Journey’s End at Ypres – In Remembrance

I thought my first post after my trip to Belgium last week would be about my walks around the battlefields of Ypres, but my mind is so full of the experience of seeing R.C. Sherriff’s play Journey’s End, performed in an Ammunition Dump in that Belgium city, that I want to talk about that instead.


This particular run of the play finishes on November 12th, so I urge anyone in that area or anyone who can reach it easily, to book quickly to see the play (details below).

Journey’s End is the only drama about the First World War written by a playwright who actually fought in the war.

R. C. Sherriff


Exactly one hundred years ago, Sherriff fought at Passchendaele in the 3rd Battle of Ypres and approximately 90 years since the play was first staged in London (with Laurence Olivier in the lead) it is being staged by the UK based MESH Theatre Co. in an old restored ammunition dump with 3-metre thick walls made to resemble the dugout in which the play is set, in Ypres, the town that was razed to the ground and re-built.

The action takes place over 4 days prior to the disastrous battle of St. Quentin and deals with the physical and mental ordeals of trench warfare experienced by a group of British officers during the run-up to the battle, the changes wrought by the war on one officer in particular (an alcoholic at just 21 years old, a causal effect of the war) and the effects of shell-shock on another.  Only a few forward-looking medics took much notice at that time of what we would now call PTSD but which then was often considered cowardice, or if you were lucky, shell shock (after being named such in 1915).

Ramparts Walk 3
A Walk on the Ramparts at Ypres  © Mari Nicholson

The ‘Theatre’ is accessed through a couple of hessian sacks serving as a doorway to the dug-out, the setting is atmospheric, lighting restricted to a few candles and two or three oil-lamps which barely illuminate the smokey trench.  Seating is limited to about 80 seats which surround a centre space on which the action takes place, the acting is powerful and emotional and being immersed in the atmosphere of the trench makes for a very moving experience.

The current run extends to November 12th with tickets at €15. Matinees 3.00 Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays with evening performances at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the performance running just over 2 hours.

If you don’t manage to see it this year, make a note in your diary that the company will be performing it again in 2018, the centenary of the end of the Great War, at Thiepval, France from 18th September – 8th October and at Ypres, Belgium from 10th October to 12th November.

Menin Gate at night
Waiting for the Last Post to be Played at The Menin Gate  © Mari Nicholson




7 thoughts on “Journey’s End at Ypres – In Remembrance”

  1. Thank you, Dee, for that comment. And thank you for following me. I may have a chance to return to Ypres or Thiepval this October and f I do, I shall make a point of seeing it again. The venue and the play still haunts me.


  2. Wonderful post! It sounds like such an evocative experience to see that play performed in such a haunting setting. Though unfortunately wars seem to be as frequent as ever, at least we understand their impact better.


  3. Thanks for your interest, Jo. Vision problems still bad but I am hoping that the unpleasant monthly eye injections will eventually help to improve things. I’ve more or less come to terms with the things I can’t do and try to concentrate on what I can do. Some travel is completely out of the question now – especially going off on my own which I was wont to do – but I’m grateful I’ve managed so much in the past. Screen use and typing are more difficult and if I could drive again, everything would be so much better.


  4. Yes, harrowing is the word that comes to mind, Mari. I don’t have a good memory for names and titles but I have read some really stunning but awful books around the subject. I would find it hard to watch. How are you managing with your vision problems? Good to see that you are still venturing forth. 🙂 🙂


  5. Yes, it was harrowing, even though I knew the play. Our trip was one in which we followed the progress of the 3rd Battle of Ypres, visiting numerous cemeteries that in themselves can move one to tears when one reads the ages of those who fought and died. Was it the NTS that did that marvellous play way back in the late seventies called something like The ???, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil? I remember that well – it made a terrific impression on me at the time.


  6. Sounds a wonderful experience. The National Theatre of Scotland is doing a trilogy of plays (two down) about the Great War which concentrate on the 360 men shot for “cowardice”. They have been harrowing as I suspect this play was too.


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