Circular letter on behalf of the Wounded Allies’ Relief Committee
Bennett’s talents of organisation as well as his literary skills were put to good use by the powers that be during the war. Shortly after its commencement, the War Propaganda Bureau recruited over twenty British authors to produce material in support of the war effort. Texts held in the Archive from this period include Liberty: A Statement of the British Case (1914), where Bennett argued both for the ‘idiocy’ of war in general and the necessity of this one. Over There: War Scenes on the Western Front (1915) depicts the fly-infested and corpse-strewn trenches that Bennett had witnessed first-hand.
Bennett’s role for the WARC was Publicity Manager and he helped to attract thousands of people to the two-day fair at the Caledonian Market in Islington. It appears that his clear instruction ‘Nothing is too trifling, too worn out, or too valuable for the War Fair’ did not fall on deaf ears: ‘According to one contemporary account, the donated articles on sale “ranged from an elephant to postcards.”’ [David Bowers and Robert Fleming, Posters of the First World War, (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), p. 120.]
Bennett, in turn, exploited his war-time experiences in his fiction. The machinations of such committees, not to mention the female aristocratic dilettantes to whom the patronage of such organisations devolved, were sharply parodied in The Pretty Lady (1918).
On Lord Beaverbrook’s recommendation, Bennett also took a role for the Ministry of Information as Director of Propaganda for France. He billeted officers in his Essex home and organised defences for the Local Emergency Committee. There are letters in the Archive (mostly photocopied) from his wife Marguerite to Captain Frank Mason, one of the billeted officers. Towards the end of the war Bennett, who had been much preoccupied by the scarcity of meat on his own account, also contributed ‘Thoughts on National Kitchens’ to the Daily News (clip held in Archive).