Who's Who - Charles Masterman

Photograph of Charles Masterman Charles Masterman (1873-1927), who was born in Sussex and educated at Christ College, Cambridge, achieved renown as a successful writer and as head of the War Propaganda Bureau (WPB) during the First World War.

Prior to the outbreak of war Masterman's writing and journalistic output was extensive: at university he edited Granta, subsequently publishing articles in varied newspapers such as the Daily News, Athenaeum and the Nation.

Masterman published numerous books in the first decade of the twentieth century: From the Abyss in 1902, Peril of Change in 1905 and The Condition of England in 1909.  In each of these works Masterman explored the evolving social condition of Britain.  As a member of the Christian Social Union he was much interested in the conditions of the working class.

Elected to Parliament as a Liberal member for West Ham North in 1906, Masterman's ministerial career quickly took off.  Prime Minister Herbert Asquith first appointed him Parliamentary Secretary of the Local Government Board in 1908, followed by stints at the Home Office (Under-Secretary of State) from 1909-12, and at the Treasury (Financial Secretary) from 1912-14.

With war declared against Germany, Masterman was appointed by Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George as head of the War Propaganda Bureau (WPB).  In this role Masterman was responsible for conveying to the general public the government's position on the war.  To this end Masterman sought to recruit noted contemporary authors to pen articles and books supporting the government's conduct of the war.

Masterman enjoyed a degree of success in securing the services of authors such as John Buchan (The 39 Steps) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes); others however declined involvement.  Invited to hear Masterman discuss the aims of his department at a meeting on 2 September 1914 were such luminaries as H.G. Wells, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, John Masefield, Ford Madox Ford, Sir Henry Newbolt and G.K. Chesterton, in addition to Conan Doyle and Buchan.

Buchan agreed to produce an ongoing history of the war, published in 24 parts between 1914-18, issued by his own publishers, Thomas Nelson (the work was subsequently revised and reissued by Buchan after the war).  In all, in excess of 1,160 pamphlets and books were produced by the WPB between 1914-18, including Conan Doyle's To Arms, Chesterton's The Barbarism in Berlin, Kipling's The New Army and Buchan's The Battle of the Somme.

Masterman's department was also responsible for appointing official war photographers; two were given permission to film scenes at the front, including Geoffrey Malins, who filmed the opening Hawthorn mine explosion signalling the start of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916.  Although many soldiers did take personal photographs whilst serving at the front, it was not officially permitted, with the penalty death by firing squad.

In addition to the photographers, official war artists were commissioned to produce approved paintings.  Some ninety artists were eventually employed in this capacity, including Paul Nash, William Orpen, Wyndham Lewis, Muirhead Bone and Eric Kennington.  Some complained of the restrictions placed upon their subject matter (dead soldiers were generally not allowed), with numerous paintings only being issued following the armistice.

In early 1918 Lloyd George, having succeeded Asquith as Prime Minister, decided that management of the WPB should be handled at a senior level within the government.  Consequently on 4 March press baron Lord Beaverbrook - owner of the Daily Express - was appointed Minister for Information; in part the decision to appoint Beaverbrook was intended to bring him on board in support of the government.  Masterman continued to serve within the WPB, reporting directly to Beaverbrook as Director of Publications.  Buchan meanwhile served as Director of Intelligence.

Another press baron, Lord Northcliffe, owner of The Times and the Daily Mail, was charged with responsibility for propaganda directed at enemy nations.  While widely seen as an apparently blatant attempt to co-opt leading press figures into the government camp, the move was nonetheless successful.

With the 1918 General Election Masterman lost his West Ham North seat; he was subsequently re-elected to Parliament representing Rusholme in Manchester at the 1923 General Election (although losing the seat the following year in a further General Election).

Charles Masterman died on 17 November 1927.

The Russian war ace Alexander Kozakov claimed 20 victories during the war; his nearest compatriot, Vasili Yanchenko, claimed 16.

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