Monday, 4 September 2017


The 'Wipers Times' was a series of newspapers produced by men of the 12th Battalion 'Sherwood Foresters' Regiment stationed at Ypres in Belgium during the Great War.  Searching for material to make and secure dugouts they came upon a printing press and commandeered this as an aid to regiment, indeed Divisional moral.  One of the men being a printer got this working and his boss Captain (later Lieutenant-Colonel) F. J. Roberts (Frederick John Roberts) who was to win the Military Cross decided to go with it.  The captain became editor, rank pulling and Lieut J.H.Pearson DSO. MC, who also later became Lieutenant-Colonel sub edited the paper.  The 12the battalion belonged to the 24th Division and spread copies of the paper throughout.

These were men who volunteered during the patriotic days of 1914.  By late 1915 these men were becoming used to trench warfare and learning the cost of war.  By February 1916 serving at Ypres (called Wipers by the British as they refused to speak in the manner of the locals) and having already lost men to the war some satire/sarcasm re the war found an outlet.  
The salient in which they served was under constant fire.  Artillery often hindered the printing, men often went to work in the line and did not return, casualties continued and so the requirement for satire grew daily.  Adverts such as the above were common in the paper.  Ads for houses for sale along the 'Menin Road' (the centre of the battlefield) mentioned noisy neighbours and 'good shooting.'  

The British encouraged officers to be 'offensive.'  We were not here to sit and wait but to attack and push the Hun out of Belgium.  The cartoon above speaks well of the type of officer available to the division I fear.  'People we take out hats off to' section included 'The person who introduced the order forbidding company commanders to go beyond their front line trench.'  Also a point regarding the press 'Whether the London papers are aware there are a few British troops on this western front.'  

 'Pop' was Poperinge a nearby town of rest.

The press was not something the troops respected.  Full of patriotic bravado long lost among the men at the front they detested and spoofed the works of Hillare Belloc and William Beech Thomas who wrote it appears in a manner not to the liking of the troops.  While the fighting men had no desire to give up they also had no false understanding of the war.  Patriotic ill informed nonsense led to the items by 'Teech Bomas' and 'Belary Helloc.'  Both claimed to know how to win the war, Bomas had been in the front line defeating the enemy and of course neither were anywhere near it, the troops despised such men.  

Poetry was abundant among the officer class, who mostly sent in items for use.  And far too much appeared in the paper.  While it filled space not enough prose arrived and the editor often asked for contributions other than poetry.  It still arrived however.  Much was humorous, some poignant, most just acceptable.  It is fair to say none appeared amongst the great poetic works after the war.

The letters pages appears realistic in that only people grumbling about something appear to communicate.  Here they complain about the road, under constant fire, and the smell in the air, chlorine or Mustard gas.  All the while these men were fighting and suffering from a very unhealthy war.  Many obtained medals, many never returned.  The unknown contributors who cheered their mates may still lie as yet undiscovered somewhere under the salient.

The end of the war brought no celebrations among the division, they were just glad it was finished.  These men had fought a good fight and won.  The cause they entered the war for was a different cause from that which enabled them to win it, they endured and won and the survivors could return triumphantly but to what?  Having suffered the damage of war, often grumbling it was from their own artillery, they returned to 'Blighty.'  As a successful editor Frederick John Roberts tried to join a newspaper on his return but was offered only the post as a crossword compiler!  Work even for officers was scarce, we had a Conservative chancellor with an 'austerity' budget in power, and Roberts moved to Canada where he saw ought his life unheeded.  Rather a sad end but many heroic men endured much and returned to nothing whatsoever.  A reasonably happy family life with mixed emotions was the lot of the majority though those with bits missing may have found it harder going. 
The 'black humour' found in the trenches is with us still and is an important part of keeping us sane and stable in everyday life, I hope that never changes.

Some more from yesterday.


the fly in the web said...

Super to see The Wipers Times again...with that question I often pose I as offensive as I might be...

And the homecoming that awaited the men who fought in that fit for heroes my work...a VC might get you a job as a commissionaire; officers losing their money in trying to run chicken farms...

Then I look at what awaits the men who fight America`s wars today as the British government send them out as mercenaries....

As you say, black humour gets one through. Those who served under him said that my father`s reaction to an `ooh nasty` in action was
If you can`t take a joke you shouldn`t have joined...

Those cars were super...Leo remembers not buying a puce pink E type dirt cheap at auction on the grounds that if he did girls would think he had money and would want to be taken to expensive restaurants.

Adullamite said...

Fly, Being 'offensive' in banks must be acceptable? So glad Leo has not changed!

Lee said...

I love the cars shown here and below. They're so much more interesting than the car styles of today...yesterday and tomorrow

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

I had never heard of The Wipers Times before. It stands as a brilliant example of battered men trying to make the best of their woeful circumstances.

Adullamite said...

Lee, Indeed, these are classic in every way.

Jerry, There were a few other such papers in the trenches. Partly as an answer to the rubbish in the daily media of the time.