Hedley Francis Le Bas

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Sir Hedley Le Bas was the founder of the Caxton Publishing Company Limited and ran the famous World War 1 advertising campaign to recruit civilians into the Army and Navy.

Hedley Francis Le Bas (1868-1926) was the son of Captain Thomas Amice Le Bas (not Thomas Alfred, as given in A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey), of the Merchant Service, and Elizabeth Dolbel

Education

He was born at La Retraite, Samares, on 19 May, 1868. He was educated at Parlett's School. On leaving school he ran away from home and enlisted in the 15th Hussars. Here he distinguished himself as a rough-riding corporal, and as a reformer of Army canteens.

One of his duties was to buy food for his squadron. He discovered that better and cheaper food could be bought in the village than in the canteen; so he went out marketing every day. The canteen steward reported him to the colonel. As a result of Le Bas' disclosures an inquiry was ordered into all Army canteens, and the whole system reorganised.

Publishing

After serving his seven years, he left the Army, and became debt collector to publishers Blackie and Company. He was a man of immense energy and push. After two years he was made manager, and by 1899 had obtained sufficient financial backing to establish a publishing business of his own, the Caxton Publishing Company Limited.

This developed on a large scale the idea of subscription publications, and was very successful. In advertising his books he became an expert in publicity and, when the First World War broke out, he freely placed his knowledge at the Government's disposal.

One of the famous WW1 adverts
New York Times report on the advertising contract

Advertising campaign

He was largely responsible for the advertising campaign for recruiting Kitchener's Army, and the later one for selling War Savings Certificates, then for the Prince of Wales Relief Fund and the Vienna Relief Fund.

Although A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey asserts that all this work was honorary, the New York Times article (right) suggests that there was a formal contract with Hedley Le Bas to undertake the work.

From an article by David Clampin on World War 1 propaganda on the British Library website:

“ The official ‘endorsement’ of commercial advertising: In the face of shortfalls in recruits into the army prior to the outbreak of war, J E B Seeley, the Secretary of State for War, had recruited the services of the publicist Hedley Le Bas of the Caxton Publishing Company. Le Bas’s solution had been to launch an advertising campaign, drawing on emotional appeals, which met with a good deal of success. Subsequently, these services were retained and many in government acknowledged for the first time the contribution that advertising practitioners might make either in an ‘official’ capacity or by their own volition in joining the patriotic crusade as a means of promoting their goods as the nation went to war.”

In 1916 Le Bas was further rewarded by being created Knight of Grace, St John of Jerusalem. After the war he edited the Lord Kitchener Memorial Book, and was honorary organiser of the Lord Kitchener National Meoriai Fund.

In his later years his chief interest was interviewing candidates for Kitchener Scholarships and watching their careers. He died at Reigate on 25 March 1926.

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