August 1914: in just a few weeks, nearly all of Europe was plunged into war. Never before in its history had the old continent experienced, simultaneously and in such a short period, the mobilization of such a large number of men. Serbia (July 25th), Russia (July 30th), Austria-Hungary (night of July 30th into July 31st), Belgium (July 31st), Germany (August 1st) and France (August 1st) used general mobilization based on their obligatory military service. Posters were therefore the most efficient medium for the relay of information. For example, in France the army counted 800,000 men in 1914. Following the mobilization, this figure rose to 3,580,000.

The United Kingdom did not enforce a mandatory military service but instead had a professional army. It also relied on hundreds of thousands of volunteers to fill its ranks. On August 4th, 1914, the United Kingdom decided to go to war and to send an expeditionary corps to France, to fight alongside the French. At the time, only 100,000 men were sent over. By the end of the war, the British army had about 4 million soldiers on the continent. In 1914, Belgium had just instituted mandatory military service the year before. Belgium thus had a very small army at its disposal which explains why it relied so heavily on the volunteers who flocked to the recruiting offices by the thousands.

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  • "Step into your place", 1915, poster, In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres

    The United Kingdom organised a large-scale poster campaign to mobilize volunteers. They flocked to the recruitment offices by hundreds, waiting in long queues.

  • General mobilization order, August 1914, poster, coll. Departmental Archives of the Nord Lille France

    In France posters informed those "Frenchmen who are subjected to military obligations" of the mobilization, which became effective on August 2nd, 1914 from midnight onwards. The order concerned all young men who were already doing their military service and any member of the military reserve between the ages of 24 and 48 years, except railway workers and some miners.

  • Lille, rue Faidherbe, the first day of the mobilization, 2 August 1914, printed photo, coll. Departmental Archives of the Nord Lille France – mark 30 Fi 14-18/8

    The general mobilization started on August 2nd, 1914 and ended on August 18th. All men between the ages of 24 and 48 years were enlisted in the Army and the Navy.

Step into your place. Poster with long lines of volunteersGeneral mobilization orderLille (Nord) – Côté gauche de la rue Faidherbe prise de la gare