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To Serve Them All My Days

To Serve Them All My Days

by R. F. Delderfield

About the Author

Born in 1912, R. F. Delderfield was a journalist, playwright, and novelist, renowned for brilliantly portraying slices of English life. He is one of England’s 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.


Reading Group Guide

1. After surviving three years in the trenches, David is shell-shocked and removed from the world, a mere husk of flesh and bone. What are some of the things that contribute to his rediscovery of identity and purpose? Are there other things that could have helped? What recalls a human being to life after so much pain?

2. David doesn’t immediately go home to visit his family when he returns from the front because he says he needs privacy. Was that the only reason? What would going home have done for his condition?

3. There are numerous moments of quiet contemplation and small moments of kindness that help define characters in the book. One such event is the stationmaster who called David “lad” while he was on his way up to his interview at Bamfylde. Another was Algy’s story of the Bamfylde boys helping the baby on the train. What other stories can you think of that demonstrate the sense of community around Bamfylde?

4. What makes David such a good teacher? What most endears him to his students?

5. How would you describe the educational philosophy at Bamfylde? Is it typical or radical? Does it sound like a place you would like to send your children? Why or why not?

6. Herries describes David as a bridge between the older teachers and the students. Compare each generation, from Herries to David to Boyer, taking into account their historical place and influences. Is one any more naive than the other? Is each successive generation smarter or better informed? What kind of progress do you see?

7. David is called a “Bolshie” in the beginning, referring to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Boyer later calls him a Tory. Where would David’s views put him on today’s political spectrum?

8. Look at the relationships between Herries, David, and students such as Boyer. How is fatherhood portrayed in this novel? How does each headmaster fulfill the role of a father?

9. David is attracted to three strong women throughout his life: Beth, Julia Darbyshire, and Chris. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each? How does David come to depend on women throughout the novel? What do they provide that he doesn’t have?

10. How is sex portrayed in the novel? Do you believe that it is a realistic portrayal?

11. Herries view of history is “Two steps up, and one and a half steps down.” Do you agree? Are things always slowly improving?

12. What is it about Bamfylde that David finds so soothing? What do children, both his students and his own, represent to David? Hope? Renewal? Beth says that David would see a child of his own as “a kind of answer to what you and all those others had to put up with all those years.” Was she right?

13. How is marriage portrayed in the book? Compare David’s two marriages. Are they similar in any way? How does David change in the time between each marriage?

14. David says to Christine after she runs away, “Isn’t being my wife purpose enough?” Do you agree with David that being someone’s spouse is purpose enough in life? Is being someone’s spouse purpose enough for David?

15. David overcomes many personal disputes during his time at Bamfylde. Howarth says to David, “In a place like this you don’t fight with drawn swords, my boy. You find a nice little spot behind a chimney pot and snipe.” Was Howarth right, or simply being sarcastic? What is David’s style of confrontation? What about Algy’s? Which is more effective?

16. Do you agree with David’s attitude toward Blunt and the war memorial? Is war profiteering money an inappropriate means of honoring the dead?

17. How does David’s working class background affect his teaching style and attitudes? Are they a help or a source of prejudice?
18. “A man shouldn’t compromise with his search for personal fulfillment.” David says this regarding his reasons for not marrying Julia. Is this always true? What can or must be compromised in a marriage?

19. Looking objectively at Alcock’s reign as headmaster, what was the underlying reason he didn’t fit in? Was he a fair man? Was it his disregard for Bamfylde’s individuality—did he simply not love the place enough? If so, what does this say about Bamfylde as a community and institution?

20. Was Alcock’s death a lucky coincidence for David, or do you agree with him when he says, “Victory, at this price, was a kind of defeat.”?

21. Alcock and Towser the dog died at the same time, yet the dog’s death received more attention. What does this say about how a person (or an animal) is remembered? By his actions or by his love? Or both? What really makes an impact on people’s lives?

22. What kind of faith does David have? How is it reflected in the school and his life? Has it changed over his years at Bamfylde? His mother had strong faith; has it influenced how David lives and acts in the world?

23. Looking through the eyes of the enlisting young men, what are the differences between the First and Second World War? Are they going into the war for different reasons? Do you agree with Boyer when he cites David’s teaching and philosophy as a major influence in the boys’ decision to sign up?

24. Discuss the different approaches David and Howarth take to life and death.

25. Chris sees WWII as a justified war. Do you think her convictions would change had Ian been old enough to enlist or if she had lived in London during the bombings? How does direct involvement change people’s views of war?

26. While writing his book, The Royal Tigress, David professes to add a human touch to the characters by “putting two and two together. Fashions and attitudes change every generation, but people don’t.” Do you agree with David or do you think people have changed throughout history? What attitudes have changed since David’s time?

27. “Let others seek what is safe. Safe is the worst of fortune; for the fear of any worse event is taken away.” How does Barnaby’s quotation of Ovid apply to this novel? Is it true?

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