Lieutenant-Colonel F.J. Roberts
commanded the 12th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters in WW1 between March 1917 and May 1918 and he was the Editor of the famous WIPERS TIMES.
It started as the result of discovering an old printing house, just off the square at Wipers. The press, covered in rubble was cleared and in in working order in a few days.
Some of the items appear here. This is how our ‘pals’ saw it!! Most of the pieces are unnamed.
The Wipers Times – BBC 2 – 2015
Full BBC Program:
Review of the Book with the complete set of the Wiper Times Reprints:
The Wipers Times: The Complete Series of the Famous Wartime Trench Newspaper:-
One of the great forgotten stories of the First World War begins in a basement below the ruins of Ypres. By 1916, the medieval Belgian city known as “Wipers” by British troops and surrounded by German territory, had been utterly demolished by almost constant bombardment. Soldiers lived underground in cellars among the heaving rats. Hundreds of thousands died here. Even by First World War standards, it was feared as the worst posting one could get.
But on Saturday, February 12, 1916, something remarkable emerged from the rubble. Holed up beneath the ramparts with an abandoned printing press, gramophone and a piano (which were played full blast to mask the sound of the German shells), Captain FJ “Fred” Roberts and Lieutenant JH “Jack” Pearson published the first edition of the Wipers Times.
Printed on A5 paper with a thistle motif and in a slightly wonky typeface (the letters “e” and “y” were in scarce supply), its 12 pages were filled with hilarious anecdotes of trench life and lampooned the military. From mock adverts for a variety performance at the Cloth Hall, Ypres, “the best ventilated hall in town”, to “Golf Notes” describing play over 18 holes in no-man’s-land, it proved an instant hit. All 100 copies sold out.
With Roberts as editor and Pearson as sub-editor, the pair produced 23 “numbers” of the paper from all over the Western Front despite being engaged in the worst of the fighting, where the average life expectancy was just six weeks. Both men were awarded the Military Cross for their bravery. Roberts – who became commanding officer of his battalion and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel – received his for heroism during the Battle of the Somme, where he fought in between hastily correcting proofs in the trenches.
The acerbic style, and its propensity to sail close to the wind of the censors, meant the Wipers Times was loved by soldiers and was far better read than the likes of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Its popularity led to it being reprinted in a collection in 1918 and 1930. Yet following the war, both editors slowly faded into obscurity.
Now, nearly 100 years on, the printing presses of the Wipers Times are to start rolling again. Ian Hislop, a long-term admirer of the newspaper, who credits it as a forerunner of satirical magazines such as Private Eye (which he edits), has co-written a new TV series based on its story. Due to be screened this year on BBC Two, it will see Michael Palin take up his first TV acting role for two decades. He will star alongside Ben Chaplin, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Emilia Fox.
It is hoped that the Wipers Times will follow Blackadder as one of the classic First World War comedies. Historians believe it will also address one of the great inaccuracies of the conflict: the sacrifice that British Army officers made alongside their men. Far from the buffoonery and cowardice of Captain Blackadder and co, it is estimated that one fifth of old boys from public schools were killed in the war.
“Blackadder does give a very distorted view of the experience of the officers in the war and that has been largely accepted,” says Dr Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College, whose book The Great War and The Public Schools is published in November.
“One of the great untruths about the war is in this very area. These officers were not port-swilling men moving characters around a board miles from the frontline. They were sweating blood and suffering in very similar conditions.”
Hundreds of trench newspapers were produced by individual units during the First World War. Names such as the 58th London Division’s Direct Hit, the Wiggle-Waggle and the Fifth Gloucester Gazette were circulated among well-thumbed copies of Rudyard Kipling, HG Wells and John Buchan. But few, if any, were produced as close to the frontline as the Wipers Times.
Roberts and Pearson were in the Sherwood Foresters, the 12th Battalion of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment, a pioneer battalion filled with former miners and engineers who were thrust into wherever the fighting was fiercest. Pages were often rushed to be printed in lulls between shelling. The mud of the trenches seeped into every page of their copy.
No. 3 Vol 1 of the Wipers Times, published on Monday March 6, 1916, and given a joke price of 200 francs due to a chronic paper shortage, begins – as ever – with an editorial by Roberts.
“Firstly we must apologise to our numerous subscribers for the delay in bringing our third number,” he writes. “Owing to the inclemency of the weather our rollers became completely despondent, also the jealousy of our local competitors, Messrs Hun and Co, bought some of the wall down on our machine.”
Another section, entitled “Sporting Notes”, gives a veiled account of a recent gas attack in the guise of a horse race. Mock adverts for music hall performances starring nicknames of the enemy artillery, “The Crumps, Little Pip-Squeak, Duddy Whizz-bang”, feature in many editions, promising “hair-raising” evenings of entertainment.
“Many cheery faces are missing from the division,” begins an editorial of a copy published on December 1, 1916, after a particularly bloody month. “And it seems we must get a new lot of contributors.”
But much of the satire of the Wipers Times skirts the chaos of war. Instead, life is described through the narrow lens of the most parochial of local papers. An appeal to fix a crack in the cathedral spire is an ongoing pun throughout early editions, as is an obsession with potholes.
One early letter to the editor from a correspondent called Well-wisher reads: “May I through the medium of your valuable paper call attention to the disgraceful state the roads are getting into. What, what, I ask, are our city fathers doing to allow such a state of things to come to pass?”
A brief mention of the death of Lord Kitchener in June 1916 is followed by a cheery editorial: “Meanwhile here everything has been merry and bright. The meat tea and social in aid of the fund for providing blue body bells for bucolic Belgians was an enormous success.”
“It’s a humour that has to do with the fact Ypres was the most horrible place to find yourself during any part of the war,” says Tristan Langlois, head of education at the National Army Museum.
“It was an indescribably dangerous place. But humour in the Army is a coping mechanism. There is something characteristically British about being able to do that.”
The aura of censorship hangs over the Wipers Times. The paper’s name was periodically changed to wherever the Sherwood Foresters were posted, incorporating the Somme Times, Kemmel Times and New Church Times. But by the end of 1916 it became known as the BEF [British Expeditionary Force] Times, “for reasons not unconnected to the censor”. Typically, Roberts continually makes light of those scrutinising his words.
“We hear that the war (to which we alluded guardedly in our first number) is proceeding satisfactorily,” he writes in an editorial for his second edition, “and we hope shortly to be able to announce that it is a going concern.”
But while similarly satirising British Army tactics, among other things by printing clothing adverts for those going over the top, there is a widespread acceptance of the war throughout the paper.
The tragic subtext of the Wipers Times is that for two men who had endured years of unspeakable suffering, adjusting to life away from the trenches was the greatest fear of all.
The final issue of the paper, by then called The Better Times, was published in December 1918 and contained a brief item entitled “The Horrors of Peace”.
“We have had a good look at the horrors of war, and now we are undergoing another sort of frightfulness. What a life! Can anyone tell us a nice war where we can get work and so save our remaining hair from an early greyness?”
Both men struggled to make the transition to peace. Historian Malcolm Brown, whose book Suffering From Cheerfulness: The Best Bits of the Wipers Times, contains a foreword by Ian Hislop, says Roberts failed to become a journalist before emigrating to Canada, where he died in relative obscurity in 1964. Little is known of Pearson.
But the extraordinary bravery and wit of both men in the most appalling of circumstances lives on. Somewhere still in a corner of the now rebuilt city of Wipers there is a cramped basement that is, and forever will be, theirs.”
Publisher of the famous “Wipers Times” at the front in World War One
The Wipers Times was a trench magazine that was published by British soldiers fighting on the front lines of the First World War.
In early 1916, the 12th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, 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 (Frederick John Roberts), MC, the sub-editor was Lieutenant (later Lieutenant-Colonel) J. H. Pearson (John Hesketh (“Jack”) Pearson), DSO, MC. A notable contributor to the paper was Artilleryman Gilbert Frankau. Also worthy of note are 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.
Cloth Hall. Ypres. Great Attraction This Week Messrs. INFANTRY, ARTILLERY & Co. Present their Screamingly Funny Farce, Entitled: "BLUFF" THIS FARCE PROMISES TO BE A GREAT SUCCESS AND A LONG RUN IS EXPECTED Example 2
BUILDING LAND FOR SALE BUILD THAT HOUSE ON HILL 60. BRIGHT-BREEZY- & INVIGORATING COMMANDS AN EXCELLENT VIEW OF HISTORIC TOWN OF YPRES. FOR PARTICULARS OF SALE APPLY:- BOSCH & CO MENIN.
Air Commodore H.A. Jones, First Official Historian of the R.A.F.