Saturday 19 November 2011

Journey's End

I have just had the privilege to experience Lee Menzies’ production (in association with Jeremy Meadows, Suzanne Rosenthal and the Shaftesbury Theatre) of R. C. Sherriff’s deeply moving and poignant play: Journey’s End.

Sherriff’s play was first performed in 1928, just ten years on from when the drama is set, with a twenty-one year old Laurence Olivier playing Captain Stanhope. This production began its tour in February 2011 and Director David Grindley’s powerful production is moving, funny and devastatingly heartbreaking.

Journey’s End is set in the trenches at Saint-Quentin and the entire story takes place in the officers’ dugout over four days. It opens quietly on Monday, 18th March 1918. Second Lieutenant Raleigh arrives, a very young officer who requested to be with this particular company as he hero-worshipped the company commander, Captain Stanhope at their public school and still does.

The humour lies mainly with Private Mason, the cook who does his best with the rations he is given. When asked what kind of soup he is serving he replies: “yellow soup, Sir.”  Mason never seems to sleep as he always has the task of waking each officer in time for his watch.

One poignant conversation between Stanhope and Lieutenant Osborne (who everyone calls Uncle) is when they discuss Lieutenant Trotter’s lack of imagination and they imagine worms on the other side of the dug-out walls, wondering if they know which way is up and working their way through the earth around tree roots and….. There is a heavy silence and we think about the soldiers’ bodies lying in the earth beyond the walls of the dugout.

Osborne and Raleigh are sent on a raid with ten chosen men. Osborne removes his wedding ring and leaves it on the table saying he doesn’t want to lose it. The tension whilst the two men wait for eight minutes before leaving is painful. Sadly Osborne doesn’t make it back, "but at least the Brigadier is happy,” Stanhope remarks when the Colonel congratulates the company on the raid and sends Champagne and cigars.   

In the final scene, the German attack on the British front-line approaches and the theatre is filled with the sound of shellfire. Raleigh is injured by a shell which has broken his back and he can’t walk. Stanhope orders that he be brought back into the dugout to await the stretcher bearers. Raleigh tells Stanhope that he’ll be all right in a while; he had a similar injury when he was playing rugby, “but it went off after a while.”  Raleigh tells Stanhope he is cold and it is getting dark and he wants a light. Stanhope moves the candle to his bedside and goes to find another blanket. Raleigh cries desperately, then falls silent and his arm drops down. Stanhope returns with the blanket, but, of course, it is too late, Raleigh has died. He covers Raleigh and shells continue to explode. The Sergeant-Major rushes into the dugout and tells Stanhope that Lt. Trotter says he is to come. Stanhope doesn’t go straightaway and the Sgt Major shouts that he is needed now. He puts on his tin helmet, pauses on the steps and looks back into the dugout. He then runs up the steps and the bombardment grows louder. Osbourne said at the very beginning that Stanhope was the best commander the company had ever had. He didn’t have to leave the dugout, but he did. And that’s what all the front-line soldiers did in the Great War, they heroically went into battle knowing they probably would be killed.

A black curtain slowly descends and the audience is left in the dark with the ear-splitting sound of shells exploding and bombs hitting the trench. The intensity of the bombardment laid bare that no-one would have survived.

Then silence followed by The Last Post. When the curtain was raised the cast  stood in a rigid line and behind them the backdrop was like so many memorial faces, Thiepval, Menin Gate, Tyne Cot, a list of names – the missing.

I have never felt so emotionally drained after a visit to the theatre.

Everyone involved in this production is to be congratulated, especially the superb cast who portrayed Sherriff’s drama so brilliantly.


"They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."    
                                                                                                           Laurence Binyon
© Karen Ette

Friday 11 November 2011

Call of Duty - Remembrance


"They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."    
                                                                                                           Laurence Binyon
11-11-11-1918                                                                                 11-11-11-2011

So many have lost their lives under the tainted banner of war.  They gave the ultimate sacrifice and in return we can wear our poppies with pride and remember them.  Without their courageous acts, we would be living very different lives today.

Symphony of Sacrifice

For King and country
I took the pledge,
accepted the King’s shilling;
you cheered and waved us on.
Exhausted we marched
through gory, bloody mud,
syncopated shellfire pounded
its pitiless claim on the weary and lost.
Missing, you were told.
Just a name carved in stone
is all that remains
of the life I once had.
   Please remember me.

For King and country
allegiance I affirmed.
Never said my goodbyes;
would always return.
Spitfires and Hurricanes
soared, ducked and dived.
Airfields waiting,
a joyful home-coming flight.
I should have said goodbye.
My name now carved
on a cenotaph somewhere.
Please remember me.

For Queen and country
I put out to sea
with shipmates to glory
we sailed.
Our vessel, the Sir Galahad,
carved through strong waves.
The eighties were good,
for you maybe,
but bombs and missiles
rained down.
The knight was burned and lost at sea,
 becoming our watery grave.
Please remember me.

For Queen and country
I took the pledge.
Ready to serve
on a mission for peace.
In Helmand I prayed,
but it wasn’t to be.
A sniper was waiting
his sights steadily held.
*Out of nowhere
the bullet silently flew,
engraved with my name.
Please remember me.

 Karen Ette  11 November 2011

In World War 1 about 880,000 men from the United Kingdom, plus a further 200,000 from other countries in the British Empire and Commonwealth died, many never found but are remembered on memorials to the missing.

Thiepval Memorial

Menin Gate, Ieper (click to see more images)


There  were 382,700 British military deaths in  World War 2

255 British military died in the Falklands war

On 11 November 2011 there had been 385 British deaths in Afghanistan since operations began there in October 2001.

On 11 November 2012 the number of British military deaths rose to 438.

           On 26 April 2014 the number of deaths became 453

Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas, 26 of 3 Military Intelligence Battalion
Corporal James Walters, 36 of the Air Corps
Warrant Officer, Class 2, Spencer Faulkner, 38 of the Air Corps
Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan, 29 of the RAF Intelligence Branch
Captain Thomas Clarke, 30 of the Air Corps

died when their helicopter crashed in Kandahar Takhta Pul district


For the full story, please click here

The UK lost 179 servicemen and women during the campaign that followed the invasion of Iraq on 
20 March 2003, including 

Photographs courtesy of Chris's mum

Senior Aircraftman Christopher Dunsmore

Senior Aircraftman Christopher Dunsmore was one of three RAF servicemen killed in a mortar attack on their base in Basra. The three men had been on a break from duties when it was hit.

To read Laurence Binyon's  poem To the Fallen in full, please click here
 *To read Out of Nowhere please click here

© Karen Ette