In my last few years of teaching AP European History, I only displayed one poster on the wall of my classroom. That poster is pictured below. The poster hung between the two large windows directly in the student’s line of sight as they entered my classroom each and every day. This poster became my social contract, my classroom and behavioral expectations, and my test/exam prep advice for students. As the years passed, students brought me gifts of journals, notebooks, band aids, anything emblazoned with this poster as it became synonymous with my course. However, it wasn’t until my family and I were on Spring Break in London on March 22, 2017 that I experienced the true meaning of “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
The Keep Calm and Carry On image and mantra has only emerged into pop culture in the last few years. The history of the poster, however, is far more storied. Varying accounts describe how the poster emerged as a propaganda/motivational piece in Great Britain , particularly the city of London, during World War II.
Almost seventy years later, my family and I were touring the Tower of London when I noticed a few of the Yeoman Warders acting strangely. I quickly checked Twitter and saw that there had been an incident on the Westminster Bridge. I discreetly showed the post to my wife but kept it from my kids and in-laws for the time being. I did not realize until later what we had just done: We kept calm. We carried on.
We split up to make our journey across the Thames and back to our hotel. We hailed a cab for my wife and daughter and elderly in-laws, thinking it would be the quickest and safest way for them. My son and I took the Tube, despite worries about it being a target as well. Our trip back to the hotel took about 10 minutes, including a slow roll through the closed Westminster Station. Upon arriving and the hotel and making phone contact with our family, we learned they could not get across the river in the cab because bridges were being closed. Their cab driver actually told them they had to get out, as he was anxious to get to another part of town. My son and I grabbed a map and headed out the door while trying to stay in contact with them. After an exhausting hour and a half, we were reunited just across a bridge about a mile from our hotel. We quickly retreated to the nearest restaurant for food and beverages before walking the rest of the way home later in the evening.
The next morning in the hotel before embarking on our regular schedule, I attempted to make small talk with the hotel staff about the events of yesterday. They only asked if our accommodations had been disrupted in any way, which they really hadn’t. For me, it was a lesson learned. I wanted to talk about it. The locals didn’t. Keep Calm and Carry On. I still have the same collection in my office, along with a new appreciation for the spirit and resolve of the British people.