The War Illustrated’s ‘Something to Smoke’ Campaign

The previous post focused on the men injured or killed in the line of duty who either belonged to a Kent Regiment during World War I or had Kent as a surname. Those with the surname Kent, and Kent regiments, also appear in issues of The War Illustrated from August to December 1914 in relation to its ‘Something-to-Smoke’ campaign (you can see the August to December issues of the magazine here).

A Miss Kent is mentioned as one of the generous donors in the 3rd of October 1914 issue, and a Miss H. Kent in the next week’s magazine. The 1st Royal West Kent Regiment also appears in the 5th of December issue as having benefited from readers’ generosity.

The 3rd of October list of subscribers is prefaced by the claim that ‘Hundred of collectors [are] at work all over the country’. The bravery of the men at the front is highlighted as they are described as ‘gallant soldiers’. Pride is also present in terms of the nation: these men will be sent ‘good British cigarettes’. The number of ‘presents of 6d packets of “smoking pleasure”’’ ready for dispatch (over 2,000 in one week) is impressive, suggesting a high level of support.

The magazine states that ‘some hundreds’ of its readers have asked for collecting books as they wish to ‘get their friends to help’. This promotes a feeling of national community and also extends the reach of the magazine to those who have not bought a copy. In relation to this, the magazine’s publishing of names is significant. We can surmise that donors would wish to see their name in print – in fact the magazine appears to acknowledge this as it assures donors that if they are not included in this issue, they will appear in the next. In addition to supplying soldiers with tobacco, this might be read as a way for the magazine to boost its circulation.

It is notable that the supporters listed are separated into amounts donated. The magazine also provides details on the number of people who have donated these figures and how many presents this pays for.  This ranges from three donations of £5 each which has resulted in 600 presents, to the 35 donors whose offers of 6d each will provide 35 in total. To give some context, the magazine itself costs 2d – three times the smallest amount of this range. Miss Kent has donated alongside Miss Lacey as one of the 30 who have donated 5s – what equates to 300 presents. While this information is very interesting, we must be cautious as there is no way of confirming this data because only names and not addresses are supplied. It says a lot about how the magazine presented matters to its readers though.

The text also directs readers to more information on its campaign on page 3 of the cover. This inner back page carries an advertisement for the fund. As with the list of subscribers, nationality is referenced. It is stated that ‘Our soldiers’ ‘don’t like French Caporal cigarettes’ and want ‘British’ tobacco. The soldiers’ bravery is again extolled as these soldiers are described as ‘brave fighting men’ and ‘heroes’.

It is significant that the presents are couched as ‘personal gifts’ from ‘individuals’ in a bid to garner support. The text involves the reader by asking the direct question ‘How many soldiers will you make happy?’  above a coupon which encourages even more involvement. This coupon is titled ‘How many 6d parcels will you send’, with the underlining of ‘you’ making it clear that each reader is being personally addressed. The opposite coupon asking for a ‘collecting sheet’ so that supporters can gain donations from friends is less emphatic, and smaller. Perhaps the magazine preferred to appeal to individual readers as this was likely to be more effective, and more liable to increase the magazine’s circulation.

The advertisement’s illustrations support the text as they show an ‘actual size’ representation of tobacco cakes and significantly Kitchener brand cigarettes as well as a package with space to write a supporter’s name. The visual representation of this complete with lucky horseshoe symbol and Good Luck message is further likely to encourage readers to ‘do their bit’.

The mentioning of the 1st Royal West Kent Regiment in the 5th of December issue of the magazine shows another way the magazine tried to involve its readers. The piece, written by the magazine’s editor John Hammerton, is titled ‘What the Lieutenant-Colonel of the Black Watch wrote me’. Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart of the 1st Battalion of the Black-Watch is quoted, expressing the ‘grateful thanks of all ranks’ of the 42nd Royal Highlanders. A letter signed ‘B.W.L McMahon’ from the 2nd Durham Light Infantry communicates similar sentiments. The article also lists particular regiments, and individuals, some of which may have been familiar to readers, who have already benefited.

As well as providing names and testimonials from those who have received the gifts, Hammerton places himself in the text. He is the man the soldiers wrote to and it seems that he will receive the money personally on behalf of the soldiers: ‘Now then – send me some sixpences!’ In addition to perhaps reassuring those who wish to donate of the man they will be dealing with, this also conveys a sense of urgency. This is increased as Hammerton thinks that the gifts will reach the front line in time for Christmas.  The figures of the number of packages which have been sent – up from 2000 in early October to 80000 here – suggests that the appeal is building momentum.

There is even visual evidence of the success of the campaign so far. A photograph of a nurse standing next to two beds in, and on, which four men are lying appears.  The caption assures us that these ‘wounded soldiers’ are ‘enjoying a cigarette’. The decision to set the photograph in a hospital not only downplays any possible worries about the harmful effects of tobacco (not that these were prevalent at the time) but shows men who are especially deserving: they have been injured in the service of their country.

Further investigation of this campaign across the full run of The War Illustrated would be fascinating. Searches for ‘Something to Smoke’ unfortunately prompts an error message, pointing to the fact that OCR is not infallible: it will not always be able to fetch all the relevant results. Using the term ‘to smoke’ was more successful, revealing that a similar, though not identical, advertisement for the fund first appeared on the 19th of September. Just 5 weeks after war had been declared, soldiers’ happiness was placed front and centre and a simple way for those at home to help achieve this by ‘doing their bit’.

We commented that we could compare this to the way those who play the National Lottery and therefore contributed to our National Lottery Heritage Funded project. During the First World War these individuals joined together to support the troops. Today people are supporting the preservation of our heritage and culture about these troops.

If you’d like to find out more about the National lottery Heritage Funded  ‘Digitizing the War Illustrated’ project please visit our dedicated page here./ You can book for our first workshop on the 27th of June by emailing

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