Explore and evaluate the ways in which the war affects and changes the friendship between John Hilliard and David Barton

Strange Meeting is a novel written by Susan Hill, which was published in 1971. It is set in the First World War. The title of the book is taken from the First World War poet Wilfred Owen. It is a moving story focusing on youth and experience, hope and despair and friendship and love. It concentrates of the representation of relationship between the men in the trenches. This essay will explore and evaluate how the war affects and changes Barton and Hilliard’s relationship throughout the destructive and horrifying war. Strange Meeting presents us with typical world war images therefore we have a credible depiction of war.The novel has been written in a narrative and traditional style. The tradition has been mixed with the narrative to understand the characters. It has also been written in an epistolary style due to the integrated letters exchanged. Hilliard appreciates Barton’s family’s kindness to him, which contributes to his path to development; he appreciates Barton spiritually and physically.In the summer of 1916, John Hilliard returned home on leave after a wounded leg at the Battle of Somme. Hilliard encountered nightmares that consisted of the sights of innocent men dying right in front of his eyes, the horrors of war and how people were unaware what it was like to live in such awful conditions, fearing death. We can see this from the line ‘No-one knew, nobody understood’. Hilliard is a very confused self-supressed character. He is also a stoic character who is unaware of his surroundings and quite isolated. It’s not normal for a soldier to return from the war to go on leave and then wanting to be back in France, as he feels that where he belongs is in the trenches.Hilliard returned to France. As a result of the rate of deaths soldiers were replaced and Hilliard would struggle to see familiar faces. Part One Hilliard gets asked, “Have you met Mr Barton yet”? Hilliard is then taken to his billet, where he is finally introduced to David Barton whom is going to share his accommodation with. We can imply that Hilliard was very annoyed due to the fact he was looking forward to his own space and privacy. The fact that Hilliard is an omniscient character the idea of a ‘stranger’ enforces irrational anger. We can see that this from the line “Hilliard felt irrationally angry”. We can identify the complex sentence structure and the simple sentence structure. This symbolises the combination of inner conflict within himself. In order for Hilliard’s character to grow Barton must die. Hilliard believed that Barton was a likeable man who had qualities needed which other men lack, but he felt uncomfortable about his ability to speak openly. Whereas Barton’s character is whole but he has never experienced death and will be in for a shock. Through out the novel we see Barton change from a boy to man during his time in the front line, until his dramatic fall after his horrifying experience after a soldier gets shot in the head right in front of him.As we continue through the book Barton’s family are introduced. Hilliard becomes involved in their correspondence due to his own families detachment. This shows that Hilliard and Barton are more than friends; Hilliard feels that it is his duty to keep him safe. Barton experiences death for the very first time, they were marching through an Orchard and came across plane wreckage and a dead German. After seeing this horrific experience Hilliard knows that this has affected Barton. “Hilliard recognized in another what he himself had known, the first time he saw a corpse in France”. Hilliard understands how this feels therefore he feels pitiful and that it is his duty protect him as when he first experienced death he dealt it by himself. ” Come on” “we’d better go back” “David” Hilliard said Barton then replied “No.It’s alright”. This indicates that Barton is shocked by what he has seen but we know from this point onwards that Barton’s character will start to fall, as he is really unaware of what he is going to see and what he will become. Here we can see the friendship is strengthening from distrust to deep desire, and that Hilliard does not want to be parted from Barton because of the relationship that is starting to blossom.Part two of the novel Harris is a character that we are not initially introduced to. This is the second event that Barton experiences. Harris shuts himself into a cellar refusing to come out, as he is so frightened of the war. Hilliard was in charge of the platoon therefore felt it was his duty to deal with the problem. He said to Barton “You’d better stay here’ as he wanted to take charge. Hilliard then says to Barton ‘ I though you might know what to say to him better than I do”. Here we can see Hilliard character developing but we still can see the uncertainty as how to approach Harris. Barton managed to get half way up the stairs all of a sudden a shell lands on the building throwing Harris backwards and killing him. This where we see Barton deteriorate, he feels responsible of what happened. Hilliard tried comforting him “If we’d just left him he would of stayed there till tomorrow morning, and we would have to fetch Captain Franklin who would of ordered him out” Barton replied ” he’d have been alive Hilliard, he would have been alive”. John then stated” When the shell came Id heard you on the stairs just before it… I thought you were dead! We can now fully understand that the war has definitely affected a strong relationship between Hilliard and Barton’s as Hilliard in the pass hasn’t been able to open up but with Barton he can. Later Hilliard receives letters from Barton’s family who is touched by their kindness. Here we can see the relationship growing, Barton is introducing John to the family which is something more serious which shows us that they will be in each others memories for life.Barton is then ordered to the front line. Hilliard shouts “Jesus God, don’t let him be killed, don’t let him be killed”. From this point onwards Hilliard’s feelings for Barton become deeper and his need for him to survive is now overpowering, the affection he received from Barton’s family was also overwhelming, as he never received this from his own family. Its almost as if they are brothers they have their disagreements but deep down they care for each other and would also die for one another. ” Barton felt excitement churning in the pit of his stomach”. Here we can immediately suggest that going to the front line is nothing to be excited about, we can see that he is clearly inexperienced and is not at all prepared for the destruction he is going to see. A shell suddenly lands ahead and a private is shot by a sniper right in front of him. We can imply that Barton is shocked by the pointlessness and the futility of the war, and realises that things will change from now on. He would not be the same man.During this bitter period Hilliard notices Barton had been writing incredibly a lot. He reads extracts from a book by ‘Sir Thomas Browne’ ‘which questioned whether it would be easier to die or continue living with the quality of life you are left with. One of the letters stated, “You cannot imagine how we crave for the small everyday things”. This could show that Barton wants everyone to know what its really like being at war, its not what everyone makes it out to be, it’s a place of bloodcurdling experiences and death always awaiting around the corner. “Oh come, that doesn’t sound like you, that isn’t the kind of thing you would say”. This shows how strong their relationship actually is that Hilliard knows Barton well enough that he would never normally say such a thing.” I’m afraid of myself, of what I’m becoming, of what it will do to me”. Barton’s character has hit rock bottom his un-hole he doesn’t know how to react to what has happened whereas on the other hand Hilliard character is at its peak. The affection has been restored and Barton declares his love saying, “I love you John…”.Finally in part three Hilliard and Barton talk about how they might get leave and be home for Christmas. This is the peak of the relationship of how they both planned to spend time together and that it is a really serious relationship and that they could not possibly live without one another as they both play significant parts in each other’s lives but we know that initially for Hilliard to grow Barton must die. They are then once again ordered to the trenches where both of them are separated for good. Hilliard gets an injured leg and drifts in and out of consciousness several times. All he could hear was Barton voice saying, “When we will get back we shall have strawberries. The smell of Strawberries is the most beautiful smell in the world”. Hilliard woke up was in hospital. Lots of letters had been received but one had been on the table for ten days, but he knew he had to open it. It was a letter from David Barton’s mother stating that David had been reported missing. The letter also stated that they wish to invite him to their home to visit them when he gets better. Hilliard replies only but telling the truth that he does not know what happened to Barton, but it is highly likely that he has been killed, and also that he will visit when he feels better.Overall we can see that the relationship between John Hilliard and David Barton has grown significantly throughout the novel. Hilliard being an experienced solider has guided Barton through his journey to the war. Barton is inexperienced and doesn’t really know the things he will see will haunt him for the rest of his life. Hilliard feels protective over Barton that it is his duty to look after him. This friendship grows into something more serious. The affects of the war defiantly has changed the characters friendship as they went through stages of not talking as Barton was so shocked to what he was seeing, but they both managed to pull through. The war has definitely tested their relationship but it also has caused their relationship to blossom. They played major parts in each other’s lives; they could not live without each other but David Barton will always remain in John Hilliard’s heart forever.

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