Wipers Times - Theatre Show
The Wipers Times was a newspaper created by Captain Fred Roberts and his battalion during the First World War produced in the trenches themselves. The 12th Battalion Sherwood Foresters faced some very serious scenes they were present at Ypres and the Somme with Captain Fred decorated with the military cross for bravery. They were under no illusions about the awful nature of war, 'Most of us have been cured of any little illusions we may have had about the pomp and glory of war, and know it for the vilest disaster that can befall mankind'. This is echoed in their humour, one ad read, ‘Are you a victim to optimism?...do you sometimes think the war will end within the next twelve months?...do you consider or leaders are competent?'.
|Copyright: The Wipers Times|
There are many responses to war - fear it, glamorize it, or satirize it. Drawing on the traditions of both music hall - Hind and berg: sword swallowers and nail eaters at the Cloth Hall - 'the best ventilated hall in the town' (it was a ruin); and high-literature (Kipling, Shakespeare, Arthur Conan Doyle) they punned their way to hope right in the midst of battle. They played close to the wire when it came to respected war correspondents both Hilaire Belloc and Beach Thomas's names are spoonerised and spoof articles written to illustrate just how far from reality their articles had departed. The bureaucrats of the war machine also do not get off lightly - Roberts took their regular request to 'up the offensive' as a rallying cry for the paper, 'Are we as offensive as we might be?'.
The stage show written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman did a good job of translating a newspaper into a stage show; the show tunes and adverts translate particularly well. They also added extra context showing the war leaders, people at home and the impact of war on the veterans future careers all of which I thought was helpful. Although it was an entertaining show it was also a 'thinker'. I was very moved by the performance of 'To My Chum' a poem which featured in the print version of Wipers Times from the pen of a private in the trenches, reproduced in part here:
|Confessions of an alcohol slave advert. Copyright: The Wipers Times|
'We’ve shared what shelter could be had
The same crump hole
when the whizz-bangs shrieked;
The same old billet that always leaked,
And now – you’ve stopped one.'
It is precise, concise poetry that cuts to the heart of a man grieving his friend.
To face fear head on and to laugh seems such an appropriate response, and the show a great way to remember in all its complexity.
Savage Ink - A temporary exhibition at PHM
The Savage Ink exhibition illustrates the rich tradition that Wipers Times drew on; showcasing satirical cartoons from the 18th century onward including several works by Hogarth, Gillray and Fluck drawing right up to the present day cartoons criticising the Labour cabinet views on Trident.
|Gillray, Substitutes for Bread|
One of the most interesting cartoons is Gillray's, 'Substitutes for Bread' (1795) which shows Pitt, his Chancellor Loughborough and other ministers tucking into many lavish substitutes for bread; venison, turtle soup, champagne whilst the people outside starve. In 1795 the UK was at war with France and was running out of both money and commodities. The Board of Agriculture sent out pamphlets suggesting people substitute their expensive tastes for white bread with mixed grain loaves and eat more meat and fish instead, in a bid to help the war effort. This is all rather akin to Marie Antoinette's, 'Qu'ils mangent de la brioche' and the unrealistic expectations of those in power on those living with the reality of their decisions.
It seems if you had money in 1795 you could enjoy pretty much anything you liked, and the poor paid the price for war; nothing changes does it.
This remembrance day I pray, with Captain Fred and Gillray, never again.