The Wipers Times was a trench magazine that was published by British soldiers fighting in the Ypres Salient during the First World War.
In early 1916, the 12th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, was stationed in the front line at Ypres, Belgium, and came across a printing press abandoned by a Belgian who had, in the words of the editor, "stood not on the order of his going, but gone." A sergeant who had been a printer in peacetime salvaged it and printed a sample page. The paper itself was named after Tommy slang for Ypres itself:
THE B.E.F. TIMES. with which are incorporated The Wipers Times, The "New Church" Times, The Kemmel Times & The Somme Times.
Publication was held up after February 1918 by the German offensive on the western front in that year, but at the end of the War two issues of "The Better Times" were published. The second of these was billed as the "Xmas, Peace and Final Number."
The names of the staff involved in the paper are mostly unrecorded. The editor was Captain (later Lieutenant-Colonel) F. J. Roberts (Frederick John Roberts), MC, the sub-editor was Lieutenant (later Lieutenant-Colonel) J. H. Pearson (John Hesketh ("Jack") Pearson), DSO, MC. A notable contributor to the paper was Artilleryman Gilbert Frankau. Also worthy of note are the engravings by E.J. Couzens; his portrait of a chinless platoon commander clutching his cane and wondering "Am I as offensive as I might be?" became the paper's motif.
Most other contributors from the Division used pseudonyms: some now obscure; some intended to satirize contemporary newspaper pundits such as William Beach Thomas (of the Daily Mail) and Hilaire Belloc; and some ironic, such as P.B.I. (Poor Bloody Infantry).
The paper consisted of poems, reflections, wry in-jokes and lampoons of the military situation the Division was in. In general the paper maintained a humorously ironic style that today can be recognised in satirical magazines such as The Duffel Blog, Private Eye, Le Canard enchaîné and The Onion.
The covers of each issue were mock adverts, richly typeset, for war-related music-hall extravaganzas. A few samples (not richly typeset) are given below:
Great Attraction This Week
Messrs. INFANTRY, ARTILLERY & Co.
Present their Screamingly Funny Farce,
THIS FARCE PROMISES TO BE A GREAT SUCCESS AND A LONG RUN IS
"DEAD COW FARM" CINEMA
GRAND OPENING NIGHT
THIS MARVELLOUS PLACE ERECTED AT FABULOUS EXPENSE WILL OPEN
ON THURSDAY NEXT WITH THE WONDERFUL FILM
"HE DIDN'T WANT TO DO IT."
"WATA FUNK" The Conscientious Objector.
PEEPS THROUGH A SNIPERS COPE.
FLOUNDERS IN FLANDERS.
PALACE OF VARIETIES
SPECIAL ENGAGEMENT OF THE AERIAL TROUPE
"THE FLYING PIGS"
FILM FARCE, ENTITLED :-
by the P.B.I. Film Co., of the United Kingdom and Canada
BOOK EARLY. CHARGES MOBILE.
There were also sales of no-man's land:
BUILDING LAND FOR SALE
BUILD THAT HOUSE
COMMANDS AN EXCELLENT VIEW OF
HISTORIC TOWN OF YPRES.
FOR PARTICULARS OF SALE
BOSCH & CO MENIN.
or the front-line at Ypres salient itself:
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"
The daily concerns of trench soldiers all make an appearance in the articles, sometimes explicit and sometimes as in-jokes for which outsiders would not have the key.
Shelling (whether from the enemy or one's own side): is referred to all through the magazine. There are occasional small ads purportedly from Minnie (German trench mortar) to Flying Pig (British ditto) and various poems complaining about, or apologising for, incidents where British guns shelled their own lines.
Sex: the collections of pornography known to the Division as "The Munque Art Gallery" and "Kirschner's" are frequently mentioned and occasionally advertised, as are the local brothels: the Fancies, the Poplar tree and Plug Street.
Drink: the continued supply of rum and whiskey was a prime concern for all at the front. In one serial story, Narpoo Rum, a certain 'Herlock Shomes' spent five issues tracking rum-thieves round Hooge. Brief references also turn up to panic buying of supplies by unnamed individuals in the Division after rumours of a whisky drought.
Rats: these bred in enormous numbers in the trenches, chiefly fed on corpses but with an eye for anything left in a dugout. One poem in the paper describes how a rat and his wife opened a tin of sardines, ate the contents then sealed the tin back up for the author to find.
The reality of life in the trenches rarely breaks through what the editor termed the paper's 'hysterical hilarity' but when it does, the gallows humour is clear and may appear callous to modern eyes. One example is a quote from an article in a British national newspaper about a bungled trench-raid, followed by a sharp comment from the editor of the Wipers Times:
"...They climbed into the trench and surprised the sentry, but unfortunately the revolver which was held to his head missed fire. Attempts were made to throttle him quietly, but he succeeded in raising the alarm, and had to be killed." This we consider real bad luck for the sentry after the previous heroic efforts to keep him alive.
Another such, from the column "Verbatim Extracts from Intelligence Summaries" reads as follows:
"At 10 p.m. the "Flying Pig" dropped a round in our front line at X 9 D 5 2. The trench was completely wrecked—the crater formed being 14 feet deep and 25 feet across. It is consoling to think that over 40 rounds have been fired from this gun into the enemy trenches during the last week."
(Very consoling to the P.B.I.)
Even the weather wasn't immune to it, if you wanted to lay odds on the forecasts:
5 to 1 Mist
11 to 2 East Wind or Frost
8 to 1 Chlorine.
Much of the copy submitted by soldiers of the Division was poetry. Some was good, some was doggerel and occasional pieces were excellent: but not all was welcome. The fourth issue contained this notice from the editor:
"We regret to announce that an insidious disease is affecting the Division, and the result is a hurricane of poetry. Subalterns have been seen with a notebook in one hand, and bombs in the other absently walking near the wire in deep communication with their muse. Even Quartermasters with "books, note, one" and "pencil, copying" break into song while arguing the point re "boots. gum, thigh". The Editor would be obliged if a few of the poets would break into prose as the paper cannot live by poems alone."
Nonetheless, much of the space in the paper was taken up by poems. Two typical examples are given below.
Realizing Men must laugh,
Some Wise Man devised the Staff : Dressed them up in little dabs Of rich variegated tabs : Taught them how to win the War On A.F.Z. 354 : Let them lead the Simple Life Far from all our vulgar strife : Nightly gave them downy beds For their weary, aching heads : Lest their relatives might grieve Often, often gave them leave, Decorations too, galore : What on earth could man wish more? Yet, alas, or so says Rumour,
He forgot a sense of Humour!
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 its plastered on us.
The paper is sprinkled with small paragraphs and half-column articles such as "People We Take Our Hats Off To" (frequently the French), "Things We Want to Know", "Answers to Correspondents" and small ads. Some were obviously spoofs:
LONELY PRESIDENT wishes correspond with anyone.
Can write charming note. Has corresponded with most of the crowned heads of Europe.-
Write "Dignitas,"Washington, U.S.A.
To Subaltern: Yes, every junior officer may carry a F.M.'s baton in his knapsack, but we think you'll discard that to make room for an extra pair of socks before very long.
TO LET-;Fine freehold estate in salubrious neighbourhood. Terms moderate. Owner going east shortly.-;Apply Bosch and Co., Messines.
While others were not for outsiders:
Things We Want To Know
The name of the celebrated infantry officer who appears daily in the trenches disguised as a Xmas tree.
How much money changed hands when it was known that he didn't get married on leave.
Whether a certain officer is shortly publishing a little song entitled "Why was I so careless with the boots."
To Troubled.-;Certainly think you have just complaint against people in the next dugout, and if you care to take the matter further there is no doubt you will get damages. It certainly was scandal if, as you affirm, the picture was one of Kirschner's.
We regret a further rise in property today.