In early 1916, Captain F.J. Roberts and Lieutenant J.H. Pearson salvaged an abandoned printing press from the ruins of Ypres in Northern France and started their own trench newspaper, written by and for the British Infantry. The initial title, 'The Wipers Times', says a lot about the audience they were pitching for - Wipers being the classic tommy's mispronunciation of the French town of Ypres.
That informality is continued throughout the paper, which set out to cast a satirical eye at the war and those who were (mis)running it. No target was sacred as the number of the paper's contributors grew. Every issue was chock full of limericks, humourous poems, fake advertisments and short stories that cocked a thumb at the Generals, at the public back home, at the Kaiser and the Germans.
There is a tendency to assume that the experiences of the British during the First World War were unrelentingly grim, but as the introduction in this collection says, we have become so convinced of the hell that we tend to forget there was laughter, and it was that laughter that made the hell bearable. This collection reminds us that the average soldier's response was far from being one of misery and self-pity but one of casual, cheery contempt for the authority that they served and a bull-headed defiance to be beaten down.
What we have here is essentially every edition of the said paper, with a short foreword by Ian Hislop and a rather nice introduction which puts the paper in context. It's fantastic to have the whole series of the paper reprinted at last under one cover. For those with any sort of interest in the British Army in France between 1914 - 1918 this is indispensable reading, words direct from the soldier's own mouths, as it were.