Near sunset the following day, Stanhope paces the dugout and speaks with the Colonel, who tells him that headquarters has told him the raid must take place before 7pm. When Stanhope asks why, the Colonel says, “They’ve got some conference to arrange the placing of reserves.” In response, Stanhope guesses, “They can’t have it later because of dinner, I suppose.” He also guesses that the Germans are simply waiting with their guns drawn for the raid to happen, but the Colonel merely says he can’t disobey orders. As they go through the plan once more—the Colonel telling Stanhope they’ll question the German prisoner right away—Osborne and Raleigh enter the dugout. Stanhope encourages the Colonel to go speak to the rest of the men who will be carrying out the raid, and though he’s hesitant at first, Stanhope convinces him that it will be good for their morale.
Unlike Stanhope, the Colonel doesn’t have much at stake in the raid. Indeed, he doesn’t have personal relationships with the men who are venturing into danger, so he only stands to benefit from the mission, since he’ll be able to report any modicum of success to his superiors. As such, Sherriff presents the Colonel as a man obsessed with following orders, somebody who copes with the stressors of military life by carrying out his tasks without question, even when this means sending men to their death.
On his way out, the Colonel wishes Osborne and Raleigh good luck, saying he’ll recommend them for awards if they succeed and reminding them how important it is to bring at least one hostage back. The Colonel and Stanhope turn to leave, but Osborne calls Stanhope back and places his wedding ring, watch, and a letter on the table and asks Stanhope to make sure they get to his wife if anything happens to him. “You’re coming back, old man,” Stanhope says. “Damn it! what on earth should I do without you?”
In the face of uncertainty, Stanhope can do nothing but assume a false sense of confidence, assuring Osborne that he will return safely. “You’re coming back, old man,” he says, but it soon becomes clear that this is something he needs to tell himself, since he doesn’t know what he would do “without” Osborne. As such, Sherriff highlights once again the bond Stanhope has with Osborne, showing the audience the vital importance and sustaining qualities of friendship during war.
After Stanhope leaves, Osborne and Raleigh try to pass the time before the raid. They only have six minutes, but it ticks along at an excruciatingly slow pace. Sitting at the table, they both yawn and feel “empty.” In the intervening time, they make idle chit-chat, which Raleigh periodically interrupts by asking questions about the raid, though they’ve decided to focus on other things until the actual event. Eventually, Osborne quotes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a distraction, and Raleigh finishes the passage, adding a final couplet to the rhyme. “Now we’re off!” Osborne says, and the two men start talking about pigs in the forests where Raleigh grew up. Apparently, Osborne is familiar with the area. Next, they discuss what they’ll have when they get back from the raid, and Osborne lets slip that the higher-ups have procured two bottles of champagne, six cigars, and a fresh chicken.
Again, Sherriff puts on display the friendly relationship Raleigh has developed with Osborne. One even gets the sense that Osborne has taken on a certain fatherly role in his connection with Raleigh, who clearly looks up to him and sees him as wise, as evidenced by the fact that he keeps asking him questions about what the raid will be like. But the best way to pass the time, they find, is to bond over shared experiences, once again suggesting that friendship and camaraderie can help people get through difficult psychological circumstances.
Finally, the time comes for Osborne and Raleigh to depart for the raid. On their way out, Raleigh notices Osborne’s ring on the table and says, “I say, here’s your ring.” “Yes,” replies Osborne. “I’m—leaving it here. I don’t want the risk of losing it.” “Oh!” says Raleigh, and a tense silence ensues as he puts the ring on the table again. “I’m glad it’s you and I—together, Raleigh,” Osborne says. “Are you—really?” asks Raleigh. When Osborne reaffirms that he is indeed glad to be carrying out the raid with him, Raleigh says, “So am I—awfully.” Agreeing that they “must put up a good show,” they put on their helmets and exit the dugout.
For the first time, Raleigh picks up on the inkling of doubt working through Osborne’s head regarding whether or not they will survive the raid. Whereas Osborne has until this point been a steady source of reassurance, in this moment Raleigh recognizes that his friend is perhaps just as unsure about the raid as anybody else. In order to keep Raleigh in good spirits, though, Osborne once again calls upon the connection they’ve established, telling Raleigh that he’s glad they’re going on the mission together. Fortunately, this helps Raleigh put aside his fears, allowing him to focus on camaraderie rather than on the possibility of disaster.
The dugout remains silent until the smoke bomb explodes overhead, accompanied by a thrum of machine-gun fire. The commotion escalates, though it remains muffled by the earthen walls of the dugout. After several moments, the noises abate, and Stanhope’s voice rises into the air. “All right, sir,” he says. “Come down quickly!” In response, the Colonel’s voice calls out, asking how many soldiers were captured. “Only one,” Stanhope says. As the Sergeant-Major wrestles a young German soldier down the steps of the dugout, Stanhope goes to check on the men. Meanwhile, the Colonel and Sergeant-Major confiscate a notebook from the German, giving the Colonel great pleasure, as he believes his superiors will be quite pleased with the results of the raid.
Unsurprisingly, the Colonel’s first thought after the raid is about whether or not it was successful. Rather than checking on the men who actually carried out the mission, he immediately goes to the prisoner and begins the process of interrogating him. Stanhope, on the other hand, is clearly worried for his friends, so he retreats to check on them. In this way, Sherriff reveals each character’s priorities, once more casting the Colonel as an uncaring man obsessed with carrying out his duties.
Stanhope slowly comes down the dugout stairs, and the Colonel says, “Splendid, Stanhope! We’ve got all we wanted […]. I must go right away and ’phone the brigadier. He’ll be very pleased about it. It’s a feather in our cap, Stanhope.” With a “look of astonishment,” Stanhope says in a “dead” voice, “How awfully nice—if the brigadier’s pleased.” Coming to his senses, the Colonel remembers to ask how the men fared, asking if they’re “all safely back.” In response, Stanhope answers that Raleigh and four men returned safely, but that Osborne—along with six other men—have died. Osborne, it seems, was killed by a hand grenade while waiting for Raleigh to come out with the hostage. At this point, Raleigh enters the dugout in a daze, and the Colonel congratulates him before leaving.
The fact that the Colonel sees the raid as a “feather in [his] cap” aligns with the notion that he is a man preoccupied with carrying out his orders. Stanhope, on the other hand, is distraught to discover that Osborne has died. This is because Osborne was in many ways the person who helped keep him maintain even the slightest amount of psychological stability. Now, without his wise friend, Stanhope has nobody to help him when he gets too drunk and nobody with whom he can speak candidly about his fear.
Raleigh sits on Osborne’s bed, and once he and Stanhope are alone, they look at each other in silence, the Very lights shining in faintly from above the trenches. After a moment, Stanhope says in an “expressionless” voice, “Must you sit on Osborne’s bed?” With this, he climbs the dugout steps, leaving Raleigh alone as “heavy guns” thud through the air in the distance.
It’s worth remembering that Osborne often acted as a mediator of sorts between Stanhope and Raleigh. Indeed, he tried to prepare Raleigh to deal with a new version of his old friend, and he often spoke with Stanhope about Raleigh, assuring the captain that Raleigh would still admire him despite the difficult wartime circumstances. Now, though, Osborne is gone, and Stanhope is at a loss for how to interact with Raleigh. Unable to navigate these interpersonal grounds, he resorts to indifference, telling Raleigh to get off Osborne’s bed and leaving the shaken young boy alone.