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Set on the Western Front, ‘Journey’s End’ is based on R C Sherriff’s
experiences as an
Officer in the trenches of the First World War. It was the first war
play to look at the reality of the day to day life of soldiers. Prior
to ‘Journey’s End’, plays either demonised the enemy, and focused on
deeds of heroism, or preached the futility of war.
This play was one of a number of literary works, produced about 10
years after the end of the war, which showed the horror of war by
looking at the mens’ day to day lives. These included ‘Undertones of
War’ by Edmund Blunden, ‘Goodbye to All That’ by Robert Graves, ‘All
Quiet on The Western Front’ by Remarque, ‘Her Privates We’ by Frederic
Manning and ‘Memoirs of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sassoon.
In a ‘Journey’s End’, the horror of war is often shown in the
subtext, of the soldiers conversations, not by the direct actions of
Although in the first instance it was rejected by theatre managers,
the play went on to strike a chord with the public and had a two year
run in London. They responded to the play because it showed them, for
the first time, the fear and squalor that the men faced continually
and how they dealt with it.
Extract 1 (Pages 1-4) gives the audience the opportunity to understand
the terrible conditions in which the characters lived. The characters
engage in sarcastic banter as they can not afford to give into their
true feelings towards the situation. Everyone does what they can to
keep each others spirits up.
The Director would need to enhance the horror of the mens’ situation
in the way that he sets the stage. The setting is a dug out in a
trench during World War I. A depressing mood and claustrophobic
atmosphere needs to be created by this set and the lighting. The
beds, table and stalls need to be on top of each other, rotten wood,
the occasional sound of dripping water and a muddy floor are
essential. Bottles, glasses and papers need to be piled high on the
The dugout should be poorly lit, by a candle or oil lamp. The sky,
visible through the door, needs to be bright. The contrast between
light and dark represents the soldiers’ confinement versus the world
that they knew before the war.
If the characters had the choice they would not talk about death and
squalor, however it is the stuff of their daily lives. They get
around talking about the subject but using light hearted banter.
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way they can talk to each other without losing personal control or
upsetting each other.
The soldiers endure many hardships and these are often easier to make
conversation about than the death and brutality all around them. They
do not moan and complain about these things, however, they talk about
them in a humorous manner; to keep their spirits up.
Hardy sings “Tick! – Tock! – Wind up the clock, And we’ll start the
day over again”. From the very beginning of the play we get an idea
of how the soldier’s lives are repetitive and how they go through
similar routines every day. It is one of the many hardships that we
see the men endure.
To create the feeling that Hardy is sick of the daily routines; his
voice should be full of frustration and monotone, not jolly. He would
say “tick”, “tock” and “clock” louder than the rest of the verse with
a pause and a sigh before “And we’ll start…”
The officers talk about the water being full of disinfectant as they
drink the whisky, “Don’t have too much water. It’s rather strong
today”. It seems ironic that the water is ‘stronger’ than the whisky
and shows us that the water must have been extremely polluted.
Here Osborne should put down his whiskey and pick up some water. After
taking a sip of the water he could then grimace at the taste and then
spit it on the floor. This would demonstrate again the hardships
under which they lived.
After Osborne asks if there are many rats, Hardy replies, “I should
say – roughly – about two million, but then of course I don’t see them
all.” Hardy is implying that they are so over-run with rats that even
two million is an underestimate but even so he is still trying to make
light of this. The dugout must have been damp and filthy as we know
that rats thrive in such conditions.
When Osborne asks, “you got many rats here?” this should be said with
an extremely sarcastic voice because the rats are everywhere. To
highlight the sarcasm Hardy should respond seriously, “I should say…”
Even though the men try awfully hard not to refer to more troubling
matters sometimes it is inevitable. When they do come up in
conversation someone is always ready to change the subject.
Hardy talks briefly about how, “nothing happens for hours on end; then
–all of a sudden-‘over she comes!’- rifle grenades – minnies – and
those horrid little thinks like pineapples – you know.”…….. ‘Swish
–swish-swish –swish-BANG!’ Osborne quickly makes it clear to Hardy
that he should stop this talk even though it is in a humorous vain,
‘All right – all right – I know.’ This gives the audience a brief
glimpse of this chilling world.
Hardy should begin speaking very seriously. There should be a short
pause after “all of a sudden,” and the remainder of his lines should
be spoken in a cheerful manner. The contrasting voices would show he
is afraid and how he covers this up.
“Awful. A dug out up got blown up and came down in the men’s tea.
They were frightfully annoyed.” Here the audience get a picture of
the constant danger that the men are in and their determination to
make light of it, in conversation. This is an example of litotes;
when the characters describe something very serious in an odd hand
Hours are spent with little to do but to endure the disgusting
physical conditions that are interrupted by moments of sheer terror.
Osborne and Hardy talk about some of the odd soldiers and officers
that come to the front line, “They do send some funny people over
here.” He does not admit to himself the reason they are ‘funny’ is
because they are afraid of what might happen to them. He makes it
sound as if the people were strange before they got to the front
Periodically there should be a loud explosion. The lights should dim
and flicker and some dirt should fall from the roof. When this happens
the characters should carry on talking as if nothing had happened.
Extract 2 (pages 54-58) focuses upon the terrible impact the war had
upon the mental state of many soldiers. Hibbert has been complaining
of neuralgia, a terrible form of toothache, for some time and he now
demands to leave the front to be treated. Stanhope has all along
thought this was an excuse and refuses to release him. The scene is
one of great tension.
During this scene Hibbert should flinch at the sound of an explosion
or gun fire to show how afraid he is. He should stutter continually
to let the audience, and Stanhope, see how desperate he is to leave
Stanhope ‘You’re going to stay here and do your job
Hibbert, ‘Haven’t I told you? I can’t! Don’t you understand’
In this section Stanhope confronts a man he considers to be a shirker,
a soldier who is in his eyes trying to avoid the conflict. For the
first time we see that Hibbert is not just looking for a way out but
is so terrified that, mentally, he is falling apart. This piece raises
a number of issues for the audience, about the conduct of the British
officers in the war. Men were forced to tolerate conditions of
continuous fear, often beyond their endurance and on top of it all
senior officers executed mentally ill men, in order to keep discipline
amongst their troops.
When Stanhope throws accusations at Hibbert he should stand tall and
speak clearly and firmly; in a military manner. He is trying to show
Hibbert that he is not going to ‘get away with it.’ However at the
beginning of the extract, the lines, “You’re going to stay here and
see it through with the rest of us,” should be said with a degree of
sympathy, to demonstrate that Stanhope understands that Hibbert, like
everyone else, is afraid.
Stanhope, ‘Better die of pain than be shot for deserting’. Here
Stanhope brings it home to Hibbert that he will not be allowed to
leave and that if he does he will be considered a deserter. In a
desperate panic Hibbert strikes Stanhope. This shows that Hibbert has
lost all reason, as this is such a serious offence and demonstrates
the dreadful impact of the war, on his emotional state.
To enhance his confusion and his desperation Hibbert should be
breathing heavily, his mouth open and his eyes quickly moving from
point to point. This should stop as he focuses on the stick that he
tries to hit Stanhope with for a few seconds. In this moment a
spotlight should shine on his face to dramatise the moment. He should
then swing randomly with a lack of control.
This encounter demonstrates the terrible emotions that must have been
common in the trenches. Some men were able to distract themselves
with sarcastic humour, avoiding talking about the practicalities of
death and injury, drowning their fear in alcohol. Others such as
Hibbert could not cope with living like this, ‘Ever since I came out
here I’ve hated and loathed it. Every sound up there makes me all –
cold and sick. I’m different to- to others – you don’t understand.’
Towards the end of the scene Hibbert should stop stuttering and begin
to relax. To display to the audience the he is not so tense he should
make his body look limp.
What Hibbert does not realise is that the other men feel exactly the
same as he does. He does not see the ways in which the other men
cover it up. Towards the end of the extract Stanhope confides in
Hibbert, “I feel the same – exactly the same! Every little noise up
there makes me feel – just as you feel.” Knowing this and the fact
that other men are counting on him, Hibbert is persuaded to remain.
Extract 3 (pages 70-73) tells the audience about the dreadful minutes
before action and how men must have felt. Men dreaded suffering,
injury, death, and loss of friends. The anticipation of these things
was often as bad as the action itself.
All the characters are feeling tense about the raid. Even Stanhope,
who is not participating, feels nervous for his men but is always
trying to keep their spirits high. This is exacerbated by the fact
that Stanhope does not see much point in the raid. If it was up to
him they would not be going.
Osborne fears the worst, “If anything should happen, would you send
these along to my wife?” and asks Stanhope to give his wedding ring,
watch and a letter to her. At the very first hint of a tragic outcome
Stanhope immediately reassures Osborne, “You’re coming back old man.
Damn it! what on earth should I do without you?”, even though it is
clear to the audience that he realises someone is going to get hurt.
Stanhope should say, “You’re coming back old man,” with too much
enthusiasm. This would make it clear to the audience that he does not
totally believe what he has just said. Throughout the scene, Osborne
should sit at the table fiddling with his wedding ring. He should
pause and stop fiddling with the ring before he says, “If anything
should happen…”. When he asks Stanhope to take the ring the audience
will know that he has been thinking about the possibility of his death
throughout. Osborne should ask Stanhope to give the items to his wife
in a very slow serious tone of voice. He should stutter the words
“if” and then he take a deep breath to compose himself. This shows us
he is reluctant to say ask but knows he has to.
Conversation between Osborne and Raleigh now takes place. We have one
character, Osborne, who is experienced and mature and is better able
to deal with the situation. He uses this experience to calm and
support the new officer, Raleigh.
The two men reflect with nostalgia on their home lives and in
particular the time they have spent in the New Forest, “I can show you
places in the forest that nobody knows about except Dennis and me. It
gets thicker and darker and cooler, and you stir up all kinds of funny
wild animals.” The audience would see that these are ordinary men who
have had happy lives and yet here they are waiting in a filthy trench
to advance on the enemy.
Raleigh is apologising for continually talking about the raid; he can
not stop thinking about it. Osborne distracts him by reciting a verse
from ‘The Walrus and The Carpenter’ by Lewis Carroll to which Raleigh
“ “ ‘And why the sea is boiling hot –
And whether pigs have wings’ ” ”
Osborne replies, “Now we’re off! Quick, lets talk about pigs!” By the
power of association the officers start to talk about their lives in
Osborne should stand up when he says the first half of the verse and
then Raleigh should stand up when he says the second half of the
verse. This would show their increasing excitement and sense of
Fond memories of the past are juxtaposed with the likelihood of death
in the future. We feel upset because it is almost certain that they
will never get a chance to fulfill their happy plans for the future,
“you should come and stay with us one day.” This is the most poignant
moment of the play. This is why for the whole play the characters
have been trying to avoid talking about possibilities for the future.
In this instance it is so upsetting because they get excited about
their plans for the future, yet we know, and they realise that they
are doomed and have no future. This is the ultimate horror of war;
Each character should be prompt in saying their lines and this should
get quicker and quicker as the excitement grows. The length of the
pause between the lines should get longer as the conversation becomes
more sobre but their voices should still be loud high and cheerful;
full of hope and excitement.
Before Raleigh calms down there should be sound affects of shells
exploding in the background. When he stops thinking about the raid
the set should become silent so that their excited voices can fill the
stage. The sound affects can reflect Raleigh’s mood.
Governments had to persuade large numbers of men that it was sensible
for them to risk injury and death. The easiest way was to give them a
high morale purpose, to argue that the enemy was evil and that it was
the war to end all wars. The public greeted the outbreak of war with
excitement, and so plays, book and poems mirrored this.
The war lasted much longer and was bloodier than governments and
soldiers had expected when it began. As the war progressed and the
death count rose, writings questioned the morality of it.
Journey’s End, along with a number of other literary works, was the
first to describe the reality of war, as it was written by men who
were there. Sherriff looks at the nature of the daily lives of
officers fighting in the trenches. The hardships and physical dangers
are described in the play but you have to read between the lines to
see the true horror of war; how the men confront the inevitability of
death. Some turned to drink, to forget, whilst others tried to avoid
the front line by inventing excuses. Throughout the play the audience
gets to know the characters and their feelings. We understand what
they are going through. The fact that they die in such pointless
circumstances makes their deaths even more tragic.
We know that this pointless sacrifice was commonplace in World War 1
but at the time it was considered cowardly to question orders or the
political conduct of the war. Men did what they were told or they
were shot. There was no way of avoiding their duty.