1940s

Wartime Advertising

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1940s

Lydia Jacoby, Writer

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The date was May 15th, 1942. Sandra opened her eyes. The morning sun coming through the window bathed the room in a golden glow. Her bed sheets felt hot against her skin despite the morning chill. Rolling over, she glanced at Gabriel, who continued to sleep soundly next to her. Carefully, she scooted to the edge of the bed and stood. The cool cedar planks covering the floor made the bottoms of her uncalloused feet feel chilled. Quickly and quietly, she pulled on a plain dress and snuck downstairs, leaving her son snoring softly in bed.

The hostel lobby appeared empty until a man in a crisp suit moved out of the corner into the light, a cup of coffee gripped tightly in his strong hand. He moved towards her, pulling a business card out of his jacket pocket. 

“My name’s Ronald Johnson,” he stated in a deep American accent. “I’m on a search for women to do an advertisement for the Women’s Army Corps, a new branch in the United States Army. You were suggested as a possible model when I arrived in Northern Wales…” 

“So… what exactly would be required?” Sandra asked, confused. 

“You’ll simply come to the town hall this afternoon at three o’clock. We’ll provide you with a uniform and stylist. A series of photos taken, and my team and I will take care of the rest.”

“Are you sure it’s okay for me to participate since I’m not even in the Army corps? Besides, I’m not even American!” 

“That’s quite alright, Ms. Bernard. Thank you for your participation,” he replied formally before turning and walking out of the lobby. The door closed with a loud squeal behind him. 

 

At 2:55, Sandra sat parked on the bench outside the town hall. Throughout the next several minutes, two other young women walked over to sit next to her. Right as the clock tower struck three, a frazzled looking, middle aged woman opened the door and gestured for them to come inside. Collecting their purses and standing, the trio of women headed into the building. 

Unlike usual, the town hall was brightly lit by tall white lights illuminating a white sheet hanging from the ceiling. Tall white lights spaced throughout the room revealed a clean white sheet; three beige platforms sat together in front of the white sheet. Another assistant bustled over carrying three suit bags. 

“Put these on,” she commanded, thrusting the pile into Sandra’s arms. Affronted, she handed them to the other two women and ducked behind a curtain to change.

Several minutes later, she stepped out, tugging unhappily on the itchy uniform. The beige material was course, rubbing roughly on her soft skin. The thick black belt and tie dug uncomfortably into her sides and neck making her skin appear red and irritated. The middle-age assistant bustled over once more holding an expensive looking powder in one hand. She began dabbing it forcefully onto Sandra’s cheeks and nose, framing her rosy complexion in dark makeup. A short man hurried over, his arms filled with more tubes and palettes. The next twenty minutes were spent in a blurred confusion as layers of makeup were applied to the faces of the three women. At last, the assistant–whose name turned out to be Angie–touched up one last bit of lipstick and directed Sandra towards a mirror leaning in the corner. 

As she peered into the mirror, a completely different woman stared back at her. This woman certainly could not be Sandra Bernard. The uniform framing her torso looked crisp and professional. It was topped off with an equally sharp hat which had been artfully placed in her up-done curls. The woman’s face appeared to be soft and smooth as the expensive satin dresses hanging in the shop windows of Trafalgar Square. Sandra turned towards the other women who also appeared unrecognizable. The three women stared at each other for only a split second before their faces split into grins. Angie smiled around at the three of them. 

“Okay ladies, come over here and I’ll arrange you,” she uttered briskly. Assistants bustled around them rearranging their hair and prodding them into different positions. All the while the photographer–a young man in a tweed jacket–clicked away on his camera. 

Every several minutes, he would shout something like, “Smiles on ladies,” or “that’s perfect right there.” 

After about half an hour Angie finally piped, “alright, I think that should do it!” Sandra was shuffled off behind the curtain again to change back into her simple dress. Slowly, she removed the tight black belt and tie. The overshined shoes came next, and finally, she allowed the itchy beige dress to fall to the ground, revealing her frail body underneath. Leaving the clothes behind the curtain, she edged back out. Walking towards the door, she repeatedly declined Angie’s repeated offers to help remove her makeup and hairpins. Despite the misleading nature of the over-perfected photo-shoot, those things made Sandra feel special. She supposed that must be the purpose: to make people feel that the horrors of war were something they desired to participate in.