Service Newspapers of World War II: Raising Morale One Moustache at a Time

08 September 2017

War and Conflict

One of the most common remarks about life as a soldier in World War Two, from those who experienced it first-hand, is that when you weren’t scared stiff you were bored to death. For many, the episodes of fighting were interspersed with long and tedious months of waiting around for orders, or being shipped to and fro between different bases, wondering what was coming next.

Maintaining the men’s morale was a vital aspect of war administration. Bored men had more time to be scared. Scared men became rebellious or inefficient. Not good for the war effort, sir. A large part of keeping the boys entertained was good old-fashioned journalism, and that is the subject of Adam Matthew’s upcoming 2018 resource, Service Newspapers of World War II.

During my explorations of these wonderful papers, it’s been interesting to see what has changed in the last 70 years, and what has essentially stayed the same. One similarity is the spectrum of styles on offer. In the Service Newspapers collection there are high-brow Spectator-type titles, providing top news stories, interviews with war heroes, and the latest cricket scores...

                                    Image © British Library. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

 And there are cheeky, Nuts-type titles, with the usual complement of bawdy man-jokes, photos of scantily-clad film stars, and cartoons poking fun at figures in authority...

Image © British Library. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

And everything in between!

But some things feel very different. With a few notable exceptions, the newspapers are mostly written by men for men, and as such they are definitely products of their time. In a patriarchal society at the height of the British Empire, certain members of society are often broadsided: women, the working class, ethnic minorities.

One difference that has struck me is the gentler, slower way of writing in the war-time titles. Despite the tumultuous events going on across the world, small and apparently inconsequential details are deemed worth mentioning. There is a sense of people having more time and inclination to pay attention to the little things in life. It reminds me very much of the diaries in Mass Observation.

One of my favourite articles that demonstrates this is from a 1945 issue of the Polar Bear News, a publication for the British 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division stationed in Iceland and Norway. The article exalts L/Bdr. ‘Farmer’ Williams, formerly of 62nd Anti-Tank Regt., R.A., as the serviceman with the best moustache in the division.

Image © British Library. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Something so simple, but so funny. The sort of thing you might see in a village newsletter, that your Nan would have a good chuckle over. Something so everyday and un-war-like. I imagine it being a reassuring and nostalgic nod to life before 1939, when maintaining the size and condition of one’s moustache was an innocent pastime for one’s leisure hours. For the men reading these papers, it was a little piece of normality - the perfect antidote, perhaps, to feeling the weight of a world war upon your shoulders.

Service Newspapers of World War II will be available from March 2018. For more information, including free trial access and price enquiries, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Full access restricted to authenticated academic institutions which have purchased a licence.

About the Author

Harriet Brunsdon Jones

Harriet Brunsdon Jones

I’ve been working at Adam Matthew since March 2013, following several years in magazine and journals publishing. Projects I’ve worked on include Shakespeare in Performance, Popular Medicine in America, Global Commodities, and China, America and the Pacific – all assisted by copious quantities of tea.