.



Pope was based on the home front and almost certainly wrote the poem whilst in Britain.



The poem has a clear propagandistic purpose, written to encourage men to enlist in the army. It is directed at young men, using insistent, rhetorical questions to persuade them that they should serve their country. It asks, for example, whether they’ll ‘follow French’, referring to Sir John French, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914.

The fact that Pope was a woman writing for a male audience is also significant. Traditional notions of masculinity emphasised a man’s role as a protector of his country and of his family (including women and children). Pope’s words were therefore more powerful coming from a woman than they would have been if written by a man. Women were not able to fight in the war, but many still had a sense of patriotic duty – encouraging men to enlist was one way of serving their country.



The poem was first published in the Daily Mail newspaper on 26 November 1914. It was one of dozens of patriotic poems that Pope wrote for the Daily Mail, which was the largest newspaper in the country at the time, with a circulation of over a million.

What can this poem tell us?


The poem is useful for historians because it provides evidence of the forms of propaganda that newspapers used to encourage men to enlist. The poem is also an example of the patriotic and jingoistic sentiment that existed upon the outbreak of the war. The fact that it was published in a popular newspaper suggests that these sentiments were widespread in November 1914.

Viewed now, the poem appears manipulative – students might be tempted to assume that men were shamed into volunteering against their will. But it’s worth noting that, although propagandistic, this poem was not produced by the state in order to manipulate the population. Pope was not commissioned to write these poems by the government: she did so because she, like many other British citizens, supported the war effort. Most newspapers like the Daily Mail also printed this poetry because they voluntarily supported the war effort – they were not cajoled into doing so.



Although many Britons did indeed share Pope’s patriotism, this source alone cannot tell us how other people responded to the war in 1914. Newspapers usually printed opinions that appealed to their readers, but we do not know how readers responded to this poem or whether they all agreed with it. It is also difficult to tell whether this poem itself was successful in encouraging young men to enlist.

It would be worth discussing this issue of reception more generally with students – how can we assess how ordinary people responded to newspapers, and why might this be challenging in many cases?