SELL TO THE ALLIES! Advertisement and the European Exiles in London

From 1940 onwards, European exiles increasingly populated London. The general attitude towards them changed quickly: After fearing a wave of penniless migrants, the British public slowly warmed to those  European exiles who made it to the United Kingdom, enough to even tolerate their  military parades in their capital. About 150,000 Europeans came to Great Britain during the war –and it was only a matter of time until business-minded London recognised them as what they also were: a new target audience.

Joel Cang (ed.), The Who’s who of the Allied Governments in Great Britain. A Handy Reference Book with information about the Allied Governments, their Forces and Institutions. Allied Publications Company: London 1941.

First, Joel Cang saw a niche in the market: In 1941, he published the first of a yearly series „The Who’s Who of Allied Governments. A Handy Reference Book with information about the Allied Governments, their Forces and Institutions.“ Cang, himself a London-based journalist of Polish origin, understood that exile created new challenges for the newly arrived Europeans in London: establishing contacts to compatriots and otherallies to strengthen their standing, to lobby for privileges and to build afundament for future collaboration. Close networking was needed to exchange knowledge, get advice, forge alliances and plan the future. Fostering contacts and building networks was essential and at the same time tricky, for addresses might change frequently, due to unstable living situation and bombings under the Blitz.

To cater these needs, Cang gathered information on all of the exile governments who had arrived in 1940 in London: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Free France. His aim, as he stated in the Preface of the 80page-long booklet, was to inform the British public about their Allies inLondon – but it seemed that it served its main purpose in providing the Allied governments and communities with information about each other. A yearly edition was published about Christmas time each year, as an annual Christmas ad indicates (see picture). Quickly, it grew to about 180 pages, now also covering China, Ethiopia,Greece, Luxembourg, the U.S.S.R, Yugoslavia, the Dominions, the U.S.A., Central America, the Iraq and the Free Movements (Austria, Denmark, Hungary andRumania). The Who’s Who offered an overview over many of the new inhabitants of London, their interests, their alliances, their positions and functions, their tasks and addresses. It always included a biographical approach: all members of the allied governments, committees and movements were listed with name and a shortbiography. A DIN-A 5 paperback of bad-quality paper, a little too big to fitinto waistcoat pockets, but just the right size to bring along in a suitcase orfolder. Stopped with the end of the war, no further edition was published but a one-off United Nations variation in 1948.[iii

Who’s Who 1943, p. 6, almost annual Christmas ad addressed to the Allies

From the start, the booklet contained advertisement, propably to help finance the print (the price is, unfortunately, not known nor imprinted and therefore not passed on). The advertisement clearly defines the target audience as European allies. Many of the ads promoted products and services that can be directly connected to the needs of European exiles. Journals and Newspapers of the exile governments andcommunities advertised their editions and subscriptions, usually listing prices for the U.K. as well as the U.S.. This included allied publications in their native language [iv] addressing their own community, as well as those published in English[v],addressing the broader exile community as well as the British public. Even ads for the journals of the so-called Free Movements (oppositional exiles from axiscountries) were included.[vi]  It covered official publications, published by the ministry of information of the respective countries, as well as ads by British and foreign private editing houses and publishers, promoting all kinds of publications linked with topics close to the heart of the allies. Overall, advertisement for the written word was dominant: books, libraries, bookshops, printers, editors, and of course all kinds of translating services, but also typewriters and typing services. To cater everyday needs, gentlemen’s outfitters, tailors and hatters advertised their services to provide uniforms and military caps, but also British fashioned suits, among them the traditional Burberry. Wearing British style suits promised blending in into London’s citylife – and maybe help to integrate? For the less well off, tailors offered to alter and remodel old suits or even turn them into ladies’ skirts and dresses.[vii]Here, the ad answered to the needs of exiles, who arrived as refugees with little luggage (royal sources alleged that even Queen Wilhelmina arrived in London with just a raincoat over her nightgown and with no adequate clothing to wear for the following days[viii]).

Who’s Who 1944, p. 185,

Clearly, the ads tell a story of daily life under the Blitz and in particular the war experience of exiles: language classes and dictionaries were omnipresent, just as advertisement promising to buy jewellery, antiques and all kinds of books for cash. Import and Export of books, goods, food; transport, shipping and storage of personal belongings from Europe, or to North or South America. Hotels in London and surrounding were widely advertised to attract the nomad exiles, who mostly lived out of B&Bs and hotels and changed addresses repeatedly. Space was scarce in London because of the influx of immigrants and the bombings; office buildings cramped and private lodgings often tiny and/or shared. Public space therefore had to provide venues to host unofficial and official meetings of the respective national groups and, more importantly, among the different allies. Accordingly, restaurants, bars and clubs advertised their services in the Who’s who., and hotels not only drew attention to their accommodation, but also to their restaurants and cooking. While for fashion, British seemed to have worked as a selling point [ix], when it came to food, the exiles seemed to (or were expected to) be longing for home, as remarkably many restaurants and hotels advertised their „continental cuisine“. One of them was Le Coq d’Or, a French restaurant situated in Stratton House, the same building as offices of the Dutch and Polish exile governments, which provided a regular meeting place for many members of the European governments-in-exile.

But Europeanness was not only an argument for food: A pharmaceutical company published their ad with the promise to be able to prepare all continental prescriptions, due to good connections to European pharmacy and an exiled dispenser /pharmacist[x] –probably aiming to attract the older European exiles, as for example members of the governments, many of whom were well in their sixties and seventies and most likely relied on all kinds of prescriptions they were used to from their home countries.

The ads also appealed to the allied military spirit: Not only because of the ads formilitary clothes, caps, flags, and medals[xi],but also because many companies promoted their products and services with beingexperienced with servicing/selling to allied governments or with being the designated provider for the allied governments and their military.[xii] It is, however, also interesting to note what was not advertised: Legal advice andconsultation, for example, was something one might have expected. Propertyfirms or estate agents do rarely feature (only one ad for London flats, furnished or un-furnished in 1944); and there are no kind of lonely hearts ads.

Ad for Allied communication, Who’s Who 1943, p.116.

From 1943 onwards, the scope of the advertisement broadened to less specific products and services: lightbulbs, electronic devices, telecommunication, pharmaceutics, and drugstore products. At this point in time, London had transformed into an allied, mostly European, metropolis. The Who’s Who increased form 80 pages tomore than twice that size (180pp). In 1944, the agency Urbach advertised their services to place ads in further, more specific exile journals and newspapers, canvassing „Sell to the Allies“, maybe tempting potential clients with references to the loyal readership of alliedcommunities (See picture). Maybe this tells us that readership had broadened and by now, the Who’s Who was read by British readers as well. Maybe it tells us that now, with an eye on the end of the war, exiles were increasingly perceived as a consummating target audience with spending power. Definitely, it tells us, that the Who’s who sold well and whoever read it was considered a worthwhile audience. By this time,European exiles in London amounted to a couple of thousands, in all of Great Britain to about 150.000. There was hope that once they took to like a certain product, they might continue liking it from back home – and maybe spread theword. A European exiled community about to return home and reconstruct theircountry did not seem a bad investment to advertise to.

Further Reading:

Peter Borscheid/Clemens Wischermann (eds.), Bilderwelt des Alltags. Werbung in der Konsumgesellschaft des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, Stuttgart 1995.

T. J. Jackson Lears, Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America. Basic Books 1994.
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[iii]: „The United Nations Who’s Who in Government and Industry. 1948 / Ed. by Joel Cang and Ruth Howe. [S.l.] : UnitedNations Publications, 1948.

[iv] La France Libre, La Marseillaise, Belgique Independante/ Onafhankelijk Belgie, Nova Svoboda, Dziennik Polski, Polska Walczaca, Vrij Nederland, Hellas, Norsk Tidend.

[v] Message, The Czechoslovak,  TheSpirit of Czechoslovakia, The Central European Observer, Polish Fortnightly Review, Voice of the Netherlands, Free Europe, Polish Jewish Observer (Sectionof the East London Observer), Entente

[vi] among them Frit Danmark & Free Denmark and the Zeitspiegel (Ö).

[vii] 1943, S. 58 Tayloring AlterationsLtd. 14, Percy St, Tottenham Court Rd, W.1. „renovating, turning, re-modelling of Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ suits, (…) Gentlemen’s suits made into Ladies coats and skirts“

[viii] Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, The Memoirs of Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, London 1983, S. 121f.

[ix] for example 1941: p. 1 Cecil Gee. ShirtTaylor, Hosier and Hatter „Anglo-American Men’s Wear“ at Charing Cross.; 1941, last page Burberry „Men at War“, depicting a British soldier

[x] 1942 S. 58 Richards & Curtis,The Broadway, Cricklestone, „also foreign prescriptions“, „Assistant Dispenser Herman Gadiel, formerly proprietor of a pharmacy on the Continent“.

[xi] 1944 S. 83 Spink & Son Ltd Decorations and Medals for the United Nations // Musical Culture Ltd. (The London Philharmonic Orchestra) „is experienced in concert organisation on behalf of the Allied Governments“ 295, Regent Street, W.1.

[xii] For example 1944 p. 177 Williams,Lea & Co. Ltd. Colour, Commercial and Periodical Printers. „A specialized section for printing in Foreign Languages has been extensively used by H.M.S.O., M.O.I., W.O., B.B.C., etc., and the Belgian, Czech, Greek, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, and other Allied Governments“[xiii] F.C. Urbach Advertising, 32 Belsize Park Gardens, London, N.W.3, For most of the leading Foreign Publications, Representative or Sole Agent.  Who’s Who 1944, p. 185.


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  1. 23/10/2019

    […] industry is now by common consent a war industry.“[11] This was reflected in the character of advertisement in wartime publications, which catered to the needs and tastes of British and foreign residents of Great Britain, and […]

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