Black Humour

Lest we forget! Those involved in the Great War were also human - which means they often resorted to black humour to illustrate their feelings, relieve tensions and make sharp comment on people and events that concerned them.

Examples can be found in publications like the "Wipers Times"

 

The Wipers Times

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The Wipers Times was a trench magazine published by soldiers fighting on the front lines of the First World War.

In early 1916, the 12th Battalion 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 names of the staff involved in the paper are mostly unrecorded. The editor was Captain (later Lieutenant-Colonel) F J Roberts MC, the sub-editor was Lieutenant (later Lieutenant-Colonel) J H Pearson DSO, MC.

 

"Am I as offensive as I might be?"

Notable contributors to the paper include Artilleryman Gilbert Frankau and 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 PBI (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 Private Eye, Le Canard Enchaîné and The Onion.


The paper was produced at irregular intervals between early February 1916 and February 1918. The title changed each time the division was moved to another part of the Line: the old titles were carefully incorporated into it, and by the last wartime issue its full title was:
 

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."