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The book 'Journeys End'

Categories: GriefJourney

The book ‘Journeys End’ was published in 1929, almost twenty years after WWI. The play is about five officers who run a company and are fighting in the war against the Germans. The main characters of the play are Stanhope, Osbourne, Trotter and Raleigh. Stanhope is a very bitter character and often shows little to no emotion due to experiences in the war, and he has steadily begun to rely more and more on Alcohol. Osbourne is often referred to as Uncle in the play which shows he adopts a fatherly figure towards the other officers.

Trotter is a large man who seems to revolve around eating and Raleigh is very keen to impress Stanhope but is very naive to what the war is actually like. Hibbert is a hypochondriac and is adamant that he is going home from the war; Stanhope however will not let him. Stanhope is a very powerful and well respected officer and this is made obvious by the way Stanhope converses with other ranks, such as Mason, who is the kitchen worker.

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The quote below shows that Stanhope holds a great deal of authority due to the fact that Mason does not question or answer back, he just immediately does what he is asked:


MASON: Yessir.

STANHOPE: Are you making the coffee?

MASON: Yessir.

STANHOPE: Make it hot and strong. Ready in five minutes, I will call you when it’s wanted.

MASON: Very good sir.’

I believe by writing ‘Journeys End’ R.C.Sherriff aimed to show the public that the war was not fought as well as the press led the public to believe.

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The tabloids didn’t show the public the horrors that the war created for the soldiers however as Sherriff fought in the way he was able to write realistically about the war and show the public the effects it had on the people involved in it and the emotions felt as a consequence.

In this essay I will be writing about Act three scenes one and two as they are the scenes where most of the action and drama seem to happen. The beginnings of the play are mostly building up to these two scenes. Act 3 Scene 1 is mostly building up to the raid which is taking place in order to get information from the Germans about when they are planning their surprise attack. The stress of the raid has a strong effect on the characters and Sherriff shows you this by the conversations between Raleigh and Osbourne and the actions of Stanhope. Act 3 Scene 1 opens to Stanhope anxiously pacing:

‘Stanhope is alone wandering to and fro across the dug out.

He looks up the steps for a moment, and glances down at the map.

He looks anxiously at his watch’

This shows how nervous Stanhope is as pacing represents a form of stress or anxiety. Stanhope had previously spoken to the Colonel and asked him if there was some way the raid would not have to go ahead as it was suicidal. The soldiers had blown a raid in the German’s defence wire in order to allow an entrance into the Germans trenches, however to show the soldiers that the Germans knew they were planning an attack and they were ready for them coming they placed red ribbon around the whole in the wire. The Colonel asks if this has had an effect on the men and Stanhope replies that it has not, they have merely laughed and exclaimed how the ribbon would help guide them in to the German’s trenches. In a conversation between the Colonel and Stanhope, Stanhope asks about the raid.

‘COLONOL: Everything ready?

STANHOPE: Yes sir. (There is a silence) No news?

COLONOL: I’m afraid not. It’s got to be done.

STANHOPE: (after a pause) I see.

COLONOL: He said the present arrangements have got to stand.

STANHOPE: But surely he must realise —‘

Sherriff has written this section of the play in order to make the reader sympathise with Stanhope. It is clear Stanhope does not want the raid to go ahead however he has no choice as he is a lower rank than the Colonel and the Brigadier. The Brigadier is ensuring the raid goes ahead regardless of the risks to the officers and soldiers involved in the raid. As the Brigadier is the highest in command, the Colonel and Stanhope have no choice but to follow orders.

Other effects of the tension caused by the raid are shown clearly yet discreetly in the conversations between Osbourne and Raleigh leading up to the raid. Raleigh who has not long being in the army is very keen about the raid and constantly seems to be changing the conversation and directing it towards something to do with the raid. He is presented as naive and innocent and doesn’t seem to understand that the war isn’t really a game. Osbourne on the other hand understands the severity of the raid. He keeps diverting away from talking about the raid and the impression is given that although Raleigh is eager to take part in the raid, Osbourne is reluctant. This shows in their conversations.

RALEIGH: How topping if we both get an MC

OSBOURNE: Coffee sweet enough?

RALEIGH: Yes thanks. I wander what the Boch are doing now.

OSBOURNE: I don’t know. Do you like coffee better than tea?

This shows clearly Osbourne attempting to avoid the topic of the raid and shows Raleigh bringing it back up each time Osbourne tries to avoid the topic. This continues for a short period of time then further down the page, Raleigh seems to realise he is continuously speaking about the raid and says:

RALEIGH: I’m sorry to keep talking about the raid. It’s so difficult to —- talk about anything else. I was just wondering — will the Boch retaliate in anyway after the raid? ‘

OSBOURNE: I did go exploring once — digging up roman remains…

RALEIGH: (laughing) Splendid. ‘

Osbourne and Raleigh make the reader aware of the time as it is pointed out at different intervals that it is getting closer and closer to the raid. Before the raiders are due to leave the Colonel, after some persuasion from Stanhope, offers them some encouragement and even explains to Raleigh and Stanhope that if the raid goes successfully he will recommend the Brigadier present them with a Military Cross for their bravery and courage. As the Colonel and Stanhope turn to leave Osbourne asks Stanhope for a quick word.

‘OSBOURNE: I say, just a moment Stanhope.

STANHOPE: (returning) Hullo?

OSBOURNE: I say. Don’t think I’m morbid or anything like that but would you mind taking these?

STANHOPE: Sure, until you come back old man.

OSBOURNE: It’s just in case —

(He takes a letter out from his tunic pocket and and places it on the table. Then he pulls off ring and places it beside the letter.)

If anything should happen would you send these along to my wife?

(He pauses and gives an awkward little laugh)

STANHOPE: Your coming back old man. Damn it. What would I do without you old man?

This small conversation shows a great deal of trust between the two men. It is clear they share a close friendship and take comfort in each others presence. Through the play Stanhope has referred to Osbourne as Uncle which again shows their closeness. Stanhope then leaves the dugout and just as Raleigh and Osbourne are about to go up to lead the raid, Raleigh points out to Osbourne that his ring is on the table, to which Osbourne replies that he is leaving it behind as he does not want it getting lost. It is then that it seems to filter in to Raleigh that not everybody will be returning from the raid.

The raid is not actually written in detail and seems to happen in a very short amount of time. The reader does not actually know what happened in the raid until a conversation between Stanhope and the Colonel takes place. This seems to happen regularly through out the book, important events seem to be made just as bi-passed and put across to be just as unimportant as the regular every day events of the war. The aim of the raid was to capture a hostage which could relay information about the attack the German’s were planning. In the conversation between the Colonel and Stanhope, the Colonel exclaims how impressed the Brigadier will be that the raid was a success, and they managed to obtain a hostage, he does however fail to ask if the raiders all returned safely.

The lack of interest which he showed in the raider’s safety shows that the lives of the soldiers are not particularly valued by the higher ranks that don’t actually have contact with them and know them as people. When the Colonel does eventually ask about the raiders, he is informed by Stanhope that Raleigh and four men returned safely. It is not even mentioned that they lost six men as well as Osbourne. When asked Stanhope informs the Colonel Osbourne died due to a hand grenade whilst waiting for Osbourne and that the other six men died due to machine gun bullets. The way this information is given, means that if the reader is not paying attention then they probably won’t have realised that Osbourne died. The play seems to make things such as death seem as insignificant as they are mentioned without any emotion.

After the Colonel leaves with the hostage, they all sit down to eat a meal of good quality which was provided on account of the success of the raid. Raleigh was instructed by Stanhope to attend the meal however Raleigh chose to ignore the orders and ate instead with the lower rank soldiers. During the meal Stanhope requests another bottle of whiskey…

‘STANHOPE: Bring some whiskey….

MASON: You had the last one last night sir.

STANHOPE: The last bottle! Why damn it, we brought six!!!’

This shows the huge reliance Stanhope has on alcohol due to the fact that they have only being in the trench for five days and already he has consumed 6 bottles of Whiskey. Stanhope has shown little emotion to losing Osbourne who was a very close friend of his and knowing there is only a limited amount of Whiskey would upset him more. Stanhope rarely expresses his emotions, and when he did it was generally to Osbourne however as Osbourne died, he lost his outlet of his feelings and stopped expressing his emotions all together.

Later that night, Raleigh returns from his shift and Stanhope confronts him and asks why he did not turn up for the meal. It comes across that Stanhope is perhaps hurt by the fact that Raleigh chose not to eat with him. When he asks why he did not attend Raleigh retorts back to him, his voice raw with emotion:

‘RALEIGH: Good God!!! Don’t you understand?

How can I sit down and eat that when —

(His voice is nearly breaking)

— when Osbourne he’s — lying — out there!’

Stanhope reacts badly to this comment and Raleigh leaves due to the atmosphere.

The next day is the attack from the German’s. Everybody prepares to go up into the trenches from the dug out as the shelling grows heavier. Stanhope once again ends up being the last one in the dugout. Screams for stretcher bearers are heard as the soldiers fall wounded. This is Sherriff again showing that even after a short time the soldiers fall quickly. The sergeant major comes running down the stairs into the dugout and informs Stanhope that Raleigh has being hit with a shell and is seriously hurt.

Raleigh is brought into the dugout, and Stanhope realises immediately that it is fatal. Stanhope commands the Sergeant Major to lay Raleigh on Osbourne’s bed. This shows a huge change in attitude towards Raleigh as the previous night, in his grief and frustration, Stanhope and Raleigh argued as Raleigh had sat on Osbourne’s bed. Stanhope’s response to Raleigh sitting on Osbourne’s bed is the first sign of Stanhope actually showing any grief or hurt because of the loss of Osbourne. Stanhope appears to have had a belated response to Osbourne’s death as he seems unwilling to express his feelings in any way. The reader senses a change in Stanhope’s attitude towards Raleigh in this scene.

Stanhope seems to re-adapt the hero role that Raleigh thrust upon him and which he was reluctant to accept. Yet Stanhope tends to Raleigh in such a brotherly way and he understands that Raleigh’s injury is very serious. Stanhope reassures Raleigh he is going to be alright and at the same time the reader gets the impression that he is reassuring himself as well as Raleigh. He becomes caring and takes on a brotherly role as he tends to Raleigh. Raleigh asks for a candle as the dugout has become very dark. Stanhope takes the candle to Raleigh’s bed and finds Raleigh lying still with his eyes closed. Not moving at all. The Sergeant Major again comes into the dug out and informs Stanhope he is needed in the trenches. He stares for a moment at Raleigh then goes up the steps out of the dugout. Moments later the dugout caves in.

This sequence of events signifies clearly the end of the play due to the fact that the play was based in the dug out. Raleigh died inside the dug out. The play leads the reader to come to the assumption that none of officers or soldiers survived. It is rather a blunt ending and much like the whole play. The ending is put across as unimportant and insignificant and seems to leave the play unfinished. I think Sherriff did this as it will leave readers wondering what happened to the remaining officers and will leave them curious as to what actually happens to end a war.

Similar topics:

Essay on War

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The book 'Journeys End'. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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