'Journey's End' Context


Causes of WWI


  • Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir to Austrian throne) assassinated
  • Assassin was Serbian - Austria declared war on Serbia
  • Russia supported Serbia, Germany supported Austria and declared war on France and Russia
  • Germany invaded France
  • Britain declared war in August 1914 because of a treaty with France
  • German advance stopped in the Battle of Marne, created the Western Front (a band of trenches)


  • Triple Alliance - Germany, Austria, Italy
  • Triple Entente - Britain, France, Russia
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Facts and Statistics

  • Many believed the war would be over in a few months but it lasted 4 years
  • Casualties - 40 million
  • 700,000 British troops killed
  • About 250,000 underage men enlisted
  • Conscription took place from 1916 -1918
    • January 1916 - Single men from the ages of 18-41
    • May 1916 - Single men from 18 up to 56 if needed
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Pals Battalions:

  • Politicians encouraged men to join with their friends
  • People were optimistic at first

Jessie Pope - 'Who's for the Game?':

  • Propaganda poetry
  • Pro-war
  • Engages with ideas of stereotypical masculinity
  • Patriotism
  • Civilian, female - no experience of the front line
  • Links to Raleigh
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Vimy Ridge

Turning point for Stanhope in the play

  • Battle of Arras
  • Canada vs Germany
  • 9th - 12th April 1917
  • Fell under German control in October 1914
  • In the week leading up to the battle, Canadian and British artillery pounded the enemy positions on the ridge, killing and tormenting defenders
  • Improved and nearly unlimited supply of artillery shells
    • Easier destruction of hardened defences
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St Quentin

Operation Micheal:

  • Took place on 21st March 1918 
    • Play begins on 18th March (three days before)
  • German attack
    • Attempt to win the war before Americans arrived
  • Plan was to punch a hole through the British front line and force a retreat
  • Many losses on both sides
  • A failure overall for the Germans
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R. C. Sherriff

  • Enlisted after his 19th birthday in 1915
  • Wrote many letters home during training
    • Felt lonely and introspective
  • After four days of front-line duty, Sherriff’s letter indicated strain, partly due to lack of sleep
  • He also wondered at the wrecked beauty of his surroundings.
  • At the end of January 1917, Sherriff became unwell, suffering from neuralgia
  • He participated in the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), where he was wounded in the face and hand – a Blighty wound
    • Military slang - a type of wound received in combat which is serious enough to get the soldier removed from the fighting, but is not fatal nor permanently crippling
  • Potential titles for the play included the following:
    • 'Suspense' - misleading
    • 'Waiting' - too commonplace
  • 'Journey's End' was first performed in 1928
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Military Rankings and Social Class

Brigadier - Senior rank

Colonel - Senior rank but below brigadier

Officer - Position of authority, had 3 divisions within that

  • Commanding officer: an officer with command of a military unit
  • First lieutenant: second lowest rank of commissioned officer – above a second
  • lieutenant and below a captain
  • Second lieutenant: junior commissioned officer

Sergeant Major - The highest ranking soldier, bridge between the troops and their commanders

Soldier - No authority

Less officers were drawn from the lower classes

It was believed that gentlemen were more suited for leadership

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Life in the Trenches

  • British trenches were less developed than the German ones
  • Disease - trench foot, rats, lice
  • Prone to flooding
  • Long days and lack of sleep
  • Poor quality and quantity of food - rations
  • Trenches were long
    • Difficult to transfer anything between different parts
  • Harsh winters
    • Link to Wilfred Owen's 'Exposure'
  • Dugout - protective holes dug out of the sides of trenches
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No Man's Land

  • Ranged in size
  • Feature of intimate combat
    • Lack of technology
  • Heavily defended by riflemen, mortars, artillery and machine guns
  • Filled with barbed wire, corpses and makeshift land mines
  • Land was destroyed by warfare and chemical weapons
  • Very risky to go over the top
    • Open to fire from the other side
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  • White feather - presented to men without a uniform


  • Desertion - 266
  • Cowardice - 18
  • Quitting a post without authority - 7
  • Disobedience to a lawful command - 5
  • Casting away arms - 2

Self-inflicted wounds were a capital offence - 3894 men served in prison

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  • Now known as PTSD
    • Symptoms - panic, fear, inability to reason, sleep, walk or talk
  • Ill-defined
    • Believed it was due to lack of character
    • Variety of different believed causes
  • By 1914, as many as 10% of officers and 4% of enlisted men were suffering from ‘nervous and mental shock’
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