Posted by: Melissa A. Hubbard | August 31, 2010

Books for the Forces

The Second World War was a difficult time for many book publishers in England, as paper became increasingly scarce and paper rationing regulations drastically limited the way that books could be produced. Furthermore, many publishers kept their stock in warehouses in London, many of which were damaged during the Blitz. However, Penguin Books, founded in 1935, actually grew during the war, and emerged as a highly successful publisher in the second half of the 20th century. One of the reasons for this is that Penguin capitalized on the war effort by creating “books for the forces” editions, which encouraged home front buyers to forward the books to Service men and women after reading them.  By doing this, Penguin was able to advertise its books as an important part of the war effort. The 1942 Penguin edition of Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, pictured below, is an example of one of these books.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey, 1942

Books for the Forces notice

This encouragement to donate the book to British troops is not the only indication that this book is a wartime edition. There are also several advertisements in the book that use the war as a way of establishing rapport with readers.

Genasprin advertisement

The image above is the back cover of the book, which advertises “Genasprin” as a sleep aid on nights when one has that “keyed-up, wide awake feeling” that comes from living in a city under constant threat of air raids. Genasprin was a brand name for aspirin.

Craven'A' advertisement

The ad for Craven’A’ cigarettes above, from inside the back cover, depicts a Woman of the Royal Navy, or “Wren,” in uniform. This image of a Servicewoman would have been easily recognizable to a British reader.

This book offers an interesting glimpse into the ways that the war effort could be used to commercial advantage.


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