Portsmouth, Alien Invasion – Defy Them Poster

We’ve already seen that one way in which the citizens of Portsmouth kept their spirits up during the alien invasion by the Squirmy Munge of the early part of the twentieth century was through comics, and in particular the well-received Commander Pompey publication.

Another way, and one common with most of the greater wars in recent centuries, was through motivational posters, the most famous of which was the Defy Them poster that first started appearing on walls in and around the city in late 1919. Present day Portsmouth has a thriving local art scene and it can clearly be seen that this talent was alive and well in 1919 too. However, it’s not just the wonderful example of art deco design that made this particular war poster so famous. It happens to have a rather bizarre history to it too.


A tale started circulating in the city of a young woman named Abigail Ball. Abigail – it was claimed – had been walking through the Baffins area of Portsmouth when a Squirmy Munge landing craft dropped onto the ground in front of her. As the hatch on the craft hissed open and too afraid to run or scream Abigail did the first thing she could think of and performed an interpretive dance routine. The hatch closed up, the craft lifted off, and Abigail lived to tell her tale. Quite a fanciful story but it proved popular among the locals.

The posters started to appear not long after and dancing to defy became a regular pastime for the people of Portsmouth. It was believed that the elusive and mysterious Abigail herself had designed, printed, and put up the posters as each one had the signature “Ball, A” on the back in fine print.

However, in 1927 – long after the alien invasion had been repelled – in an interview with the local newspaper a Mrs Jenny Smith of Buckland admitted that she had invented the Abigail story and had produced the posters not because of any fighting spirit but rather to drum up trade for her ballet school which had been on the verge of financial collapse owing to the war. As is the nature of these things most people decided to disbelieve this version of the events and the legend of Abigail Ball and the Defy Them poster lives on to this day.

Author: Mark

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