Wednesday, October 12, 2022



The Trench Mortar Officer has been labelled as a short story, but I consider it to be a sketch since it has a considerable amount of dialogue. Adrian Consett Stephen (1892-1918) was a young playwright with his four plays produced prior and during World War One. His sketch maybe a likely idea for a future play. He wrote this piece while he was in France during World War One. Stephen was an acting Major in the British Royal Field Artillery when he was killed in action at the age of twenty-five on March 14, 1918. Since the major character in The Trench Mortar Officer is in the actual position that Stephen held, this work may be somewhat centered on the events and his thoughts of a particular day. Adrian Consett Stephen was born and educated in Australia.  He was one of the few men from his country serving in a British regiment.                                                                           

                                                         ADRIAN CONSETT STEPHEN

The initial setting for this piece, which commences before breakfast, is a dugout on the French Front belonging to a Captain of a Trench Mortar division before breakfast. Later the Captain is called to go to a trench—a second location. He goes to the trench and gives the order to fire a mortar. When it lands in the German trench, it does not explode since it is a dud. The Captain begins to return to his dugout when several mortars are fired by the Germans and the bombs fall into a trench near him. He hardly notices them since he is focused on his thoughts, and he falls into a sump hole. “Life is not worth living” he gurgled.

After lunch in his dugout, he is given forms to complete by four o’clock. When evening comes the officer steps out of the dugout. The scene has the moon shining and softly through the silence floats some music. This moment of peacefulness gives him some hope that ‘Life is worth living after all-even here.”

Since the Trench Mortar was a significant weapon during World War One, it is important to know a bit about the type of weapon it was.  The Trench Mortar was widely utilized during WWI since it could be fired from a position in the trench, and it saved the mortar crews from physically being exposed to the enemy.  The Germans improved upon this older type of military weapon, and they began to stockpile it before the war commenced on the French Front. The Trench Mortar consists of a short tube designed to fire a projectile/bomb at a steep angle.


                                             This photo shows the British Stokes Mortar  

When World War I began, the British military was caught short by this old, but improved war weapon which caused many British soldiers’ deaths as well as left many of the troops with serious wounds. However, Great Britain began production in late 1915 on a greatly improved mortar weapon created by Sir Wilfred Stokes (1860-1927) to be used by its army and its allied partners. By the end of the war, both sides had developed a full range of highly efficient deadly mortar bombs that could be fired at the rate of twenty-two bombs per minute with a range of 1,200 yards.                                                        

                                              U.S. Soldiers loading a Trench Mortar in 1918

I believe this sketch illustrates a significant aspect of trench warfare during World War One that is lost to most individuals today. But I also think that had the sketch been published while the war was in progress, it would have given an insight into the battlefield that those at home did not know.

The Trench Mortar Officer illustrates one day in the life of an officer on the battlefield and the adverse conditions he continually battles that are beyond one’s ability to alter.  It illustrates that these conditions can wear down even the strongest individual.  The Trench Mortar Officer is the leader who had a bad day, but lives to recognize by day’s end that life is still a gift.

 PHOTO: University of Sydney

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