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Newspaper inspired by First World War’s Wipers Times created to mark centenary

By Press Association

A newspaper inspired by the historic Wipers Times created by First World War soldiers has been recreated to mark the centenary of the war.

The Flanders Fields Post newspaper is published as a one-off today and distributed in London, Glasgow and Manchester, to commemorate 100 years since Britain joined the First World War.

The publication is inspired by the famous Wipers Times – the original trench newspaper produced by frontline soldiers during the Great War.

And the grandson of the soldier who first produced the historic paper said it was a chance for his grandfather to be recognised for his own contribution to improving troops' morale.

The Wipers Times, which combined black humour and satirical swipes at allies and enemies alike, was set up after troops discovered an abandoned printing press on the battlefield and used it to produce the paper.

It was first produced by Captain FJ Roberts and Lieutenant JH Pearson in 1916 while being stationed in Ypres and from there the idea grew to produce a newspaper contributed to by frontline soldiers with plenty of humorous, satirical in-jokes, poems, mockery of the prevailing military situation.

The story of The Wipers Times, whose front covers depicted adverts for war-related music-hall shows and included topics such as mortar shelling, contraband alcohol, and rat infestation, was dramatised in 2013 on the BBC by Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, starring Michael Palin and Emilia Fox.

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To mark the centenary of the start of the war, the Flanders Fields Post has been produced by Visit Flanders, the official tourism agency for Flanders and Brussels.

It is aimed to be an informative guide to Flanders Fields and First World War history with contributions from historians, schoolchildren and will include an interview with Nick Roberts, grandson to Captain FJ Roberts, of the 12th Battalion Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment).

Roberts, 67, said: "To think that while being under enemy fire, my grandfather and other soldiers were able to produce the Wipers Times is quite incredible.

"Displaying a very British sense of humour in the face of overwhelming adversity, they defied authority and gas attacks, demonstrating the resilience of the human spirit.

"The newspaper was a huge success on the western front and he'd be proud that the newspaper had inspired Visit Flanders to produce a limited edition of The Flanders Fields Post."

Roberts, from Chiswick, west London, said it was "vital" to remember the First World War 100 years on: "A million people lost their lives in the war, France lost a whole generation.

"Although we remember these people on November 11, I think this is a good time to re-gather our thoughts and remember what appalling conditions they fought in and what a terrible time they had. It was not the jolly jape they all thought it was going to be."

He said today's newspaper was "his turn" to make sure his grandfather was recognised for his contribution to improving troops' morale.

"There's five of us grandchildren and I think we all feel that he never really got the rewards that he deserved although he didn't look out for them himself, for improving the morale of the troops.

"Now it's his day and I hope I do him justice."

The Flanders Fields Post will include features and articles including an interview with historian Professor Sir Hew Strachan; an article by two 14-year-old schoolchildren after a trip to the battlefields; and an interview with Charlotte Czyzyk, researcher at Imperial War Museum North, who is a battlefield tour guide in her spare time.

It will also contain a sports section and looks back to the Christmas Truce football matches of 1914 and the Passchendaele Memorial Cricket Cup, set to take place on August 16-17 this year.

Andrew Daines, director of Visit Flanders UK and Ireland, said: "World War One turned out to be one of the deadliest wars and changed the face of history.

"The contribution and sacrifice made by the hundreds and thousands of men from across the UK and around the world, and the impact it had and continues to have on society is almost beyond comprehension.

"Flanders Fields bore witness to some of the worst atrocities, as well as stories displaying immense humility.

"Through this newspaper, we invite people to visit, to reflect, to remember and to learn from this monumental period in history."

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