Western Mail, Thursday 21 September 1933, page 2
Do you remember the old trench paper that funny little sheet full of jokes about Spud Murphy and Nobby" Clarke, and Blue and Snow? Many battalions issued them, just for the purpose of. helping the troops to endure privation with a smile. Brave little sheets, issued under conditions of utmost difficulty. In our assessment of war values let us pay a tribute to the editors and contributors who strove to make life worthwhile in those dark days, and who reserved their most light-hearted sallies for periods when Tommy and Digger had their backs to the wall.
The trench magazine was one of the oddest features of a war that was altogether odd. The whimsical little sheet, which many infantry battalions, batteries, and cavalry regiments brought out as the circumstances of active service allowed was written and edited by soldiers who, for the most part, had not the faintest conception of journalism. It was produced with the welter and chaos of war as a background, and it existed solely for the purpose of stimulating esprit de corps, and of making laughter do service for tears.
Editing a trench magazine was no easy task. The copy was gathered from, no where in particular. Local chatter in and about the companies having to do mainly with regimental activities and humorous sallies at the officers, furnished everything to be written about. London was-the publishing centre. The copy was scrawled on any kind of paper that would register a pencil mark. The editorial sanctum was a dugout, or an estaminet, sometimes even the open trench, and the flowing periods of the soldier-editors were not infrequently punctuated by exploding shells and the zip of bullets. The "general programme" of these trench magazines is hard to find, nor must the following extract from "The Growler," organ of the 14th Canadian Battalion be accepted too literally:-
"Statements derogatory to the characters of the Adjutant, the Transport Officer, or the Quarter-Master are especially welcome, and three months' free subscription will be given where the, said statement can be proved."
This declaration of policy is followed by the comment that it would be futile for any of the injured persons to institute actions tor libel, since the editors were “broke” anyway!
The-columns are crammed with light hearted jokes, and with quasi-cynical comment. The most robust and colourful execration was reserved for trench digging. It was more than an ordinary, flash of genius which inspired the following "advertisement" in "The Listening Post," the 7th Canadian Battalion's magazine, and the pioneer of all such publications:
"WANTED - Work wanted for several hundred able-bodied men at present employed only 20 hours each day. Would like profitable employment for remaining four hours. Digging or carrying preferred.
Apply _th Battalion."
In the same strain an announcement is made with fine sarcasm in "The 20th Gazette" that "there is no truth in the rumour that Woodrow Wilson has written General Sir Sam Hughes asking for the services of this battalion to assist in revetting the Panama Canal."
Rations were a fertile source of scorn; pay and billets came a close second. Hence one of the magazines under survey observe "as a scientifically established fact: "It has been demonstrated that a bullet which will penetrate 18 inches of solid brick work, will pierce only one and a half inches into a loaf of bread (army-issue)."
At the latter end of 1915, when the Canadian Corps held the line between Vormezeele and Plug Street, torrential rains combined with German shelling to make the trenches uninhabitable and the men's lives miserable. Parapets fell in or were blown in, shelters were flooded, sickness and battle-casualties thinned the ranks, and general conditions were depressing, but here is how one magazine reacted to them:
"Extracts from. (expected) Brigade Orders.
"1. - Commanders' of submarines plying in the communication trenches are requested to see that these vessels are not used by pleasure parties between the lines.
"2. - Non-commissioned officers and men are not allowed to use the bathing-beach at XZ-50 Trench. This is for officers only.
"3. - Battalion and fatigue-parties must not participate in swimming races to the firing line owing to the presence of hostile submarines.
"4. - Owing to the scarcity of material for filling sandbags, any man who consumes more than 10 lbs of mud a day will be severely dealt with."
Verses in limping rhythm and cruder rhyme, but replete with profound feeling and pathos, as the soldier struggled to give expression to the thought within him, wind through the columns in company with bantering couplets and ribald limericks. In general, however, not much space is given to any serious phases of verse making.
The inclination of the troops ran more towards limericks, with a special flair for peculiarities of pronunciation:
"Said a Cockney on furlough from Ypres:
'It's a rotten ole village for snypres,
An' the thingsas they do
Ain’t exactly wot you
Reads abaht over ome in the pypres.'”
"’Cos I’m the Town Major of Loos,
The troops gimme lots of abuse.
But you'll say at a pinch,
It ain't any cinch
To be the Town Major of Loos."
As intimated, there was also a serious side of the trench magazines, although this was not unduly laboured. It is noted that one in particular began to print the battalion's casualties as soon as the unit reached France in September, 1915. More eloquent than anything else is the growing amount of space demanded by the record of fallen comrades.
It must not be assumed that the soldier editors enjoyed any privileges in virtue of their work. On the contrary, they carried out air their military duties and wrote their magazines in what spare time they had. This is; made, abundantly clear by the editorial extract:-
"Our readers realise the difficulties we experience each time we get back to billets for it is the editor's pride that at no time has the work of the magazine interfered with the military duties of those responsible for it."
This broad statement undergoes a slight modification in the next sentence, which admits rather wistfully that "on one happy occasion we were excused a short route march. That is one of the sweet memories of a glorious past."
A clear index to the morale of the troops, the trench magazine is a humble but a valuable souvenir, and as such is an honoured relic that deserves recognition as a contribution to the war effort of the Empire.