R.C.Sherriff: Memories of Life in the Trenches

Topics: World War 1

The following academic paper highlights the up-to-date issues and questions of Rc Sherriff. This sample provides just some ideas on how this topic can be analyzed and discussed.

The First World War was a time of trauma and devastation. Many lives were lost, and in his play, ‘Journey’s End’, R.C.Sherriff tries to effectively portray the havoc that World War I wreaked.

Robert Cedric Sherriff was born in 1896 and was educated at Kingston Grammar School primarily, until he moved to New College, Oxford.

After completing his education, R.C.Sherriff entered his fathers insurance business.

Shortly after the outbreak of the war, R.C.Sherriff joined the British army as a captain in the East Surrey regiment. To be a captain, you must attend a public school. The first time R.C.Sherriff applied for enlistment in the army as a captain, he was refused, for his school was not on the list of acceptable public schools, however, when people started to die, and captains were becoming scarce, R.

C.Sherriff was accepted into the role of captain.

During the war, R.C.Sherriff made himself a book of ‘memoirs’ about his life in the trenches. These memoirs eventually (about eight years later) became the basis for R.C.Sherriff’s first play, ‘Journey’s End’.

After the war, R.C.Sherriff continued working for his father’s business for several years as a claims adjuster. It was because of an interest in amateur theatricals amongst other reasons that R.

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C.Sherriff decided to try his hand at writing. After many rejections, ‘Journey’s End’ was given a single Sunday evening performance by The Incorporated Stage Society, an amateur theatre company, in 1928. In ‘Journey’s End’ debut performance, Laurence Olivier played Stanhope. The performance went so well; that G.B.Shaw was adamant that ‘Journey’s End’ should be performed at the Savoy Theatre, London.

The play was such a success that from being given a single Sunday evening performance, it went to become an International success and gave over 600 performances over the period of two years, and tickets had to be booked months in advance. The success of ‘Journey’s End’ enabled R.C.Sherriff to become a full time writer where he wrote other hits, such as: ‘Badger’s Green’, ‘Windfall’, ‘St. Helena’, ‘Miss Mabel’, ‘Home at Seven’, ‘The White Carnation’, and ‘The Long Sunset’. R.C.Sherriff also wrote screenplays such as ‘The Invisible Man’, ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips’, ‘The Four Feathers’, ‘Lady Hamilton’, ‘Odd Man Out’, ‘Quartet’, ‘No Highway’ and ‘The Dam Busters’. An autobiography was published in 1968, called ‘No Leading Lady’

After many years of writing, R.C.Sherriff finally passed away in 1975 at the age of 79.

World War I

The First World War was triggered on June 28th, 1914, when Serb, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated the heir to the throne of Austria-hungary, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Austria-hungary blamed Serbia and declared war, Russia said they would defend Serbia, while Germans told Russia not to defend Serbia, but Russia refused Germany, so the Germans declared war on Russia. Germany started moving its army towards France, so France put out a warning that Germany may invade. Germany then declares war on France, and invades Belgium. Britain orders Germany to retreat from Belgium, but the Germans refused, so Britain declared war on the Germans. Austria-hungary then declares war on Russia. Britain and Germany had other, non – European, countries in their empires, which were also brought into the war, which turned the war into a bitter battle where people of all nations were killed.

To start off with, people believe that they would be fighting the glorious war, which would last no longer than Christmas 1914. When recruiting stations opened in Britain, men came flooding in to join the army because they believed they were fighting for King and country, and that the war would be over so quickly that if they did not join up straight away, they would miss their chance to be part of the glorious cause.

Christmas 1914 came and the war was still being fought ferociously with no sign of it coming to an end. Many people had died and many others had been wounded. Volunteers were becoming fewer and fewer as more about the war began to leak out. Finally, in 1916, conscription was introduced, so every healthy man between 18 and 41 had to fight. The war had become even more ferocious and bloody. More people were dying every day, and on one day, the 1st July 1916, over one million people died at the battle of the Somme.

After the Somme, the Germans never really recovered, which led to them surrendering in 1918. Millions of people died during World War 1, but others, including R.C.Sherriff lived to tell people what really happened.

After the end of the war, and well into the mid 1920’s people did not talk about the war, they were just glad that it was over. After many years people did eventually start talking about the war again, but in terms of reality, not the terms of propaganda. R.C.Sherriff decided to use his journal that he had made in the trenches to write a play of the reality of the life of the officers in the war. He based the characters on people from his own life as a captain in the British army. His truth about life in the war was what made the play such a great success, because people, who had finally come to terms with the loss of family and friends, wanted to know what the life in the war was really like, not the luxury that it was when being advertised as by the government.

The play went well, and G. B. Shaw was adamant that it should be performed at the Savoy Theatre. Just over a month after the original performance took place, a showing was put on at the Savoy on the 21st January 1929, produced by Maurice Browne.

The Savoy Theatres production of ‘Journey’s End’ was so successful that it made over 600 performances in two years and tickets were sold out months in advance.

What is the setting of ‘Journey’s End’?

R.C.Sherriff used war for the theme of his play, because the members of his rowing club were male, and there were no females in the war. Sherriff set his play in a trench dugout, near St. Quentins. The play is about the few days leading up to the Kaiserschlact, the Germans final large offensive.

The characters know that dying is inevitable so instead of complaining, they do not mention death; they avoid talking about any issue to do with the war. An example of this is on page 70 just before Osborne and Raleigh make the raid on the German trenches. Raleigh is a relatively new officer and is rather excited about being picked to make the raid, so talks about nothing but the raid. Osborne is a more experienced officer and is trying to avoid talking about the raid as we can see when he goes off on a different subject at every available opportunity. In the end he starts reciting Lewis Carroll’s poem ‘The Walrus said’. On the line of: ‘and whether pigs have wings’, Osborne says ‘we’re off, lets talk about pigs’. This shows how much he wants to avoid talking about the war.

The officers also talk about their homes, and what they would do if they were there. When talking about their homes, the officers never talk about them in a bad way, because they would much prefer to be at home, than fighting the war, however they are unable to be at home with loved ones, so the men talk about their homes and pretend and wish that they were there.

Another subject that the men tried to avoid was death. This was so they were not afraid of seeing people killed, knowing that their turn would come soon enough. When someone had died, instead of confronting the issue, the officers would tell the men that the dead person had ‘gone west’. The reason that the officers said this was so the men were not too scared to go over the parapet of the trench into no-mans land, when it was time for them to make an attack.

The trenches were not the cleanest places for the men or officers to be. This is portrayed when Trotter says, “have your revolver to shoot rats”, showing that the dugout and trenches have rats in them, and rats like to live in dirty places. It would have been difficult for R. C. Sherriff to show this on stage, because the director could not have had live rats running about on stage, but he may have had squeaking and scuffling on a soundtrack in the background. This would create an image in the audiences mind, even though they would not be able to see the rats, or any other creatures inhabiting the trenches and dugouts.

Differences between the original ‘Journey’s End’ and the 1995 BBC production:

In the original ‘Journey’s End’, the director would not have been able to show certain scenes on the stage, such as it would not be possible to have live lice or rats running around on stage, so this would have had to been shown through the characters speech, and through a soundtrack that would be played in the background.

The play is completely staged in the dugout, and although the characters go up into the trench, the audience never get to see it. In this way the audience do not see the raid, where Osborne dies, or any of the other characters dying at the end of the play, although we do see the dugout collapse on an already dead Raleigh. It is probably a good thing that ‘Journey’s End’ was shown only in the dugout, for it would be impossible to show the dead bodies and mud, that was sometimes knee deep, on the stage.

Although there were drawbacks of having ‘Journey’s End’ produced on stage, such as not being able to have rats running about, or not being able to show much detail of the dugout, there were also many advantages such as dim and flashing light effects which would create the idea of having shells, grenades, and other explosive items blowing the trench to bits. A soundtrack would also play to create different sound effects including rats scuffling about and squeaking, explosives blowing up and shots being fired, all of which would have been very common in World War 1.

Cite this page

R.C.Sherriff: Memories of Life in the Trenches. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-an-introduction-to-r-c-sherriff-and-to-world-war-1-and-what-life-was-really-like-in-the-trenches/

R.C.Sherriff: Memories of Life in the Trenches
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