Keep Calm and Carry On. The Authors Collection.
March 5, 2014
Back in the late 1930s, as clouds of war gathered over Europe for the second time in a generation, the Ministry of Information in Great Britain developed some slogans for morale building.
We would call them “affirmations” today.
The words were carefully designed for billboards, the walls of buildings, and other venues for public notice. The first of these said, simply:
“Freedom Is In Peril. Defend It With All Your Might.”
The next one was a little more to the point:
“Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory.”
The third poster in the series was never actually released. It was to be posted everywhere when and if the Germans actually invaded—a big concern at the time. The Nazis were fast advancing across Belgium and France and the threat to England seemed imminent and inevitable.
But then, on May 10, 1940, Winston Churchill replaced the ever-wobbly Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister. This change at the top rendered the need for mere paper posters obsolete.
They now had all the best slogans in the flesh.
The new premier’s face quickly became the most famous image of the era and his voice became its soundtrack. Churchill’s passionate eloquence tapped into the dormant, but indomitable spirit of a battered population.
Legendary newsman, Edward R. Murrow, was famous for his broadcasts from the blitz and the trademark phrase, “This is London.” He reported from rooftops all over the city as bombs fell from the sky. And in many ways, his words helped prepare Americans for battles yet to come. After the war, Murrow remarked that Churchill had “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”
On June 18, 1940, Churchill addressed the House of Commons, where he had lived out most of his, at times, erratic political career. He talked about how the Battle of Britain was about to begin:
“Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their Finest Hour.’”
So, the third Ministry of Information slogan, having been rendered unnecessary by Churchill’s persona and vocabulary, never made it to billboards in 1940. It said:
“Keep Calm and Carry On.”
As far we know, most of the copies of the original poster were destroyed at the end of the war and turned to pulp. Then more than six decades later, a bookseller from northeast England discovered a copy tucked away among some old books bought at an auction.
Eventually, more copies were unearthed in archival collections at the Imperial War Museum and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in London. And, as inexplicably happens every once in a while, the slogan eventually went viral. These days, you can see it on coffee mugs, T-shirts, and bumper stickers. And there are even humorous twists:
“Keep Calm and Carry On Shopping.”
“Keep Calm and Carry On Talking.”
“Keep Calm and Eat a Cupcake.”
My personal favorite parody is—“Now Panic and Freak Out!”
Keep Calm and Carry On inspired my latest book, which was in turn inspired by a series of sermons I delivered in 2012. The book was released last week—just in time to keep my dream of publishing one book each month in 2014 very much alive.
Please click the book cover image to read more about Keep Calm and Carry On by David R. Stokes.