We meet Hardy (just going on leave) and Osborne (just coming back to the trench for 6 days.) they make jokes about the war: socks, boots and the enemy ‘115 rifle grenades – I shouldn’t use them if I were you; they upset Jerry…’
They discuss Stanhope; Hardy regards him as a drinker, whereas Osborne is more protective, commenting on how he is ‘the best company commander we’ve got…’ and ‘I’ve seen him on his back all day with trench fever then on duty all night.’
Pages 7- 29
When Hardy suggests that Osborne should be in charge he replies, ‘There isn’t a man to touch him as a commander of men… I love that fellow. I’d go to hell with him.’
Now we meet Raleigh, the new officer. It turns out he knew Stanhope at school and had pulled strings to get into his unit. Raleigh has a serious case of hero worship. ‘Last time he was on leave… he’d just got his MC… He looked splendid! It made me feel… keen to get out here.’
Realising this Osborne tries to explain that the Stanhope here in the trenches is not quite the same one. The war has changed him. ‘He’s been out here a long time. It – it tells on a man – rather badly.’
Raleigh also tells Osborne that Stanhope is ‘sort of’ engaged to his sister. Raleigh is an innocent. He has some expectations that life is hard for the soldiers but no experience of the real thing.
Next we meet Trotter; the only soldier to put on weight in the trenches! The bizarre discussion about the tin of pineapple being apricots and how sorry Mason is just highlights how the men focused on small details to keep from thinking about the grim reality of their situation.
Finally we are introduced to Hibbert who claims to have ‘neuralgia,’ a condition that cannot be proven but which Stanhope seems to think is made up with the purpose of being invalided back home. He has no sympathy with this ‘Artful little swine. Neuralgia’s a splendid idea. No proof…’ and later adds ‘No man of mine’s going sick before the attack.’
Osborne reveals to Stanhope that Raleigh told him about Stanhope and Raleigh’s sister. Stanhope immediately thinks that Raleigh will ‘rat’ on him in letters home to her ‘She thinks I’m a wonderful chap. She doesn’t know… without being doped with whisky – I’d go mad with fright.’ Though Osborne doesn’t think Raleigh will change his opinion when faced with the changed Stanhope ‘he’ll realise that men are different out here…’ Stanhope decides he will censor Raleigh’s letters home.
30 – 48
Another discussion about food: first bacon then jam! Trotter admits he finds the quiet unnerving ‘Too damn quiet.’ A joke is shared about the fears of gas attacks and mistaking the smell of a blooming May tree for the smell of gas!
Raleigh finds out Osborne used to play Rugby for England but no one else knows about it. ‘Anyhow, don’t breeze about it.’ Osborne tells a story about the honour of the enemy when they were rescuing one of their wounded but how ‘next day we blew each other’s trenches to blazes.’
Stanhope has been warned the next big attack will happen in 45 hours time. He begins to make plans for keeping his men safe. Osborne says ‘I’m glad it’s coming; I’m sick of waiting.’ Stanhope confides that he worries that he is going mad. He explains that he analyses everything too much. He has a drink and it’s not yet 11 o’clock.
Raleigh enters with his first letter for home. Stanhope manhandles it off him fearing what it says. ‘Do y’understand an order? Give me that letter.‘ [Stanhope clutches Raleigh’s wrist and tears the letter from his hand.] When Osborne reads it to him it has only praise for Stanhope. The scene ends as [‘Stanhope sits with lowered head.’]
Stanhope briefs the sergeant-major on his plans for the attack which do not include retreating. Then the colonel comes to tell Stanhope that HQ want a raid to capture a Boche. Osborne and Raleigh are to lead it. Everyone except Raleigh realises it is a suicide mission ‘There’s no need to tell him, it’s murder.’
Hibbert demands to be allowed to go ‘down the line sick’ but Stanhope won’t allow any of his men to be cowards and threatens to shoot him (let his gun ‘go off by accident. It often happens out here…’) when Hibbert challenges him to do it Stanhope confides that he feels the same ‘Sometimes I just feel I could lie down on this bed and pretend I was paralysed… just lie there till I died…’ but offers to be with Hibbert on duty for solidarity ‘Shall we see if we can stick it together?’ and points out ‘if you left those men to do your work could you ever look a man straight in the face again?’
P 69- 103
The colonel gives Osborne and Raleigh a ‘go get ’em’ talk but finishes with ‘don’t forget to empty your pockets. ‘ Osborne takes off his ring and gives it to Stanhope in case ‘anything should happen to me.‘ Stanhope infuriated ‘you’re coming back old man. Damn it! What on earth would I do without you?‘ after he’s left, Osborne and Raleigh are left alone. Osborne tries to distract Raleigh with talk of tea, coffee or cocoa but Raleigh can’t seem to forget what’s coming. Suddenly they discover they have Lyndhurst in Dorset in common.
The raid occurs; Raleigh returns shocked to his core. Osborne is dead. The colonel seems unable to relate to the men’s loss ‘That’s –er – six men and – er – Osborne.’ Later Stanhope shouts at Raleigh for sitting on Osborne’s bed and later still is infuriated when he hears about Raleigh’s refusal to join the after the raid party. When he speaks to Raleigh about it they end up arguing about who cares the most about the death of Osborne. Stanhope has by now alienated Hibbert and Raleigh.
Dawn and the day of the attack.
Raleigh is fatally wounded. Spine broken by a shell. This time Stanhope orders Raleigh put on Osborne’s bed. Raleigh is unaware of how badly he’s hurt. Stanhope is soothing and reassuring. Raleigh dies. Stanhope is called away. A shell explodes over the dugout and it collapses, creating a grave for Raleigh.