The printing industry played a significant role both on and off the battlefield in the Great War. At the front, many printer soldiers became field printers.
At home, newspapers reported only essential news and this streamlining led to a 50% printing work force reduction, three years into the war. The vast numbers of printers joining up to fight or working in the essential munitions and engineering trades at the height of the war mitigated the surplus of printers, who like many other tradesmen became a scarce commodity.
The printed world in the war
The printed word played a major role in the Great War and printers, both at home and on the battlefield, kept information the government wanted flowing. Commercial printers produced government literature in Britain, under contract. At the battlefront, the individual armies utilised their print work force to print battle area materials, using mobile army presses.
Like the fighting soldiers, army field printers worked outside in squalid conditions and in real danger of loss of life as the battles raged around them. The information they printed needed to be timely and accurate, as soldiers’ lives depended on its efficient dissemination.
Army Printing and Stationery Services
The field printers became the Army Printing and Stationery Services (APPS). Its first base in Le Havre in July 1915 was responsible for the printing and distribution of battlefield manuals, army regulations and army orders to generals, commanders and soldiers at the front. Postcards, telephone books, and translated German documents captured in the battlefield, were among the 500 titles they printed. Secret documents produced in single figures contrasted with army wide documents that numbered tens of thousands.
The Wipers Times – Life in the Trenches
An iconic publication the Wipers Times began in Ypres, January 1916. Very popular with the troops it followed the armies to various battlefield locations, until December 1918. The paper gives a poignant glimpse of life at war and in the trenches, capturing both the humour and bleakness of conditions, for a Great War soldier. Its continuity and content is a permanent tribute to the resourcefulness and resolve of the Tommy printers.
Britain’s printing presses assisted recruitment to the armed forces and the war effort. Tasked with recruiting soldiers, Lord Kitchener, Secretary of War used the famous posters to encourage young men to join the armed forces.
The Federation of Master Printers and the Newspaper Society remembered the significant contribution of printers to the Great War, when they established a fund to help injured printers and the families of those who lost their lives.
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