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robtwinem

runner

I live in Bristol UK literary fiction and crime are my books of choice and when not reading I like to run

The futility and the sacrifice

Journey's End (Heinemann Plays) - R C Sherriff

A modern movie of Journey's End has just been released in the UK and I was recently privileged to view, quite frankly I was astounded by what I saw, so moved by this sober and thoughtful interpretation that I decided to acquire and read the original dramatic play published in 1928 by R C Sherriff who based his novel on his own experiences of life (if we can call it that) in the trenches of Northern France during the spring of 1918.

 

At the start of world war 1 there appeared to be no shortage of young men following the advice from Lord Kitchener..."Your country needs you" These young romantic conscripts happily boarded troop trains heading for the trenches of St Quentin in northern France in order to fight for king and country. What they encountered was an entrenched position as two opposing sides faced each other across a muddy desolate no man's land. Life in the trenches was abominable. As well as the constant fear of mortars  with the resulting shrapnel, soldiers cut to ribbons, muddy conditions giving rise to trench foot and a large expanding rodent problem. If we add to this the overzealous use of mustard gas then a picture reminiscent of a living hell is an apt description.

 

Given these facts there seemed to be no shortage of volunteers eager to travel through this dystopian landscape where the average life expectancy of a soldier or officer was a mere six weeks. There was a total lack of reality in the minds of commanding officers quite happy to send millions of men to an untimely death cut down by machine gun fire, entangled in barbed wire, or simply blown to pieces by a direct shell hit. If we are to believe numerous accounts the stiff upper lip prevailed and the language of the time; rugger, chap, topping, jolly introduced a surreal quality to this living hell....."A dugout got blown up and came down in the men's tea. They were frightfully annoyed"...."He was the skipper of rugger at Barford, and kept wicket for the eleven. A jolly good bat, too"...

 

I have been very moved by reading Journey's End and the final images instills a very sombre note. The book explores issues of friendship and comradeship, the desolation of the human mind under extreme conditions, the utter futility of war, and the senseless sacrifice of millions of lives by an inept leadership who was utterly blind to the realities of battle in the blood drenched battlefields of Northern France