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on 29 September 2013
Early in 1916 two officers found an abandoned printing press just behind the lines in Ypres. With the help of a sergeant who had been a printer in civilian life, they launched a newspaper known as the Wipers Times. Over the next two-and-a-half years, twenty-three issues were produced, and facsimiles of these are collected in this excellent book. Some of the humour has dated, and many of the in-jokes leave the modern reader scratching his head; but much of it is timeless, and it is easy to see how it would have been appreciated at the time. The central (and wonderfully British) message being, "War isn't funny; but lets laugh at it anyway."
Whilst the Wipers Times itself is excellent, however, I would have appreciated a more extensive introduction. According to the paper itself, the print run was very small - at least initially (the editorial for the fourth issue speaks of increasing the run from 100 to 250 copies); so how did its fame spread quite so far? I would also have liked more information on some of the contributors (from other sources, I learn that the playwright R C Sherriff offered contributions, but if so they were anonymous); what the attitude of the powers-that-be was (since both the editor and the assistant editor were promoted twice between the paper's launch and the end of the war, and collected three decorations between them, the reaction must have been largely positive, but I think it would have warranted a mention); what if anything Hillaire Belloc thought about being sent up; and whether observers of other nations thought our leaders wise or mad to let such a publication flourish. An introduction that covered these questions would have involved a bit of work, but it would have been worth it in my opinion.