Just returned from a tour of Ypres and the Somme. Driving through the Lille Gate at Ypres we stopped to visit the rooms in the ancient ramparts where the satirical WIPERS TIMES was produced. Most will know of this brilliantly witty trench newspaper, championed by Ian Hislop, through his telly programme and the facsimile he edited (2006). The satire was often seditious, and would not have been tolerated for a moment by the Germans. ‘Having managed to pick up a printing press (slightly soiled) at a reasonable price, we have decided to produce a paper.’ So began the editorial of the first Wipers Times (Ypres was ‘Wipers’ to Tommy) dated February 12, 1916. The working press had been salvaged from the ruins of the city. The editor warned that their effort might ‘come to an untimely end’ through ‘attentions by our local rival, Messrs. Hun and Co.’ But it continued to be published until December 1918 (23 numbers in all, with an interruption during the 1918 German offensive), under various titles, sometimes reflecting where its editor, Captain (later Lt-Col) ‘Fred’ Roberts and sub-editor, Lt (later Major) JH Pearson, of the 12th Sherwood Foresters (a pioneer battalion of mostly miners), were posted. In its poems, limericks, phoney small ads and news items, the Wipers Times offered an antidote to the jingoistic posturing of Fleet Street, and the misplaced confidence of official communiqués – see the extract reproduced here entitled ‘Are you a victim to OPTIMISM?’ I particularly like this ad –

BE IN THE FASHION. Why have Cats, Dogs, Canaries, Rabbits, Parrots etc.? LICE! Most clinging, affectionate, and taking ways. Very prolific, hardy, and will live anywhere. Once you have them you will never be without. In Dainty Pochettes at 2d – per Thousand.

The letters pages mocked the pomposity of letter writers to the real London Times – ‘May I through the medium of your valuable paper call attention to the disgraceful state the roads are getting into.’ Another feature was ‘Things We Want To Know’ like – ‘1. Who discovered the Salient 2. Why?’A running gag was the catchphrase ‘Am I as offensive as I might be?’, originally a cartoon entitled ‘Questions a Platoon Commander should ask himself’. Parodies and puns were both funny and cynical, as in this ad for a show – ‘Over the Top – a Screaming Farce’; and this for a self-help course: ‘Can You Sketch? No? I can’t either, but write for my illustrated booklet… An ARTILLERY MAJOR writes: I find myself greatly benefited by your course. I can even draw fire.’