Mercian Regiment soldiers invited to opening night of First World War play at The Birmingham Rep

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Soldiers from the Mercian Regiment have been given the chance to meet the team behind a new play in Birmingham.

Have I Got News For You’s Ian Hislop and cartoonist Nick Newman penned The Wiper Times, which tells the tale of the birth of a satirical newspaper in the trenches.

As the publication was started by members of the Sherwood Foresters, which later became the Mercian Regiment, the creators invited current military personnel to the opening night at the Birmingham Rep.

Ian Hislop and Nick Newman with members of the Mercian Regiment

Ian Hislop and Nick Newman with members of the Mercian Regiment

Ian said: “What was so extraordinary about discovering The Wipers Times was the fact that it was original source material, written on the frontline by troops on active service.

“What stood out was that it was genuinely funny and that the jokes had survived the test of time.”

In early 1916, many Midlands soldiers were stationed at Ypres in Belgium. Mainly working class miners, the Foresters, led by Captain Fred Roberts, set to work creating a satirical newspaper to boost morale during some of the darkest days of the war.

The Wipers Times – inspired by the name that Tommies called Ypres – used humour, light-hearted poems and spoof adverts to provide brief solace to the men fighting on the battlegrounds of Belgium.

One hundred copies of the first edition were delivered to the trenches on 12th February 1916 but soon the demand grew and within a few weeks deliveries had doubled.

Over a two-year period, the Sherwood Foresters produced 23 issues of The Wipers Times.

Determinedly flippant

Nick added: “The phrase everyone uses, which I love, is that the magazine is determinedly flippant.

“They decided no matter how grim it was they were going to react, it was a sort of act of bravery in itself, by finding it funny.”

The Mercian soldiers who came along to see The Wipers Times are currently serving at the regimental headquarters in Lichfield.

Sergeant Major Scott Roxborough said: “The sense of humour of the Sherwood Foresters in the trenches comes out very well in this play.

“Our soldiers in today’s Mercian Regiment still have that same dry sense of humour. So much so, the characters on stage reminded me of certain personalities back in the battalion.”

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