Newspaper From WW1 Trenches Makes A Comeback - German Style

Chiswick grandson of founder of 'Wipers Times' celebrates its centenary


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A Chiswick resident is celebrating the centenary of the "unofficial newspaper of the Western Front", written and edited by his grandfather, often under fire in the trenches at Ypres and the Somme.

The story of the 'Wipers Times' was turned into a BBC film written by Ian Hislop and starring Michael Palin, and is now the focus for a 'spoof' newspaper by a German publication.

Die Welt, the German broadsheet, has created a special edition of the British trench newspaper in a bid to persuade the UK to remain in the EU ahead of the referendum later this year.

Renamed “The Fritz Times” (in honour of the First World War nickname for Germans), it states: “One thing is undeniable and we proclaim it loud and clear: we are grateful that the British rescued democracy in the 20th century. Today, we need you for a successful European Union.”

Nick Roberts, who has lived in Chiswick for over thirty years, says he is very proud of his grandfather Col Fred (FJ) Robert's legacy. And he says, the 'spoof' newspaper has captured the British style of humour very well.

The spoof is the brainchild of Martin Lengemann, a staff photographer on Die Welt, who came up with idea for the project after a 750km trip along the old boundaries of the Western Front to mark the centenary of the Great War.

The original idea for the trench newspaper came on February 12th, 1916 when Col Roberts was holed up in a Ypres trench with a colleague Jack Pearson as part of the 12th Battalion, the Sherwood Foresters. They came across an abandoned printing press and decided to make use of it. 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.

It was named The Wipers Times, after the British soldiers’ pronunciation of 'Ypres’, and ran for 23 issues between February 1916 and December 1918. The 'spoof' newspaper is the 24th edition.

Nick Roberts says of his grandfather: "He took a lot of risks. He was correcting proofs of the paper in a hut at Hellfire Corner, Menin Road. But he did it for the Tommies, who lived in awful conditions, especially the pioneer battalions. It was an antidote to the situation really. He found a strain of humour that they could identify with. It was a good boost to morale."

Col Roberts was an adventurer by nature, had lived in Gibraltar, travelled in Malaya and trekked across north Borneo, before working with mining company De Beers in South Africa. When the War broke out in 1914, he returned to the UK and enlisted. As 2nd Lieut Roberts, he put in charge of a pioneer battalion and saw service in Ypres and at the Somme.

After the war he returned home to the UK to his wife and then ten-year old son- Nick's father. He worked in the Daily Mail for a while, before returning to a career in mining. In later life as a widower, he moved to America, married an American author and spent the rest of his life in Toronto, Canada.

Nick Roberts recalls his grandfather coming to visiting the family in the UK when he was aged eight. "We never asked about his personal experience in the war- you didn't talk about it in those days. He was a lovely man and had a twinkle in his eye. He bought me my first bike."

After his father's death, Nick read his grandfather's memoirs and became interested in the family connection with The Wipers Times.

He is delighted that the public interest in the newspaper has continued down through the years.

February 21, 2016

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