When Sherriff was writing Journey’s End the social order would have been very different to nowadays.
By juxtaposing the public school educated upper class officers with working class soldiers like Trotter and Mason, Sherriff wanted to show how war brought everyone together and that there were brave men from all strata of society.
The portrayal of the Colonel - and unseen superiors - suggests that Sherriff wants us to question the decisions and behaviour of the rich, privately educated men in charge of the war effort.
While Sherriff does not mock them outright, he does give his audiences reasons to doubt those in power.
It has become a myth that World War One was badly planned by generals and politicians back home in the safety of London - the phrase ‘lions led by donkeys’ was often used to suggest this.
Some contend the massive loss of life on the front line is proof, but it is of course very difficult to judge without knowing exactly why certain decisions were made.
The Colonel for example is noticeable by his absence, appearing on stage for only a short time despite his importance in the action of the play.
He quickly suggests who should go on the raid, understatedly describing the matter as “a damn nuisance” but “necessary”. This seems to trivialise the fact that he is sending men to their death.
Afterwards - on receiving scant information from the German soldier captured during the raid that kills Osborne - the Colonel seems triumphant. He declares, “It’s a feather in our cap, Stanhope.”
In this way he comes across as ambitious and uncaring about the men who have died because of his orders. Stanhope’s sarcastic tone when he says “Still it’ll be awfully nice if the brigadier’s pleased” shows that he too is annoyed at the Colonel’s dismissive attitude.