War posters were flashes of intense colour in towns and cities throughout New Zealand during the Second World War (1939-45). They were bold and emotional works of graphic art with a serious purpose - to recruit soldiers and labour, raise money, disseminate information and warnings, increase production, identify enemy weapons, and instruct civilians to conserve supplies, recycle and prevent waste. They played an important role as intermediaries between the government and the public, particularly in the early recruitment drives for the armed services, and in the money-raising campaigns that became a regular feature of life until the end of the war. They also 'cheered up' and 'brightened' many a wall, shop window, railway station, theatre lobby, office, factory, school room, and mess hall. Their emotionally-charged messages and heroic images kept the struggle before the public eye, and still resonate today.
During the war, hundreds of different posters were constantly on display throughout New Zealand and thousands of people saw them. Allied governments sent their posters to inspire each other's populations. Displaying posters - creating patriotic displays - was seen as a way to contribute to the war effort, and for many, helped generate a 'war-like' atmosphere in a country far away from the theatres of war.
Although the posters both locally made and from overseas were distributed widely in New Zealand during the Second World War, they were not considered as effective or influential as the main channels for mass communication, which were radio, film, and newspapers. But posters had one thing that these other forms of communication did not: they had colour. And they could appear in public spaces where other media couldn't reach - they were an inescapable feature of everyday wartime life.