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Theatre / The Gentleman Ranker

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The Gentleman Ranker is a 1919 play by Leon Gordon. The play takes place in the South African Theater of WWI, in a remote mountain outpost. The unit is understrength and expecting heavy German attack through the pass at any time. Reinforcements are on their way, but no one knows where they are or when they'll arrive, and the sentries at the pass have begun dying mysteriously. Several officers discuss which men they might promote, and one mentions that Private Smith has clearly held a commission before. Another reveals that he knew a Lieutenant Graylen of the Guards who is a dead ringer for Smith, but if the private wants to be Smith now they ought to let him. The Major offers Smith a commission anyway, but he refuses, returning to the barracks where the other men chaff him for his fancy ways. He offers to fight anyone who has a problem, saying he keeps to himself and would like to be left alone if no one likes him, earning him some cameraderie. The men all believe that they will die here before any reinforcements arrive.


Colonel Graylen, the commander, is equally worried. Lieutenant Harford tells him that men on sentry at the soc-called "Devil's Pass" have been mysteriously dying, and asks if there should be a call for volunteers. The Colonel's ward Violet , a nurse enters, bemoaning the straits they are in, and the lack of supplies, while the Colonel tries to buck her up with promises that the reinforcements will come soon. Harford and his commander go to fetch Private Smith, who has volunteered, while the Colonel discusses Violet's marriage. It's revealed that she was once engaged to Lieutenant Graylen, and the Colonel now wishes her to marry Harford, something she opposes. The discussion is interrupted by Smith, who the Colonel immediately recognizes.

After harsh words, Smith goes on sentry, where Violet demands to know what happened. He explains that he got into debt to his fellow officers over gambling debts, and when he heard Harford tell another officer that he never expected to see the money back had forged his father's name for a bank draft to repay him. Unable to make up the funds before he was discovered, he was cashiered and fled into the ranks to try to earn his self-respect again. He sends her away, and commandeers a patrol to help him catch the sentry-killer. It is revealed to be a German spy preparing for a surprise attack, which is imminent. Smith volunteers to push through enemy lines to get reinforcements, and leaves.


Tropes appearing in this work

  • Dark and Troubled Past: Private Smith is concealing a considerable personal disgrace.
  • Death Seeker: Private Smith says he joined because he hadn't the courage to eat a pistol
  • During the War: The Great War, to be specific, in German South East Africa
  • Gentlemen Rankers: The title character is one.
  • I Have No Son!: Colonel Graylen says that his son is dead to him.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Private Smith makes it through, but dies of his wounds. Colonel Graylen acknowledges his son again, posthumously.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: All of the officers are British Gentlemen, who can recognize that Smith has the right mannerisms. Harford is German, but still an aristocrat.
  • The Men First: Violet steals Lieutenant Harfords brandy for the men under her care when the hospital runs out. Harford begins to object, but Colonel Graylen overrules him, saying that of course it's the right thing to do.
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  • The Mole:Lieutenant Harford is a German agent who has been undercover for a decade as a British officer.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: Their job is to hold Devil's Pass, and hold it they will, though every man believes it's their Last Stand.

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