Penned by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman of Private Eye fame, the 90-minute production brought to life the story behind the trench magazine produced by British soldiers from the 12th Battalion Sherwood Foresters (Nottingham & Derbyshre Regiment), 24th Division. The whole production really echoed the satirical, black humour behind the magazine with a real undercurrent of bravery and pluck displayed by the men who endured the awful conditions of trench warfare. "It's almost as if we were entrenched," said Editor Captain F.J Roberts Roberts in one scene expressing his black mood. If you watched it — you’ve probably been left wanting more and like me itching to read the original articles... Fortunately, when I came into work on Monday morning I had discovered that Forces War Records had managed to track down a copy of the editions of The Wipers Times, and its following editions including The Somme Times, The BEF Times, The Kemmel Times and The New Church Times, which are now available to read via the website. Contributors from the Division intended to satirise newspaper pundits such as William Beach Thomas (of the Daily Mail) and prolific writer of the time Hilaire Belloc, and you’ll be laughing your socks off at the content, reading in disbelief that these funny poems and mock adverts were all created in the misery of the trenches of World War I. At the start of one edition the text reads: "Any shortcomings in production must be excused on the grounds of inexperience and the fact that pieces of metal of various sizes have punctured our press." Below is an exert: “The world wasn't made in a day, And Eve didn't ride on a bus, But most of the world's in a sandbag, The rest of it's plastered on us.” And the rest is history... It all started in early 1916 when the 12th Battalion were stationed in the front line at Ypres, Belgium and stumbled upon a printing press. A sergeant who was once a printer in peacetime got it up and running and produced a sample page. And the rest is history, as editor Captain F.J Roberts and sub-editor Lieutenant F.H Pearson set to work producing content. The name for the paper ‘Wipers’ was actually Tommy slang for Ypres, and even though it was composed and produced amongst the mud, the lice, the rats, disease, death, the gas and the shelling — the content was far from depressing… As the programme highlighted — the paper consisted of wry in-jokes, sarcastic prose, poems, and satires of the dire military situation and daily concerns of trench soldiers. It had a wonderful quirky and sarcastic humour for its time and maintained a humorously ironic and mocking style. Personally, I love this sort of mocking and resilient British banter and to find it in evidence nearly 100 years ago, during such harrowing times really is quite astonishing and at the same time really heart-warming. A line from one a poem in the paper said: “Through dread of crying you will laugh instead.” Watching the programme I was reminded of a Ken Kesey quote: “You can't really be strong until you can see a funny side to things.” And one scene that summed this up was when an angry staff officer wanted to ban The Wipers Times, as he thought it was encouraging disobedience. He said to the General: “The war is not funny, Sir.” To which the General replied: “I've a feeling that may be the point.” It must have been rewarding to have been able to bring a little bit of light to the men far from home in such a dark, frustrating and terrifying world. Coming from a newspaper background myself, I can quite see where the urge came from to produce and print something that would unite and entertain people. Did your ancestor serve in Ypres or the Somme? Maybe they read the Wipers Times or the Somme Times? Log on to Forces War Records, research your family history and read the The Wipers Times for yourself. Watch the BBC drama on the BBC iPlayer. Below is another example of some of the content:
THE SALIENT ESTATE
COMPLETE IN EVERY DETAIL
INTENDING PURCHASERS WILL BE SHOWN ROUND ANYTIME DAY OR NIGHT
UNDERGROUND RESIDENCES READY FOR HABITATION
Splendid Motoring Estate! Shooting Perfect !!
NOW'S THE TIME. HAVE A STAKE IN THE COUNTRY.
NO REASONABLE OFFER REFUSED,
DO FOR HOME FOR INEBRIATES OR OTHER CHARITABLE INSTITUTION.
Delay is Dangerous! You might miss it!!
Apply for particulars etc., to
Thomas, Atkins, Sapper & Co., Zillebeke
HOUSEBREAKERS: WOOLEY, BEAR, CRUMP & CO. TELEGRAMS: "ADSUM, WIPERS"