The second scene of the second act takes place on the same day. Stanhope is reading on his bed when the sergeant-major enters; he is a huge man with a fat red face and a black mustache. They have a whiskey and discuss the coming attack: Stanhope orders him to put barbed wire down on either side of their position so everyone will be forced to stay and fight. The sergeant-major asks if they should make a plan for falling back if they fail to sustain the attacks. Stanhope says there’s no need: even when the Germans get around the back of their position, they’ll simply advance and win the war. The sergeant-major pretends to make a note.
The sergeant-major leaves as the colonel enters and says the general has ordered that they conduct a raid to capture a couple of German soldiers to find out where the Thursday morning strike is going to hit hardest. The plan is to send smoke bombs and blow a hole in the Germans' barbed wire, then dash through the hole to capture an enemy.
They discuss which two officers should lead the ten men needed for the raid. They agree on Osborne but Stanhope is resistant when the colonel suggests Raleigh. Before leaving, the colonel asks if Stanhope likes fish, which they’ll be having for dinner that night while they formalize the raid plans.
Hibbert enters from the tunnel and tells Stanhope that his neuralgia has gotten the better of him and he must go down to a sick hospital to recover. Stanhope claims to have neuralgia too, which surprises Hibbert. Nonetheless, Hibbert turns away and says he’s going to the doctor. Stanhope says he’s already talked to the doctor; he’ll only send Hibbert back. Hibbert is incredulous, and goes to collect his pack anyway.
When Hibbert tries to leave the dugout, Stanhope pulls out his revolver and tells Hibbert he is going to stay and see the attack through like the rest of them. When Hibbert tries to pass him, Stanhope pushes him. Hibbert strikes at him with his walking stick, which Stanhope breaks over his knee. Stanhope threatens to shoot him for deserting, and says he will claim it was an accident with his revolver.
Hibbert closes his eyes and says he may as well shoot him then, because he isn’t going back into the trenches. Stanhope puts his gun away and says he likes how Hibbert handled the situation. He tells him to stay and see it out. Hibbert breaks down crying and tries to explain that he can’t do it any longer, he isn’t like the other men.
Stanhope gives him a mug of whiskey and says he understands because he feels the same. He asks Hibbert to think about how it would be if everyone gave up. Eventually Stanhope convinces Hibert to have a rest, and says they’ll go on duty together, joking that they’ll hold hands and jump every time they hear a rat squeak. Hibbert thanks him.
Osborne enters and Stanhope fills him in on the details of the raid. Mason brings tea and bread and jam for Osborne and Trotter, who has just woken up. They both lament that Raleigh has to participate, and agree not to let him know how dangerous it will be. Trotter doesn’t understand why Osborne is reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Stanhope returns and gets Hibbert out of his bed. They leave the dugout together and Trotter says Hibbert’s eyes are red like he has been crying. Raleigh comes down and talks excitedly about the prospect of the raid. The curtain falls.
The second scene of the second act begins with a reminder to the audience that Stanhope has ordered barbed wire to enclose his troops so they are forced to stay put and fight. In addition, he refuses to even consider a plan for falling back, meaning that his men have two choices: succeed in fighting off the attack, or die trying.
The colonel arrives to give Stanhope the generals’ orders for a fact-finding raid to capture a German soldier. The theme of hierarchy arises when Stanhope resists the idea but must follow the orders of high command. Because of his personal connection to Raleigh, Stanhope also resists the idea of sending him on such a deadly mission, but when the colonel threatens to give the mission over to another commander, Stanhope is quick to rescind his apprehension and take responsibility for the mission.
Continuing with the theme of hierarchy, in a moment that contrasts the men’s priorities, the colonel asks if Stanhope likes fish, revealing that he is more concerned with his dinner than the lives that will likely be lost on the needlessly dangerous mission he has just ordered.
The heated exchange between Stanhope and Hibbert brings back the theme of PTSD. Hibbert would like to leave before the battle, but Stanhope refuses, claiming that he and everyone else is just as traumatized, but he at least gets through by drinking. Ultimately, Stanhope succeeds in convincing Hibbert to stay on and fight on the promise that they’ll go on the line together. The scene reveals how Stanhope truly does have a gift for rallying his men’s spirits.
The second act ends on a moment that illustrates the theme of heroism and the reality of war vs. the fantasy of war. Raleigh descends the steps having learned about the raid. Rather than meeting the prospect with repression and dread, Raleigh is still young and naive enough that he believes the stories that circulate around the heroism of war. While Stanhope and Osborne understand that the raid will lead to casualties, Raleigh seeks the valor of having been selected for the mission.