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Indie moet vrij! Werkt en vecht ervoor!

  • Author: KEELY, Patrick Cokayne
  • Publisher: James Haworth & Brothers Ltd, London (Printers))
  • Date: 1944
  • Dimensions: 49 x 74.5 cms


Pat Keely’s superb 1944 propaganda poster – a dark & menacing Japanese octopus extends its tentacles across the Dutch East Indies

About this piece:

Indie moet vrij! Werkt en vecht ervoor!

[The (Dutch East) Indies must be free! Work and Fight for It!]

Colour-printed poster. Narrow margins as issued.  Faint trace of vertical and horizontal fold. Tissue backed. Old pinholes at corners, now invisibly filled and reinforced. One small area of paper loss in blank margin at end of vertical fold lower centre, expertly and invisibly filled. Three or four very short tears at sheet edges, one in lower left just intruding into printed image, all now almost invisibly closed and reinforced on verso. Overall a very attractive & presentable example.

This striking propaganda poster was designed by the British graphic artist and illustrator, Patrick Keely in 1944, seemingly as a commission from the Dutch government in exile in London. It was targeted at the peoples of German-occupied Holland and of the Japanese occupied territories of the former Dutch East Indies. The latter were regarded by the Dutch as almost their second homeland, with their deeply rooted colonial links & closely intertwined common heritage dating back to the early 17th Century. The poster was printed by the London firm of James Haworth & Brothers.

Revisiting the symbolic entangling Russian octopus vividly portrayed in the late 19th Century satirical maps of Fred W Rose [1849-1915], and the equally threatening Prussian Octopus depicted by French propaganda artist, Maurice Neumont during the First World War, Keely presents an updated vision of dark & malevolent menace.  It was, however, an image that actually ran counter the prevailing mood of the time [1944], as the Japanese faced an increasingly fragile military situation in South East Asia & the Pacific, with American forces progressively retaking many of the territories that had initially been overrun by the Japanese in late 1941 and early 1942, and inflicting increasingly heavy naval and military losses upon them. By  the middle of 1944, the Americans had reached the strategically important and symbolically highly significant Japanese island outpost of Okinawa, just 650 kms south of mainland Japan.

Prior to 1941, the Dutch East Indies had been seen as a primary target for the Japanese, due to their rich wealth of natural resources, most notably rubber plantations and oil fields, vital pre-requisites of the Japanese war machine. The Dutch government in exile’s declared war against Japan in December 1941, just hours before Pearl Harbour, and Japan reciprocated with her own declaration against the Dutch East Indies in January 1942, hoping that a swift military invasion might forestall the destruction of those valuable indigenous resources & oil wells

The campaign against the Dutch in fact began in Sarawak and Borneo a week before Christmas in December 1941 and a week before the British surrender of Hong Kong on December 25th. By March 1942, the Japanese had overrun the entire Dutch East Indies, taking Sarawak, Borneo, Jolo, the Celebes, Timor, Sulawesi, Sumatra and Java, driving all before them with superior numbers and completely overwhelming the combined Allied forces – American, British, Dutch, Australian (ABDA) – rapidly brought together under one command structure, headed by British Field Marshall, Sir Archibald Wavell. The forces were poorly coordinated & each had their own divergent priorities. The major naval elements of the Allied forces were almost completely destroyed during the fierce battles against the Japanese during the final days of February and the first days of March 1942: the two Battles of the Java Sea and Battle of Sunda Straits. The ABDA command structure finally fell apart on March 1st 1942, just two weeks after the British had  surrendered in Singapore (Feb 15th).

The author Samuel Eliot Morison in compiling his history of United States Naval Operations in World War II, The Rising Sun in the Pacific; 1931–April 1942 [Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1948] may well have had Keely’s poster in mind when he outlined the progress of the Japanese East Indies campaign of 1941-2 in the following terms:

The manner of the Japanese advance resembled the insidious yet irresistible clutching of multiple tentacles. Like some vast octopus it relied on strangling many small points rather than concentration on a vital organ. No one arm attempted to meet the entire strength of the Abda fleet. Each fastened on a small portion of the enemy and, by crippling him locally, finished by killing the entire animal. […] The Japanese spread their tentacles cautiously, never extending beyond the range of land-based aircraft unless they had carrier support. The distance of each advance was determined by the radius of fighter planes under their control. This range was generally less than 400 miles, but the Japanese made these short hops in surprisingly rapid succession. Amphibious operations, preceded by air strikes and covered by air power developed with terrifying regularity. Before the Allies had consolidated a new position, they were confronted with a system of air bases from which enemy aircraft operated on their front, flanks and even rear…..

Morison, The Rising Sun in the Pacific, pp.292-293

In fact, despite Keely’s emotive call to arms, the Dutch East Indies was left almost completely side-lined by the Allies  in the South East Asian theatre of operations during 1944-45, with no attempts made to retake Java, Sumatra, Timor, or Bali. The occupying Japanese forces here were left to finally surrender at the end of the war in August 1945.

The artist, Pat (Patrick Cokayne) Keely [1901-1970] was a well-known graphic artist and poster designer during the Second World War, producing a number of innovative and striking posters, principally for the Ministry of Information. Born in Nottingham, he was the second son of Erasmus Middleton Keeley [1850-1926], a local hospital adminstrator, and Beatrice Marion Cokayne Naylor [1874-1953].

Dr Robert Hogarth writing in his memoirs of his early days at Nottingham General Hospital in the late 19th Century, described Keely’s father as “an amusing bird…proud to be a Nottingham man…Keely had an imposing moustache and was a thin fair little man, whose misfortune it was to have recurring bouts of gout…certainly not from any high living or excesses…but I would not put it past him to like a couple when the chance arose…We were all very fond of Keely and it is with affection that I will always remember him.”

Keely’s own career development and progression as a graphic artist is difficult to track, though by the mid-1920’s he was clearly established in this field, one of his earliest dateable posters being an idyllic summer view of the beach at Deal in Kent, designed for Southern Railways in 1926, the year of his father’s death.

By the 1930’s stylistically his poster designs began to adopt increasingly modernist and avant garde forms and shapes. It is also noticeable how his own poster signature changed dramatically during this transition. Amongst his best-known posters from this time is his striking GPO design for the famous documentary film, Night Mail [1936].

He produced several other propaganda posters during the War, including others for the Dutch Government in exile and variant designs for: “And They will say this was their finest hour”  and “We beat ’em before…we will beat ’em again”, posters based upon quotations from Prime Minster Winston Churchill’s famous wartime speeches.

His post-war work continued unabated, with numerous poster designs through the 1950s and 1960s for the Scouting Association, British Aluminium Ltd, British Railways and London Transport. He appears to have never married and died in London in 1970 at the age of 69.

Another example of this poster (from our past inventory) appeared in the major British Library Exhibition, Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line (Nov 2016-March 2017).

Refs: Tom Harper (Ed)/British Library: Exhibition Catalogue: Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line, p.130 & Pl.77 (Maps C.C.6.a.77)