Week 2: “The Riddles of Wipers”

“The Riddles of Wipers,” by John Ivelaw-Chapman, tells behind-the-scenes stories about the Wipers Times, the frontline journal published by an officer in the Sherwood Foresters battalion. (Wipers was the British name for the Belgian town of Ypres.) The Wipers Times was filled with sarcasm, inside jokes, which Ivelaw-Chapman dissects, fake advertisements and poetry sometimes, but not always comical.

The original readers of the Wipers Times would have found it hilarious and probably passed cuttings around till they fell apart, by which time the soldiers would have had them memorized.

The design of “The Riddles” can be confusing. Ivelaw-Chapman switches in and out of italic so that it can be hard to separate his comments from quotes. But the Wipers Times presents a unique look at life in the trenches and the resilience of the common soldier when it comes to making fun of the officers.

Advertisements for the cinema usually included the boast “Best ventilated hall in town!”

It looked like this:

This is the Cloth Hall, a medieval landmark in Ypres reduced to rubble.

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Week 1:”The Return of Captain Emmett”

You might wonder how a blog that was launched on Feb. 1 has two posts dated January. It’s because I’m participating in the War Through the Generations Reading Challenge.

warthroughthegenerations.wordpress.com/2012-challenge-info-and-sign-up/

I have pledged to read more than 11 books — but I intend to read a book a week. I didn’t want to lose track of the titles I’ve read so far.

So, “The Return of Captain Emmett,” by Elizabeth Speller, made for a pleasant afternoon read. The hero, Laurence Bartram, is asked by an a family friend to find out why her shell-shocked brother, John Emmett, shot himself. He seemed to be recovering — why did he die? Bartram is terrible depressed (so much so that the book starts to become depressing), but what else has he got to do? His first clue is the list of Emmett’s bequests. Who are these people, and what on earth do they have in common?

There’s a great deal more telling than showing in this novel — I nearly set it aside. But it hangs on an interesting story, an especially tragic facet of life at the front, and I certainly can recommend it for that.