First World War resources for schools (KS4 English and History) based on the archives of RC Sherriff, author of Journey’s End.
Surrey writer Robert Cedric Sherriff (1896-1975) is famous throughout the world for Journey’s End, the greatest play in the English language to explore the experience of serving on the Western Front. In 2013 Surrey Heritage was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant for a First World War commemoration project entitled ‘To Journey’s End and Beyond: the life and legacy of R C Sherriff’ to celebrate Sherriff ’s career and cultural impact, focusing in particular on his iconic drama, the action of which is set in a British dugout on the eve of the great German offensive of March 1918.
Surrey History Centre in Woking holds Sherriff ’s papers: nearly 150 boxes of letters, scripts, newspaper cuttings and other material which shed light not only on the writing and impact of Journey’s End, but also on Sherriff ’s early life as a schoolboy and insurance clerk, and his later successful literary career as a playwright, novelist and screenplay writer for the American and British film industries. As a successful Hollywood scriptwriter Sherriff was responsible for such classics as The Dam Busters and Goodbye Mr Chips and at one time was the highest paid British scriptwriter in Hollywood. Letters in the collection from this period abound with famous names. The project has enabled these papers to be sorted, catalogued and interpreted to enhance our understanding and appreciation of Sherriff as a man and literary personality
Robert Cedric Sherriff was born in Hampton Wick in 1896 and educated at Kingston Grammar School, and began working as an accountant. When the war started, Sherriff tried to enlist but he was rejected. In November 1915 he applied again and by September 1916 he had received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the East Surrey Regiment. He arrived on the Western Front in October 1916 and spent four gruelling months with the 9th Battalion at Vimy Ridge and Messines Ridge. On 27 January 1917, Sherriff was wounded during a bombardment at Bracquemont. He was treated in a field hospital and returned to the front line in time to participate in the notorious third battle of Ypres, better known as Passchendaele. Sherriff recalled his short part in the assault as three nights of bedlam.
On 31 July 1917 Sherriff and his men were called forward to attack the German positions, according to the 9th Battalion war diary. On 2 August 1917, during the advance, Sherriff was struck by 52 pieces of shattered concrete from a bombarded pill box. He was the only officer to be wounded that day, but 7 other men were killed. After treatment in a casualty clearing station and field hospital, Sherriff was sent home to a hospital in Netley, Hampshire. Suffering from neuralgia, he then joined the East Surrey’s Home Service Battalion, and in March 1918 he was made a Lieutenant. From January 1919 he served as a temporary captain whilst acting as assistant area gas officer, a position which he held until 1920.