R.C. Sherriff, author of Journey’s End, the most famous play of the Great War, saw all his frontline service with the 9th Battalion East Surrey Regiment. This intense experience profoundly affected his writing and, through his play, it continues to have a powerful influence on our understanding of the conflict. Yet the story of his battalion – known as ‘The Gallants’ after the bravery it displayed during the Battle of Loos – has never been told in full until now.
In The Journey’s End Battalion, Michael Lucas gives a vivid account of its history. Using official and unofficial sources, diaries, letters, and British and German wartime records, he describes the individuals who served in it and the operations they took part in. He identifies the inspiration for Journey’s End and considers how Sherriff delved into his experiences and those of his fellow soldiers in order to create his drama.
The narrative covers the battalion’s bloody initiation at Loos, its role in the fighting on the Somme at Guillemont and Delville Wood and during the Third Battle of Ypres, then the part it played in the desperate defence against the German 1918 offensives and its contribution to the Allied advance to victory.
Despite the presence of Sherriff and other notable individuals, the 9th East Surrey was in many ways typical of the southern Kitchener battalions, and Michael Lucas’s account of its service provides a fascinating contrast with the northern Pals battalions whose story has been more often told. So not only does the book shed new light on the wartime experience of R.C. Sherriff, but it is a valuable record of the operation of a British battalion on the Western Front during the Great War.