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?
The bow that launched a thousand tweets
This time he DID sing the national anthem. But now a storm is raging over Jeremy Corbyn’s very stiff bow at the Cenotaph yesterday. Why is Britain so touchy about remembrance this year?
War artists expose true horror of warfare
To mark the centenary of World War One, Britain’s National Portrait Gallery has announced a major exhibition on wartime painting, film and photography. Does trauma breed creativity?
Battle rages over meaning of first world war
As Europe prepares to commemorate the ‘Great War’, disputes have grown about how to interpret the conflict: is the row unseemly, or a valuable debate about history’s meaning?
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?
Suicide more deadly than Taliban for UK soldiers
We are all aware of the physical dangers of war, but could the psychological threat be even greater? Tonight’s BBC Panorama investigation suggests that the answer is yes.
Fry suicide attempt spotlights mental illness
Campaigners have welcomed comedian and writer Stephen Fry’s revelation that he tried to kill himself last year. Can a new spirit of openness make mental illness less frightening?
The age of anxiety: a growing ‘modern plague’
A new report has shed light on the ‘anxiety epidemic’ that is sweeping through rich countries and haunting the lives of young people. Why do so many of us feel like we cannot cope?
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.
Somme ‘nightmare’: debate rages 100 years on
It is 100 years since the bloodiest day in British army history. The battle of the Somme remains emotive and divisive. Can the Allies’ eventual victory justify the extraordinary losses?
Beloved neuroscientist faces death head-on
Oliver Sacks has spent his life understanding neurological disorders, and as he faces death he talks of having a deeper grasp of living. Can we all experience this level of clarity?
AA Gill’s deathbed request: ‘the full truth’
Three weeks after revealing his diagnosis, the Sunday Times journalist has died. He leaves behind a brutally honest article about his experience of cancer. Should we all be more open about death?
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.
‘Boredom is good for you,’ says new book
How to be Bored is a new book that extols the virtues of doing absolutely nothing. Is boredom a forgotten treasure that stimulates our imagination, or is it just, well, boring?
Professionals fight to escape the ‘busy’ trap
An essay criticizing the busy, ambitious lives of city professionals has gone viral in the USA. It argues we should give up being busy – and spend time in blissful idleness instead.
New superclock redefines the length of a second
Scientists have developed a new timekeeping device which loses only one second each 300 million years. It is unlikely to make anybody more punctual – so why are scientists excited?
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?
Why WWI soldiers were trained to ‘enjoy battle’
Two historians have a controversial answer to how first world war soldiers endured the fighting for so long: they enjoyed killing. But does this belittle the mental trauma such men suffered?
Courage of the woman who defied public savagery
Yesterday’s papers led with a gruesome photo of blood-soaked assassin on a suburban London street. But another very different image from the scene may say something deeper about our world.
‘Beach hero’ drowns to save stranded child
When a young girl drifted out to sea this weekend, she was saved by the bravery of one man – but the rescuer paid the ultimate price. Should people give up their lives for others?