The real soldiers of Journey’s End

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Written by a man who had experienced the trenches of the Western Front, the dramatic, tense and claustrophobic events of the play and film Journey’s End have a realism and authenticity. This is because its writer, RC Sherriff, had seen first-hand the effect of years of war on his friends and knew the fear and terror of waiting for an impending attack, waiting for his journey’s end.

Sherriff wearing his East Surrey Regiment uniform, c.1917. By permission of Kingston Grammar School and Surrey History Centre.

Sherriff wearing his East Surrey Regiment uniform, c.1917By permission of Kingston Grammar School and Surrey History Centre.

The characters of Journey’s End are believed to be a reflection of the men Sherriff had served with in the 9th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment. The events of the play, especially the impending sense of doom at an imminent German attack, are based on the experiences of Sherriff’s comrades who held the line near the French town of St. Quentin at the start of the German Spring Offensive in March 1918.

Writing to a fellow officer in 1936, Sherriff said:

“None of the characters are drawn from life – but you may find some of them a likeness to men you knew.”

While in his autobiography published in 1968, he wrote:

“Besides Stanhope and Raleigh, the other characters walked in without invitation. I had known them all so well in the trenches.”


Here are some of the men Sherriff served with, who are believed to have inspired characters in the play:

 
Newspaper report of the 9th Battalion's theatre outing to see Journey’s End and annual dinner, 1930. 130 officers and men attended the event and Sherriff showed some of his former comrades around the stage set. Clark is in the centre, Sherriff far left. Reproduced by permission of Surrey History Centre.

Newspaper report of the 9th Battalion's theatre outing to see Journey’s End and annual dinner, 1930. 130 officers and men attended the event and Sherriff showed some of his former comrades around the stage set. Clark is in the centre, Sherriff far left. Reproduced by permission of Surrey History Centre.