Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Humor in the Trenches — STOP THIS DAMM’D NONSENSE !

[1] Herbert Jenkins Ltd. facsimile edition, 1918.
The world wasn’t made in  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.’

[2] Vol. 2, No. 4, March 20, 1916. Squib about the German Flammenwerfer or flamethrowers in Flanders.

by John Adcock

At the end of World War I London’s Imperial War Museum collected hundreds of examples of “trench journalism.” Most of the titles were humorous. Among the titles were The C’s Fire, The Minor Offence, The Jackdaw, Bairn’s Gazette, The Con Camp Courier, The Dagger, The Pow-Wow, Maginot Murmurings, The Mudhook, Sub Rosa, and The Anti-Aircraft Spasm. The Americans had a weekly with cartoons called The Gas Attack published from Camp Wadsworth at Spartanburg, South Carolina. One publication stood out among all the others: THE WIPERS TIMES, a paper “written, set up, printed and circulated under fire.”

[3] Herlock Shomes at it Again starts in The Wiper Times, Vol. 1, No. 1, February 12, 1916.
THE WIPERS TIMES was a title inspired during World War I by the name of the little Belgian town of Ieper (its original Flamish name) or Ypres (as the French and English spelled it) located in the battlefields in the province of West Flanders — West Vlaanderen. And ‘Wipers’ is how the British read ‘Ypres’. The editor was Lieutenant-Colonel F.J. Roberts, the sub-editor Major J.H. Pearson. Poet and novelist Gilbert Frankau (One of Us and The City of Fear) was a contributor of prose and verse. Playwrite Robert Cedric Sherrif (Journey's End) was another literary contributor. J.O. Twiss contributed drawings.

[4] Eveleigh, Nash & Grayson Ltd. facsimile edition, June 1930.
Roberts recalled (‘How it Happened’, The Wipers Times and After, 1918) that the paper was “the result of the discovery of an old printing-house just off the Square at Wipers. Some printing-house and some square! There were parts of the building remaining; the rest was on top of the press. The type was all over the countryside… We lived in rat-infested, water-logged cellars by day and at Hooge by night…”
“They were produced on the original press up by the Cloth Hall in the days when the air was generally full of shells. One page only could be done at a time, and we had no ‘y’s’ or ‘e’s’ to spare when one page was in the ‘chaser.’ ”
[5] July 3, 1916.
No.1, Volume 1, of The Wipers Times or Salient News, appeared on Saturday, February 12, 1916, Printed and Published by Sherwood, Forester & Co. Ltd., Ypres and Hooge, 12 p., price 20 Francs.

[6] December 1, 1916.
The last Issue was The “Better Times” with which are incorporated The Wipers Times, The “New Church” Times, The Kemmel Times, The Somme-Times, and The B.E.F. Times. ‘Xmas, Peace and Final Number.’ Vol. 1, No. 2, December 1918, Printed and Published by Sherwood, Forester & Co. Ltd., B.E.F., 16 p., price 1 Franc. Prices were descibed asalleged.”

[7] February 12, 1916.
The paper consisted of parodic poetry, prose, columns, advertisements, and serials produced under the cannon’s mouth at different locations, under various title-changes, up unto Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. With every change of location and title the numbering would revert to Vol. 1, No. 1. The fatalistic humor in The Wiper Times was a last laugh in the face of Death.

[8] February 26, 1916.
“Remember that the hilarity was more often hysterical than natural, and that these are our first efforts at journalism, so your criticisms may be kind.”
[9] April 17, 1916.
A facsimile selection of the paper was printed and published in London as The Wipers Times and After by Herbert Jenkins Ltd., in 1918. Another London published facsimile, the first complete edition of The Wipers Times, appeared in June 1930 under the imprint of Eveleigh, Nash & Grayson Ltd. and was a popular seller at home as well as in North America. A third facsimile, The Wipers Times – a complete facsimile of the famous World War One trench newspaper, was published by P. Davies in 1973. Finally The Mysterious Bookshop published the Herlock Shomes at it Again serial in 1999 at twenty pages.

[10] Titlepages to facsimile reprints of The Wipers Times, 1918 and 1930.
[…] In a sense these are school magazines with the extra edge given by three special circumstances; the ‘schools’ were far removed from any way of life that could be called normal, nobody knew when term would end, and the games played on their playing fields were lethal ones. It is therefore not surprising that those who belonged to these curious private societies could feel very much aware of the contrast of commitment and sacrifice as between themselves and the world of the distant, uninvolved civilian. If there is any animus in their publications it is against him. The following ‘advertisement’ from The Mudhook, emanating from the vicinity of Ypres in November 1917, expresses a widely held attitude:
Holiday Exchange — Residence in pretty trench, south-east aspect with good views of Boche front line. Would exchange for holiday season with any armchair critic or over-age fight-to-the-finish hero with comfortable home in England

The Christmas 1917 edition offered the following gem:

Said a man to his wife down in Sydenham
‘My best trousers — where have you hydenham?
   It’s perfectly true
   They weren’t very new
But I foolishly left half a quydenham.’

Unusually, this limerick had no military reference. More typical are the following, from The Dump:

I once asked a Choleric Colonel
To write something short for this jolonel
   But I’m sorry to tell
   He replied ‘Go to ----’ well,
He consigned me to regions infolonel.

There once was a man in a trench
Whose dug-out was ‘bon’ (which is French).
  Till a Minnie one day
   Blew the whole thing away
But all that he said was ‘Don’t mensh.’

A ‘Minnie’ was a Minenwerfer, a bomb thrower, a particularly unpleasant German weapon. […]
[11]  Malcolm Brown, The Imperial War Museum Book of The First World War (1991 & 2002); his 9-page chapter titled ‘The War Experience; O What a Jolly Old War; Service Newspapers.
It’s tempting to speculate on whether Spike Milligan, writer and comedian on the famed Goon Show radio program, born into a military family, was familiar with the slangy satire and wingnut wordplay of the Wipers Times. Milligan was a great influence on the cast of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the prose writing of Beatle John Lennon. To bring us full circle the BBC recently announced HERE that Python member Michael Palin is to star in a brand new BBC Two TV drama about The Wipers Times this year. The show is after a script from Private Eye editor Ian Hislop and writing partner Nick Newman. The cast includes Michael Palin, Ben Chaplin, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Emilia Fox.

[12] Lieut-Col. F.J. Roberts, M.C. — editor of The Wiper Times.
There was a young girl of the Somme,
Who sat on a number five bomb,
She thought ‘twas a dud ’un,
But it went off sudden –

Her exit she made with aplomb!’

[13] German trenches — photograph from Das Antlitz des Weltkrieges, 1930.


  1. Do you know of any later Facsmile copies published similiar to Herbert Jenkins 1918 orginal. It would be something I imagine many people would be interested in seeing /owning especially in th light of Mr Hislops BBC drama?

  2. Abebooks sells a varity at different prices. A newer facsimile can be bought here >

  3. Can anyone point to any articles on what became of the men of the Wipers Times? It said at the end of the BBC drama that one of the officers went to North America to prospect and died in '64 and the other moved to South Africa (I think). I would be very interested in knowing more about these chaps.