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To Serve Them All My Days

To Serve Them All My Days

4.0 22
by R. F. Delderfield

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The beloved classic saga from master author R. F. Delderfield, subject of a landmark BBC miniseries.

To Serve Them All My Days is the moving saga of David Powlett-Jones, who returns from World War I injured and shell-shocked. He is hired to teach history at Bamfylde School, where he rejects the formal curriculum and teaches the causes and


The beloved classic saga from master author R. F. Delderfield, subject of a landmark BBC miniseries.

To Serve Them All My Days is the moving saga of David Powlett-Jones, who returns from World War I injured and shell-shocked. He is hired to teach history at Bamfylde School, where he rejects the formal curriculum and teaches the causes and consequences of the Great War.

Eventually David earns the respect of his students and many of his fellow teachers, against the backdrop of a country struggling to redefine itself. As David falls in love and finds himself on track to possibly take on the headmaster role, he must search to find the strength to hold true to his beliefs as the specter of another great war looms.

To Serve Them All My Days is a brilliant picture of England between the World Wars, as the country comes to terms with the horrors of the Great War and the new forces reshaping the British government and society.

"Mr. Delderfield's manner is easy, modest, heartwarming."
Evening Standard

"He built an imposing artistic social history that promises to join those of his great forebears in the long, noble line of the English novel. His narratives belong in a tradition that goes back to John Galsworthy and Arnold Bennett."
Life Magazine

"Sheer, wonderful storytelling."
Chicago Tribune

"Highly recommended. Combines tension with a splendid sense of atmosphere and vivid characterisation. An excellent read."
Sunday Express

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[L]ush and descriptive... " - Books Like Breathing

"Delderfield's love of the boys and the teachers is contagious and provides a touching tribute to this time in British history." - We Be Reading

"Delderfield takes his time in telling his story... filled with details." - Book Are My Only Friends

"A rich and complex story... the author brings the story full circle in a charming way." - The Tome Traveller's Weblog

"I can't thank Sourcebooks enough for reprinting the R.F. Delderfield novels. All of them are wonderful reads, engrossing and comforting at the same time." - Booksie's Blog

"Fascinating... a book to savor. " - Library Queue

"Reading To Serve Them All My Days is an experience, not merely an activity and it is one of those books that give you a story you will not soon forget, that will give you characters that you will know, inside out, and you will crave to meet one more time." - Reading Extravaganza

"A beautifully-written, emotionally charged and complex tale of one man's life, tragedies, hope and healing, set at an English boarding school. Absolutely engrossing." - Bookfoolery and Babble

Product Details

Da Capo Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.48(w) x 8.24(h) x 1.19(d)

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Chapter One

The guard at Exeter warned him he would have to change at Dulverton to pick up the westbound train to Bamfylde Bridge Halt, the nearest railhead to the school, but did not add that the wait between trains was an hour. It was one of those trivial circumstances that played a part in the healing process of the years ahead, for the interval on that deserted platform, set down in a rural wilderness, and buttressed by heavily timbered hills where spring lay in ambush, gave Powlett-Jones an opportunity to focus his thoughts in a way he had been unable to do for months, since the moment he had emerged from the dugout and paused, rubbing sleep from his eyes, to glance left and right down the trench. From that moment, down long vistas of tortured, fearful and horribly confused dreams, his thoughts, if they could be recognised as thoughts, had been random pieces of a child's jigsaw, no two dovetailing, no half-handful forming a coherent pattern. Yet now, for a reason he could not divine, they coalesced and he was aware, on this account alone, of a hint of reprieve.


The shell, a coal-box, must have pitched directly on the parados of the nearest traverse, filling the air with screaming metal and raising a huge, spouting column of liquid mud. He had no real awareness of being flung backwards down the slippery steps, only a blessed certainty that this was it. Finish. Kaput. The end of three years of half-life, beginning that grey, October dawn in 1914, when his draft had moved up through a maze of shallow ditches to a waterlogged sector held by the hard-pressed Warwickshires they were relieving. Even then, after no more than two days in France, his sense of geography had been obliterated by desolation, by acres and acres of debris scattered by the sway of two battle-locked armies across the reeking mudflats of Picardy. There were no landmarks and not as many guidelines as later, when trench warfare became more sophisticated. The confusion, however, enlarged its grip on his mind as months and years went by, a sense of timelessness punctuated by moments of terror and unspeakable disgust, by long stretches of yammering boredom relieved by two brief respites, one in base hospital, recovering from a wound, the other when he was withdrawn for his commissioning course. Superiors, equals and underlings came and went. Thousands of khaki blurs, only a very few remaining long enough to make a lasting impression on him. Here and there he had made a friend, the kind of friend one read about in the classics, true, loyal, infinitely relished. But the mutter of the guns, the sour mists that seemed to hang over the battlefield in summer and winter, had swallowed them up as the wheels of war trundled him along, a chance survivor of a series of appalling shipwrecks.

Occasionally, just occasionally, he would be aware of conventional time. The coming of a new season. A birthday or anniversary, when his memory might be jogged by a letter from home, full of mining-village trivia. But then the fog would close in again and home and the past seemed separated from him by thousands of miles and millions of years, a brief, abstract glimpse of links with a civilisation as dead as Nineveh's.

And at the very end of it all that ultimate mortar shell, landing square on the parados and pitchforking him over the threshold of hell where, for the most part, he was unaware of his identity as a man or even a thing but floated free on a current of repetitive routines — shifts on a stretcher or in a jolting vehicle; daily dressings, carried out by faceless men and women; odd, unrelated sounds like bells and the beat of train wheels; the rumble of voices talking a language he never understood; the occasional, sustained yell that might have signified anger, pain or even animal high spirits.

The intervals of clarity and cohesion lengthened as time went on, but they were never long enough for him to get a firm grip on his senses. He learned, over the months, that he had been dug out alive, the only survivor of the blast, after being buried for several hours. Also that he had survived, God alone knew how, the long, jolting journey down the communication trenches to the dressing station, to advance base and finally to Le Havre and the hospital ferry. For a long time, however, he was unaware of being back in England, shunted from one hospital to another until he finally came to rest at Osborne, reckoned a convalescent among a thousand or more other shattered men as confused as himself.

Then, but very slowly, he became fully aware of himself again. Second Lieutenant David Powlett-Jones, "A" Company, Third Battalion, South Wales Borderers; sometime Davy Powlett-Jones, son of Ewart and Glynnis, of No. 17 Aberglaslyn Terrace, Pontnewydd, Monmouthshire, a boy who had dreamed of scholarship and celebrity, of bringing a gleam of triumph into the eyes of a short, stocky miner who had worked all his life in a hole in the mountain and died there with two of his sons in the Pontnewydd-Powis explosion of August, 1913.

He was aware of his identity and, to some extent, of his past and present, but the future was something else. He could never attach his mind to it for more than a few seconds. The war surely would go on for ever and ever, until every human soul in the world was engulfed in it. He could never picture himself leading any different kind of life but that of trudging to and from the line, in and out of the mutter of small-arms fire and the sombre orchestra of the shells. Hospital life, as he lived it now, was no more than an interval.

Then Rugeley-Scott, the neurologist, infiltrated into his dream world. First as a white-smocked and insubstantial figure, no different from scores of predecessors who had paused, hummed and prodded during the last few months, but ultimately as a force where he could find not comfort exactly but at least relevance. For Rugeley-Scott had certain theories and persisted in putting them forward.

One was his theory of upland air and David's own Celtic roots responded to this, feeding a little vitality into the husk of his flesh and bone. For Rugeley- Scott said that a man could enjoy a sense of proportion in upland air that was denied the Lowlander, upland air being keen and stimulating and capable of clearing the fog in the brain and reanimating petrified thought-processes. It had a trick, he said, of making a man at one with his environment. Rugeley-Scott, of course, was a Highlander, whose boyhood had been spent in Sutherland and whose medical studies had taken him no further south than Perthshire. He believed passionately in upland air in the way a primitive savage believes in the witch doctor's bones and amulets.

Meet the Author

Born in South London in 1912, R.F. Delderfield was a journalist, playwright, and a highly successful novelist, renowned for brilliantly portraying slices of English life. He has remained one of England's most beloved novelists, with many of his novels being adapted into television and film, including the landmark BBC miniseries of To Serve Them All My Days.

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To Serve Them All My Days 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
sandiek More than 1 year ago
David Powlett-Jones returns from three years experiencing the horrors of trench warfare during World War I. Injured and suffering the after-effects of shell-shock, he turns to teaching. He finds a job teaching history at Bamfylde School in Cornwall, England. Driven by his experiences, David soon finds that he is not as interested in teaching history as it has always been taught at Bamfylde; a dry complilation of dates, battles and rulers as he is in opening the eyes of his students to the reality of war. He believes that there is rarely a reason for war, and that the damage is so severe that only as a last resort should it be contemplated. The boys he teaches are quite interested in this viewpoint, and David becomes a popular master with them. His theories find opposing views among some of the other masters, however. The chief of his opponents is Carter, who teaches science and heads up the student Cadet Corps. He vehemently opposes Powlett-Jones, and tries to thwart his teaching style however he can. As David heals, he also finds love. He marries a nurse, Beth, and they are blessed with twin daughters. David's happiness is short-lived, however, as Beth and one of the daughters are killed in a car accident. Following this, David's life is one of depression, and only teaching and the need to provide for his surviving daughter pulls him through the next decade. When the headmaster who hired David retires, several candidates for headmaster are considered. David is one candidate, while his nemesis, Carter, is another. The decision is made not to choose either internal candidate for fear of creating havoc at the school. An outsider is chosen. Unfortunately, this outsider is a dictatorial rule-follower, who ruins morale and brings the school close to chaos. When he dies, David is chosen to be the new headmaster. This coincides with his new relationship. He remarries to Christine, and they have a son. Now in his 40's, David has finally found resolution to many of his questions and concerns, and is in a stable period. But, the drums of war are starting to beat again. David is faced with the prospect of World War II, and readying his students to face another world convulsion. I can't thank Sourcebooks enough for reprinting the R.F. Delderfield novels. All of them are wonderful reads, engrossing and comforting at the same time. To Serve Them All My Days is an interesting look at not only one man's life and his reaction to war, but a glimpse into the world of British education and the society that had to face two world wars within forty years. It is difficult to comprehend today the amount of death and destruction that was everyday life for most of the world during this time period. This book is recommended for lovers of historical fiction or for anyone interested in a great read.
Richard63 More than 1 year ago
I do not understand the British educational system. I think of school as grades K-12. Lower schools and fifth forms. This I find perplexing. The author makes the characters very human. Every character in this book has a story brought to life by Delderfield. War and the threat of war is constant. How the adults and the children deal with it is fascinating to say the least.
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D_MacGowan More than 1 year ago
A great novel. At first I was put off by the length, but it reads rather quickly. Interesting characters and a writing style that takes you into the time period.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I first picked up this book in the Eighties, after seeing the television adaptation of it on Masterpiece Theatre. I still enjoy this book to today. It can, perhaps, get a touch sentimental at points, which is why I knock one star off the rating; but the overall story and its theme of hope, healing and preservation holds up to today.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Better than your average summer read by far
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Delderfield chronicals the life P. J. a nineteen year old verteran of three years in the hell of trench warefare. Invalided out in 1917, he regains sanity and purpose in molding the live of hundreds of boys as a schoolmaster on the Exmoor plateau in Cornwall, England. Tender, heroic, tragic and funny. I still enjoyed with nostagia the portrait of my homeland.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A great book to get lost in.
Guest More than 1 year ago
David Powlett-Jones' struggles with his subject, with his dedication to the education of the young men in his charge, while still trying to reconcile the violence of the times with his own innate pacifism, makes a fascinating story. As a 30-year teacher, I would give my teaching certificate to be in his classroom, to give him a hand. Every new teacher should read this book. I did, when I had been teaching for one year. It was an inspiration.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In my opinion, the most gripping of his novels. From the first page you are pitched, head first, into the very real world inhabited by these characters. Having been to an English boarding school, I can vouch for the realism! You can smell the dust on the school books and hear the bell ring; the characters are so real you form attachments to them and soon have a 'favorite'! Each time I read this book I enjoy it so much I hate to finish.