Text supplied by Roland Wales.
On 18 April 1917 RC Sherriff sent his mother a photograph which had been taken a fortnight earlier. He told her that:
‘Since it was taken, the man on my right (standing on the left of the photo) has been killed, and the old man sitting on the extreme right of the photo has been wounded. These are some of the awful parts of war – the gradual disappearance of friends like this…’
Cecil William Trenchard was the ‘old man on the right of the photo’. He was born on 7 May 1881, and had come to Europe from Melbourne, in Australia, where he had been a stock agent. He joined up in August 1915, and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 11th Surreys, but was soon attached to the 3rd East Surreys. On 4 January 1916 he had a nasty accident (‘going from the Mess Room to duty in the dark over bad ground’) which led to him breaking an arm and a leg, and it took over a year before he was cleared for active service. He arrived in France on 7 March 1917, and joined the 9th East Surreys on 16 March – which explains why he does not appear in the photograph (below) of the Battalion’s officers taken on 10 March.
On 11 April Trenchard was in the front line with the Battalion when he was wounded in the face by shellfire, as recorded in the Battalion Diary:
‘Our TMs [trench mortars] of all three calibres carried out a successful bombardment of enemy’s front line and drew retaliation in the shape of several 4.2s, which knocked our trenches in one or two places, and caused three casualties’.
His wounds were serious enough that he was on the hospital ship St Denis back to England just four days later: his war in France was over, for he permanently lost the vision in his left eye. He remained in the army, however, attached to the 3rd East Surrey garrison in Dover, where he later worked again with Sherriff (who was invalided back to England in August 1917).
The photograph of the ‘C’ Company officers is usually taken as a guide to some of the men who may have been models for characters in Journey’s End. 2nd Lt Douglass, for example (known as ‘Father’ to his colleagues) is often suggested as a model for Osborne (‘Uncle’), and Captain Warre-Dymond, Sherriff’s Company Commander, is cited as a possible model for Stanhope (though without the prodigious love of whisky). There may be some merit in both suggestions, although there may also be traits in other of Sherriff’s colleagues which made their way into the characters of his most famous play. It is natural, given Trenchard’s physique, to imagine that he might have been in part a model for Trotter, but this is highly unlikely. Trenchard served in France with Sherriff’s battalion for less than four weeks, and for most of that time Sherriff was behind the lines training new recruits: he and Trenchard served just two days together in the front line, hardly enough for Trenchard to make an impression.
Roland Wales is the author of the new RC Sherriff biography From Journey’s End to the Dam Busters: The Life of R.C. Sherriff, Playwright of the Trenches (2016, Pen & Sword). He has set up a blog featuring Sherriff’s letters home from the trenches on the date they were written, one hundred years ago, see www.rolandwales.com.