Captain Stanhope’s infantry company entered the front lines on Monday, March 18, 1918, at a time when the Allied Powers were expecting a strong German attack near St. Quentin. Lieutenant Osborne, a middle-aged officer who had been a schoolmaster in civilian life, met Lieutenant Raleigh, a new officer, when the latter arrived at the headquarters dugout. Discovering that Raleigh was an ardent hero worshiper of Captain Stanhope, who was absent at the time, Osborne tried to make the new officer realize that Stanhope’s’ three years in the lines had made a different man of him.
Raleigh could barely realize just how much his friend had changed. Stanhope had become a battle-hardened, cynical infantry officer who drank whiskey incessantly in order to keep his nerves together.
After supper that evening Stanhope confided to Osborne that he was fearful of young Raleigh’s opinion, and he declared that he meant to censor all the young officer’s mail, lest Raleigh reveal to his sister the kind of man Stanhope, her fiance, had become. Stanhope was bitter that Raleigh had landed in his company when there were so many others in France to which he might have been assigned. He was also concerned over Lieutenant Hibbert, another officer who was malingering in an effort to get sent home to England. Stanhope, who hated a quitter, resolved that Hibbert should be forced to stay.
The following morning the company prepared for the expected German attack. Stanhope sent out parties to put up a barbed wire enclosure in case neighboring units were forced to withdraw. Stanhope, having received orders to stand, meant to do so. During the morning Raleigh and Osborne had a long talk and became very friendly. After their talk Raleigh went to write a letter to his sister. When he finished, Stanhope made him hand it over for censoring. Raleigh, after some bitter words, did so. Stanhope, angry with himself for insisting, could not bring himself to read the letter. Osborne, anxious to keep harmony in the company, read it and reported to Stanhope that Raleigh had written only praise of the captain to his sister.
That afternoon word from regimental headquarters reported that the German attack was sure to occur on Thursday morning, and Stanhope hurried up preparations for the expected attack. As he finished a conference with his sergeant major, the colonel commanding the regiment stepped into...
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He is the protagonist of the play. He joined the war straight out of school at eighteen; the play always references "school," which likely means a military academy. He’s served nearly three years, spending the past year now as Commanding Officer of C Company. He drinks heavily to deaden his nerves in order to cope with the terrors of war. He throws himself into his duties and hardly sleeps. He has a bit of a temper, but he is liked and respected by his men. He looked after Raleigh while they were in school together and he started a relationship with Raleigh’s sister over a summer he spent with their family; he hopes to be engaged to her after the war ends, they write letters to one another and he keeps a photograph of her in a leather pocket case. Stanhope resents that Raleigh managed to find his way into his regiment, as he worries that he’ll write about his current, less-than-admirable condition to his sister and jeopardize their continued relationship.
He is the second-in-command of C Company. He is middle-aged, level-headed and attends to all duties well, belying his character as a schoolmaster. The men refer to him as Uncle. He holds much respect for Stanhope’s abilities, experience and perseverance in command and rejects any notion that he should surpass Stanhope. He takes an almost caretaker role with his bonds to Stanhope.
A fresh, new, eighteen-year-old Second Lieutenant straight out of school. His uncle, General Raleigh, berates him for asking if he can serve in a specific battalion, scorning the idea of special treatment, but quietly makes the necessary paperwork for his assignment directly into Stanhope’s regiment. Raleigh shares a past with Captain Stanhope; they went to school together and their fathers were friends. He looks up to him and knows him by his first name, Dennis. He hasn’t seen him since summer of the previous year. Raleigh's first name is revealed as Jimmy by Stanhope in the end of the play.
He is a Second Lieutenant and third in line of command of C Company. He is middle-aged, short and fat. He enjoys his food and is starting to bulge out of his uniform. He tries to make the most of life in the trenches, and deals with things by eating, a contrast to many of the other men.
He is another junior officer in C Company. He claims to be suffering harshly from neuralgia, but Stanhope believes he is just feigning in order to cook up a means to leave the front lines and go back home.
He is Stanhope’s superior as the Commanding Officer of – presumably – the battalion or regiment. He demonstrates that he is not callous to the plight of the men when he suggests to the Brigadier that the planned raiding operation be conducted at, or nearer to, dark as opposed to daylight (a suggestion that the Brigadier and the rest of the top brass refuse).
He is an enlisted soldier taken from one of the platoons among C Company. He is currently assigned as the cook and servant aide to the officers.
He is a Captain from another regiment. He thinks it may be best if Stanhope is replaced as CO, reasoning against his young age, his drinking, his temperament, and also because he believes Stanhope is beginning to crack from his long service on the front.
He is a huge, burly man. As Sergeant-Major, he is in charge of the enlisted men of C Company and sometimes relieves the officers on duty watch details.