Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, December 15, 2014

Does Your Loved One Pine for Maconochie with Tickler's Plum and Apple Jam for Dessert?

Or has he decorated his den with sand bag walls and duck board flooring? Then, just possibly — like the editors of Roads to the Great War — he is afflicted with Western Front-itis. We know at Roads to the Great War that this is a particularly troublesome malady for their families to deal with at this time of the year. Just what to get them for Christmas? In their personal collections they probably  already have an authentic Princess Mary gift box, or Horatio Kitchener or Uncle Sam in a poster calling them to duty, or a  Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred medal set. And period clothing, such as that advertised below, is just impossible to find in the 21st century. So, just what "over the top" present can you get for the World War I enthusiast in your life?

Original Ad from The Wipers Times
Fortunately, Kimball our assistant editor has been researching this matter for our readers and has discovered the latest "must have" for our fellow aficionados: the story of the Wipers Times.

Two Scenes from the Movie

Top: A Functioning Printing Press Is Discovered in Ypres;
Bottom: In the Trenches on the Somme

The story of the most famous trench newspaper of the war, The Wipers Times, is now available on DVD and the production is simply superb. The 90-minute dramatization starts with the discovery by Captain Fred Roberts's (Ben Chaplin in a +++ performance) unit of pioneers of a forgotten printing press in the town of Ypres, where they are quartered. After they learn their top sergeant is a skilled printer, and Roberts and his assistant Lt.  Jack Pearson rationalize their appropriating it for their own use, they decide to go into the newspaper business. Now as proprietors and editor/assistant editor of a new publication some decisions need to be made. What title? Well only the "Times" sounds sufficiently trustworthy, but it needs its own cachet, so they decide to add the printing location (as pronounced by the Tommies); hence, the Wipers Times was born. What material to present? Well, the new editors, being junior officers stuck in the frontline trenches,  instinctively target those above them (the brass), behind them (staff officers), and hovering over them (the Fates, responsible for imposing the calamity of trench warfare). Naturally, the the Times is soon a big hit with the troops and an annoyance to members of the high command and general staff.

Order Now

The video follows the adventures of the group through the rest of the war, performing  their normal duties, which involve a lot of trench maintenance, while producing a hit publication, the greatest challenge of which is the never ending struggle for new, fresh material. Two features of the film add considerably to this base narrative.  To give the viewer a feel for the content and wicked humor of the newspaper, the setting regularly shifts to a slightly surrealistic cabaret, where the soldiers we have been watching are now the performers for the comedy sketches, songs, and poems published in the Wipers Times. In contrast, there are some surprising hard-core combat episodes covering the period when the men and officers of the unit are sent to the Somme as infantry. These include one of the most authentic feeling over the top sequences I've seen in a Great War film (and I've seen a lot of them.)

So if you are  looking for the perfect WWI present for someone whose interest in it is boundless,  a DVD of The Wipers Times is perfect.

1 comment:

  1. This entry was delightful--and a marvelous take on the style of The Wipers Times. If I didn't already have the DVD and the book, I'd be a customer tonight! David B.