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Journey's End

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by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
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These days most people's keenest experience of war is the sound of 'Help for Heros' money collecting buckets rattling and feeling saddened at the news footage of what's happening in Afghanistan. And while more people now 'see' what war looks like, we're lucky that, compared to other generations, far fewer of us will experience it first hand. The generation that lived alongside 'the Great War' are one of the least fortunate, and this story comes first hand from those trenches, where the author, R.C. Sherriff, served.

Journey's End takes place over four days between the 18th and the 21st of March 1918, in an Officer's dugout in the trenches of St. Quentin, Aisne. These are the four days preceding the Battle of St. Quentin, when ordinary men are under extraordinary circumstances and pressures.

They really were this young
They really were this young
Eighteen year old 2nd Lieutenant Raleigh has just arrived on the front, where he's to be under the command of his old rugby skipper, Captain Stanhope. At only three years older than Raleigh in age, Stanhope has spent a good percentage of those three years at war, so they're separated by eons. Raleigh's requested to serve under Stanhope, but has been warned that the war has changed him: Stanhope has turned to drink in order to keep functioning.

The news of an impending German push heightens the strain to extremes, and while the seasoned soldiers use all the means at hand to escape the approaching horrors, green Raleigh is excited at being included in an advanced raid.

There's an honesty in the way this play weighs moments of extreme drama with the seemingly banal. Right before the moment of going 'over the top' soldiers talk in clipped British accents about country fetes and planting hollyhocks, and it's these moments of calm that show the madness of war laid bare. In 1928 when this play was first published producers thought that audiences couldn't yet stomach it, but it went on to run for two years and while the voices may sound old fashioned now, the truth of the story remains the same. And an intensely powerful experience.

If you think you've not heard of R.C. Sherriff before, you've probably seen his work, he wrote the script for The Dam Busters.
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