Journey’s End

R. C. Sherriff’s play takes place over three days in March in the final year of the first world war: 1918. It was written just a decade later, when the horrors of the war and its effect on society were still fresh. Surviving soldiers were traumatised by what they had seen. The ‘glory’ of war which encouraged so many young men to join up now seemed like a terrible lie. Sherriff did not shy away from any of these themes in his brutal depiction of life in the trenches — and the humanity of the soldiers as they each try to cope with war is a heartbreaking reminder of the lives it took.

First world war

It has now been 100 years since the war which changed the world. Never before had so many people been killed for such a controversial cause, and it has never been forgotten since. The war was only 10 years old when Journey’s End was written, but how do we remember it now?

Mental health

The term ‘shell shock’ is not used in the play, let alone post-traumatic stress disorder. Instead, Sherriff shows us the reality behind these descriptions: alcohol abuse, paralysing fear, and irrational anger. We are more understanding of mental health problems today, but is there more to be done?

Death

Millions of men were killed in the first world war. ‘You must always think of it… as romantic. It helps,’ Osborne advises Raleigh. But Sherriff shows the deaths to be a terrible waste. The only thing which sets the men apart is how they choose to face their fate.

Time

Much of the play is spent waiting for battle to begin. War is not all fighting and danger, Sherriff reminds us — 99% of the soldiers’ time is spent in crushing boredom and terrifying anticipation.

Courage

Cowardice is unacceptable in war, and when Hibbert asks not to take part in a battle which will surely end in death, Stanhope accuses him of desertion — a crime which is punishable by death. But Stanhope himself relies on alcohol to calm his nerves. What makes a true hero?