The play opens in a dugout in the British trenches in Northern France. The action begins on the evening of Monday 18 March 1918 and continues over three days. It ends at dawn on Thursday 21 March 1918.
Captain Hardy is about to be relieved by a Captain Stanhope. The play begins with Hardy and Stanhope’s second in command - Osborne - discussing what Stanhope is like. Osborne and Stanhope are the main characters for the rest of the play.
After Hardy leaves, a new young officer - Raleigh - enters. Raleigh has managed to get himself placed in C Company because he knew Stanhope at public school. Also, Stanhope has been in a relationship with Raleigh’s sister, Madge.
Osborne tries to hint to Raleigh that Stanhope is a changed man from the one he might remember. But Raleigh fails to understand and seems to have an idealistic picture of Stanhope as a mythical hero figure.
It is also clear that Raleigh is excited and enthusiastic about being on the front line. His youthful energy and exuberance already seem in contrast to the more experienced officers.
When Stanhope enters it is clear he is shocked and uncomfortable at Raleigh’s presence.
We find out that he fears Raleigh will write and inform Madge that he has become an alcoholic and - despite Osborne’s advice to the contrary - he threatens to censor Raleigh’s letters.
Through a conversation with Osborne we discover that Stanhope’s addiction was caused by the terrible realities of trench life.