Grumpy old fart!!!

"If you talk to God you're religious. If God talks to you, you're psychotic."

To My Chum – The Wipers-Times – 1916

To My Chum - The Wipers-Times - 1916

The poem “To My Chum”, written by an infantry private of the Sherwood Foresters who had lost his friend, is impossible to read without at least a twinge of sorrow.

 

The Wipers Times: The Soldier’s Paper

Dark humour has long been a mechanism used by soldiers to cope with the grim realities of war. One of the best examples of this humour from the First World War (1914-18) exists in the newspaper ‘The Wipers Times’, which was arguably the finest of many trench publications produced during that war.

It was the brainchild of Captain Fred Roberts and Lieutenant Jack Pearson of 12th Battalion, The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment). Amidst the ruins of the heavily shelled city of Ypres (called ‘Wipers’ by the soldiers) they found a damaged but serviceable printing press. A sergeant in the regiment, who was a printer in civilian life, was able to get it working and from it they produced a witty and sophisticated newspaper, a cross between a parish magazine, school magazine and the illustrated magazines of the day.

The first edition of 100 copies of ‘The Wipers Times’ was printed on Saturday, 12 February 1916, and was rapidly snapped up by Roberts’s and Pearson’s comrades. Although the print runs were small – limited by the availability and cost of paper – each copy would have passed through many hands and parts read out loud in dug-outs and trenches, so the readership was significant.

As the 12th Sherwood Foresters were moved around at the front, so the title of the newspaper changed too – being at various stages ‘The “New Church” Times’, ‘The Kemmel Times’, ‘The Somme Times’ and then ‘The B.E.F. Times’. This last title was apparently adopted ‘for reasons not unconnected with the censor’, though it is interesting to note that Roberts said that they generally had little trouble with the censors. Its final title at the end of the war was ‘The “Better Times”‘.

The content of ‘The Wipers Times’ and its successors is written with wit, admirably never straying into smut or vulgarity. Often the articles satirised popular poets and authors, such as the mock serial featuring ‘Herlock Shomes’ or the diary of Lieutenant Samuel Pepys.

The papers were also the perfect place to take out the authors’ frustration at certain journalists who produced overwrought and self-aggrandising articles from the front. William Beech Thomas of the ‘Daily Mail’ was a particular target. ‘Our special correspondent Mr Teech Bomas’ wrote the following purple prose entitled ‘We Attack at Dawn’:

‘All was still as the first flush of dawn lit the sky. Then suddenly the atmosphere was riven by the crescendo chorus which leapt to meet the light as a bridegroom to his bride. The delicate mauve and claret of the dawning day was displaced by a frothy, and furious fandango of fire. The giant trogolythic ichnyosaurus crept fawning from their lairs, and gambolled their way to the line oblivious of anything that barred their passage. The disgruntled bosom of mother earth heaved with spasmodic writhings as the terrible tornado tore the trees. I was picking wallflowers in Glencorse Wood when all this happened, and even now the memory of that zero hour is with me.’

National Army Museum

November 13, 2016 Posted by | Social History, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Vintage Sunday

Being Remembrance Sunday my first selection are some cards drawn by a WW1 serving soldier, Private Fergus Mackain and Published on the Mail Online

There is also a book of the surviving cards published on Amazon

A Tommy’s Life in the Trenches

Light-hearted and ironic in tone they often are, but these colourful postcards chronicle real life in the trenches, too.

And for the Tommies of World War I, they were one way of reassuring their loved ones back at home that they were all right, while sparing them the terror of what fighting on the Western Front was really like.

They were drawn by Private Fergus Mackain, an advertising artist who enlisted in 1915 and served in France with the Royal Fusiliers. 

Then aged 29, Mackain, a married father-of-two who was born in America to a British father from Gosport, Hampshire, travelled by sea from his home in New York to join up, working his passage by feeding livestock on the two-week voyage on board the SS Lancastrian.

After being wounded in the Somme and taken out of front-line duty in 1917, he was transferred to the Royal Army Service Corps and began producing his postcards for soldiers.

All the surviving cards Mackain drew, the majority of which are from a series called Sketches Of Tommy’s Life, were recently collected together for the first time and published in a book ahead of Remembrance Sunday.

Like the better-known Bruce Bairnsfather, another serving soldier who created a curmudgeonly British Tommy called Old Bill, Mackain uses gentle humour to underscore a grim reality.

His postcards light-heartedly follow the experiences of a soldier from training to the front line, but there is incredible poignancy, too. One shows a Tommy trudging across duckboards towards the trenches in a gloomy, forbidding landscape.

Then there are the pitfalls of life on the front line. A weeping soldier holds his head in his hands after dropping the rifle he’d spent two hours cleaning into a waterlogged trench.

Yet the determination to keep smiling never fades from Mackain’s work.

One card, part of a series called The Cheerful Tommy, depicts a soldier crouching for cover as enemy shells explode around him along with the ironically hearty messages ‘Compliments from France’ and ‘Good morning! Everything’s as right as rain!’.

In Britain, postcards that contained military or war material were censored by the Press Bureau for Censorship from September 1916. But this did not affect Mackain’s cards as they were published in France.

He was discharged from the Army, aged 32, in 1918 on medical grounds. Returning to New York, he resumed his work as an illustrator, divorced his wife and remarried in 1922.

He died at the age of 37, in 1924, from pulmonary tuberculosis, believed to have been caused by gas attacks or the ‘general conditions’ of life on the front line.

November 13, 2016 Posted by | Deltiology, Social History, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 3 Comments