The Wipers Times: A comedy startup from the depths of the trenches

Journalism is an industry which has spanned many centuries, and today there are so many different ways that you can write, both professionally and for fun. The invention of blogging is a relatively new concept, allowing more people to share their own unique stories to a mass audience. During the First World War journalism played a key role in communication about the war and in an interesting turn of events the creation of a humorous newspaper which helped lift the spirits of the troops, in what was an extremely dark time.

‘The Wipers Times’

When Captain Frederick Roberts and Lieutenant John Pearson of the 12th Sherwood Foresters regiment came across a damaged but fixable printing press in the cellar of a bombed out building in the Belgian city of Ypres in February 1916, they decided to produce a newspaper for the amusement of the frontline troops.

The printing press was repaired by one of the sergeants in their regiment, who was a printer in civilian life, and the newspaper ‘The Wipers Times’ was born.

The newspaper was named ‘Wipers’ as this was how the soldiers pronounced the city’s name ‘Ypres’. It ran for 23 issues and featured humour, gossip, satire, spoof ads and (often terrible) poetry.

Light relief in the darkest of times

‘The Wipers Times’ was a rare glimmer of light in the dark progress of the war and reveals much about the sense of humour and preoccupations of the soldiers in the trenches. Its regular cartoon showed a jumped-up officer with the caption: Are we being offensive enough?

The first edition of the newspaper, which was made up of 12 pages, was printed on 12 February 1916.

Only 100 copies were produced, and were quickly grabbed by Roberts and Pearson's fellow soldiers. Although there were only a limited number printed, due to the availability and cost of paper, a lot of troops read it, with each edition read by many different people. Some sections were even read out loud to those in dug-outs and trenches.

The paper's first editorial said:

There is much that we would like to say...but the shadow of censorship enveloping us causes us to refer to the war, which we hear is taking place in Europe, in a cautious manner.

One issue carried a pastiche of Rudyard Kipling’s 'If':

 

If you can drink the beer the Belgians sell you,
And pay the price they ask with ne'er a grouse,
If you believe the tales that some will tell you,
And live in mud with ground sheet for a house,
If you can live on bully and a biscuit,
And thank your stars that you've a tot of rum,
Dodge whizzbangs with a grin, and as you risk it
Talk glibly of the pretty way they hum,
If you can flounder through a C.T. nightly
That's three-parts full of mud and filth and slime,
Bite back the oaths and keep your jaw shut tightly,
While inwardly you're cursing all the-time,
If you can crawl through wire and crump-holes reeking
With feet of liquid mud, and keep your head
Turned always to the place which you are seeking,
Through dread of crying you will laugh instead,
If you can fight a week in Hell's own image,
And at the end just throw you down and grin,
When every bone you've got starts on a scrimmage,
And for a sleep you'd sell your soul within,
If you can clamber up with pick and shovel,
And turn your filthy crump hole to a trench,
When all inside you makes you itch to grovel,
And all you've had to feed on is a stench,
If you can hang on just because you're thinking
You haven't got one chance in ten to live,
So you will see it through, no use in blinking
And you're not going to take more than you give,
If you can grin at last when handing over,
And finish well what you had well begun,
And think a muddy ditch a bed of clover,
You'll be a soldier one day, then, my son.


The front page of The Wipers Times from 6 March 1916

The Wipers Times Charity Performance

To mark the centenary of Armistice Day, The Wipers Times will be staging a special performance on the afternoon of Sunday 11th November 2018.

This is an exclusive charity gala event in partnership with the Royal British Legion, and all proceeds will be donated in support of the ‘Thank You’ Campaign. The evening will include introductions from both the Chairman of the Royal British Legion and authors Ian Hislop and Nick Newman; who will also be appearing on stage after the performance for a post-show discussion and audience Q&A.

For more information and to book tickets, please visit the Arts Theatre Westend website here.

The newspaper throughout the war

Over the years, as the 12th Sherwood Foresters regiment moved around the Western Front the name of the newspaper changed. Throughout its production it was known as 'The "New Church" Times', 'The Kemmel Times', 'The Somme Times' and the 'The BEF Times'. The final copy of the newspaper at the end of the war was named 'The "Better Times"'.

Post war success

After the war, 'The Wipers Times' turned out to be so popular that a collected edition of all of the 23 issues was published in London in 1918 and then again in 1930.

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