Sunday, 13 July 2014

Great War propaganda in Edinburgh



Pitt Street, in the Leith district of Edinburgh has this long forgotten and now badly damaged reminder of Great War propaganda on one of its buildings. Quite when the bas-relief was created in unclear, but it was most likely about 1915 when atrocity stories about the German army in Belgium were at their height.

Going from left to right, we can see a civilian about to be stabbed by a soldier, then a mother pleading for her baby who is being held by another wicked Hun. Just behind and now barely visible, is another soldier doing something terrible to a woman. As our eyes move to the right we can see what appears to be two civilians, one with a child in her arms and to their right is what appears to be a soldier, who seems to be about to club the two women.

Originally, it looks as if the work formed a triptych, but the other two panels have now been lost with only the spaces that they once occupied remaining on the building:


The German army did behave atrociously in Belgium, with summary executions of civilians deemed to be partisans a common occurrence as the army marched through the country. However, Britain went to war on the legalistic grounds of defending Belgium's neutrality and that was not enough to encourage the young men of the day to volunteer in sufficient numbers, which is probably why the press began a campaign to talk up the atrocities to turn the war into a moral crusade. Hence this rather curious and now sadly ignored work which still just about stands in Edinburgh today. 

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