War is Funny as Hell

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You may not know that even in the hell known as the European trenches of World War I, there were comic and satiric newspapers being published on all sides called Trench Newspapers. One of the most famous was The Wipers Times, based on an English mispronunciation of the town of Ypres (the decidedly bloody battle site that Hitler proudly fought in as a private and runner). The paper was produced from 1916 until the armistice and lampooned the craziness of trench warfare. Its tone was wry and gave comfort to war-weary soldiers, although ranking officers preferred to see the paper shut down.


There were other similarly sarcastic papers like the Canadian Dead Horse Corner Gazette that began in 1915; it was a self-described “monthly journal of breezy comment” produced by the 4th Battalion of the First Canadian Contingent. “Army commanders monitored and sometimes even censored the quasi-subversive papers, but ultimately recognized them as morale boosters and stopped short of shutting them down,” notes the website Military History Now.


And the French, known far and wide for their brilliant satirical journals, produced L’Esprit du Cor of the 66th Infantry. In fact, as many as 200 different newspapers were produced in French trenches, about twice as many as the Brits published.


The archive at the University of Pennsylvania notes that the American Expeditionary Force had soldiers’ self-produced newspapers like The Mess Kit that featured firsthand accounts of action on the Western Front as well as poems, columns and essays on the gamut of military gripes, from army food to fraternization with French women.


The Kaiser’s Germans, the enemy, produced a publication that was aimed at the allied troops, titled America in Europe, with short articles and cartoons—most of which suggested that doughboys fighting in France were dying needlessly in a largely British war.


But some of the most interesting of the wartime newspapers were not from the trenches but the POW camps that somehow had printing presses. Or, in the case of printing privations, this Civil War Confederate journal, The Prison Times, was hand-written and distributed from inmate to inmate.


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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →