When newly arrived officer Raleigh appears on the front line in the same battalion as his old friend Stanhope the two are in for a shock. The hard-drinking Stanhope is much changed by his experiences in the trenches, and he would rather the young, optimistic Raleigh not see what he has become.
Fellow officer Osborne is the one man holding things together in the madness of it all, with his measured, caring, good-humoured outlook.
‘War is hell’ someone once said. And this clearly comes across in Journey’s End. The waiting, the mud, the stench, the fear, the strange boredom, the mental battles, the various ways the officers deal with their terror… all is here in the claustrophobic confines of the trench; as these brave men wait for the next bout of shelling, the next onslaught, the next order to go ‘over the top’ towards the merciless machine guns of the enemy.
When I spent a couple of days at an army chaplaincy centre a few years ago, I came across a painting of an Army Chaplain being awarded the Victoria Cross. His name was Theodore Hardy and I had never heard of him. He became chaplain to the soldiers on the front line at the age of 51 and was often heard to cry, ‘It’s only me boys,’ as he crawled through the mud to reach men who were stranded or wounded. He was an extraordinarily brave man and was awarded the DSO and the MC as well as the VC. Before he went out to the trenches he met the famous chaplain ‘Woodbine Willy’ who told him that the best place to be was out front with the men. He certainly took this to heart.
After my few days at the centre I read a book entitled God and the British Soldier, full of accounts of men who had sensed the presence of God in the midst of all that terrible fighting. One soldier remembered sitting on the firing step and sensing a presence with him by his shoulder. Extraordinary when you think of the horrors going on around these men. It puts me in mind of Psalm 139 and the verse that says, ‘If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, you are there… the night is as bright as the day to you.’ We may often think of God and sense him in the beautiful places, but some have been aware of his vital presence in the worst situations of life too. Watching this film I found myself wondering how anyone could have survived such an ordeal, or come out with sanity intact. We know that many lost their faith in God as result, others found faith in that darkest of times. I finish with a poem, written by my daughter when her class were studying WW1 at junior school.