Journey’s End by R.C. Sherriff

To continue this week’s First World War theme in the run up to the centenary of the Somme on 1 July, a 1928 play which brings to life the most evocative of First World War images – the trenches.

Journey’s End is set in the British trenches near Saint-Quentin, Aisne, in 1918, as officers prepare for Germany’s Operation Michael (NB why did they give it a Beautiful British Name like ‘Michael’? Cheek of it). It primarily addresses the psychological impact of war on different individuals and is at its most powerful in the scenes that contrast the men’s fear of imminent death with the BE A MAN AND KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON IT’S ONLY THE FIRST WORLD WAR stoicism expected of them. The interchange between Captain Stanhope and Second Lieutenant Hibbert in Act II is unforgettable – I won’t give too much away, but essentially the pair of them admit they are bricking it, and Stanhope summarizes the dilemma of men who, quite reasonably, want to run for the hills:

Think of all the chaps who’ve gone already. It can’t be very lonely there – with all those fellows. Sometimes I think it’s lonelier here…

You may be wounded. Then you can go home and feel proud – and if you’re killed you…won’t have to stand this hell anymore…Don’t you think it worth standing in with (the other men) -when you know they all feel like you do…and just go on sticking it because they know it’s…the only thing a decent man can do…

We’ve all got a good fighting chance. I mean to come through – don’t you?

 R.C. Sherriff based the play on his experiences as a Captain during the war, meaning this dialogue may have reflected conversations he had had himself or had overheard. Therefore, it gives the silent ‘Tommies’ in the picture below a voice, and, more than ever, makes one want to go down to the local park and play on a swing like a small child and pray for an end to this war crap.

I saw the play performed over a decade ago. There are rumours of a film remake with Benedict ‘I look like an alien but the ladies love me’ Cumberbatch and Tom ‘I got my bottom out on BBC1 and now my career knows no bounds’ Hiddleston, but if you can’t wait for that, there is also a 1988 made-for-TV film knocking around on YouTube.

1405797378865_wps_10_Soldiers_at_The_Battle_of

Soldiers of the Royal Irish Rifles waiting to join the offensive on the Somme on 1 July, 1916.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Jan Hicks says:

    I don’t know this play. I’m going to rectify that. I went to see the Wounded exhibition at the Science Museum today. There’s a lot about medical treatment under war conditions but the most affecting items for me were the diary kept by a private in the RAMC, who recorded “Nothing special to report” on 26 June, then 6 days later was shot in the arm during the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and the paintings done by Henry Tonks showing the treatment of soldiers who’d suffered facial disfigurement by Harold Gillies. Above the gaping wounds, missing noses, and shattered jaws, the eyes are those of boys. They were just boys.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like a really interesting exhibition Jan, I may check it out. Yes, just boys. Reading this play made me realise more than ever the pure fear they must have experienced. Just pure fear.

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      1. Jan Hicks says:

        It’s a really good exhibition, Brontë. It’s on the mezzanine as you go in. I went for a quick whizz round and ended up staying for an hour. The fear is one of the things that stood out for me in Parade’s End.

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