The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Although Her Privates, We is not written in the first person, Bourne’s activities and consciousness dominate the point of view. Like the author, Bourne is Australian, or so one infers from several pro-Australian comments he makes, as well as this reflection: “He felt curiously isolated even from them [the Westshires]. He was not of their county, he was not even of their country, or their religion, and he was only partially of their race.” This difference helps to give him a detached perspective on those around him, though he is throughout a sympathetic observer, aroused to anger only by meanness, malice, and the dodging of responsibility. He shares the frontline soldiers’ scorn for those “parasites behind them pinching the stores.” His attitude toward senior officers who are safely insulated from the horrors of the trenches is seen in the sardonic reflection: “Presently arrived magnificent people on horseback, glancing superciliously at the less fortunate members of their species whom necessity compelled to walk.” Because of his education and ability to influence others, he is identified as one who should become an officer, a move he repeatedly rejects because before enlisting he had no experience in dealing with men and after serving in the ranks he believes that he belongs with them. He comes to agree with the assessment of him as a man wholooked at a question upside down and inside out, and then did exactly what the average man would do in...

(The entire section is 536 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Bourne, a private in the Westshire regiment on the Somme front in World War I. As an outsider, evidently Australian, he maintains a detached perspective toward the British around him. Nevertheless, he is sympathetic and grows angry only at meanness, malice, and the dodging of responsibility. Because of his superior education and ability to influence others, he is repeatedly offered promotion. He rejects these offers, primarily because he feels at home with the men in the ranks. At the end, vindictively ordered to lead a night raid on the German trenches, he is shot in the chest and dies while being carried back.


Shem, a Jewish private in the Westshire regiment. He had a safe job in the Army Pay Office in England, which he gave up to go to the trenches in France. After a battle, he forms a friendship with Bourne and Martlow and, although careful to avoid buying their drinks, he does pick up the bill if the others are broke. Early in the disastrous Somme offensive, he is wounded in the foot but manages to crawl back to the British trenches.

Charlie Martlow

Charlie Martlow, a private in the Westshire regiment. The son of a gamekeeper, he is obstinate but generous. He happened to sit beside Bourne and Shem after a battle, through which chance their friendship was formed; this friendship sustains them through all the hardships and horrors of trench warfare. During the Somme offensive, the back of his head is blown off, and he dies in Bourne’s arms.

Weeper Smart

Weeper Smart, a private in the Westshire regiment. Weeper is a nickname imposed on him because he always bears an expression of suffering, at once pitiful and repulsive; Bourne never calls him by it. His face resembles a vulture’s, with a narrow forehead; arched eyebrows; loose, pendulous lips; a receding chin; and a large, fleshy nose jutting from between protruding, watery blue eyes. He has thin sandy hair, sloping shoulders, abnormally long arms, and huge hands. He dreads the thought of killing and is haunted by the memory of it. He volunteers to go on the patrol with Bourne. When Bourne is fatally wounded, Weeper carries him back to the British lines.