Rhetorical language is used in the printed directive issued to the men before they sail to France.

They are told to keep and “read it in moments of temptation”.

The directive states: “You are ordered abroad as a soldier of the King to help our French comrades against the invasion of a common enemy.”

This language reminds them of their duty. The complete directive repeats the pronoun ‘you’ and is very focussed on making the men feel their responsibility.

The list included in “You have to perform a task which will need your courage, your energy, your patience” is persuasive and typical of the kind of rhetoric that was used to influence young men.


Johnston uses repetition for effect in various occasions in the novel.

In the opening scene - as he ponders how his execution will affect his parents – Alec’s only comment about his mother is “My heart doesn’t bleed for her.”

He repeats this phrase later in the novel on reading a section in the army directive warning soldiers to “avoid any intimacy” with women in France – “Poor Jerry I thought, my heart bleeds for you.”

Alec probably means some humour in this remark, as Jerry has talked so much about wanting to be with a woman.

But the repetition of the phrase in this way shows how much Alec cares about Jerry, while being indifferent to his mother’s feelings.


Johnston uses characters’ dialogue to tell us more about them.

Their accents and colloquialisms are different depending on their class.

Alec’s narrative uses the standard English of an educated and affluent member of the Anglo-Irish upper classes. We also see this in the dialogue of his mother and father.

This is contrasted with the dialogue of Jerry and Mr Cave the piano teacher, who are of a different class.

Mr Cave uses colloquialisms such as “fellamelad” and “sonny” and Jerry teases Alec as a “queer eejit”.

Jerry’s use of the Irish “omadhán” also reminds us of his Irish as opposed to Anglo-Irish identity, another distinction between the friends.