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"R.F. Delderfield is a born storyteller." Sunday Mirror
The beloved classic saga from master author R. F. Delderfield, subject of a landmark BBC miniserie...
"R.F. Delderfield is a born storyteller." Sunday Mirror
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.
Subject of a Landmark BBC Miniseries
Includes Bonus Reading Group Guide
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING:
"I sometimes still wake up in the morning and look forward to reading more about P.J. and Bamfylde."
"From the stationmaster on the first page to the last boy on the last page, these characters all have a very human aspect that connects to you immediately."
"This book should be in everyone's library."
"This is an ennobling book it showed a person wounded in body and spirit who found that concentrating on the details of teaching the schoolboys under his care was, in a sense, a healing meditation."
" just the book for a cold rainy day with a hot cup of tea and a scone."
"Mr. Delderfield's manner is easy, modest, heartwarming."
"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."
"Sheer, wonderful storytelling."
"Highly recommended. Combines tension with a splendid sense of atmosphere and vivid characterisation. An excellent read."
Table of Contents
Part One: Initiate
Part Two: Catalyst in a Beret
Part Three: The Bell in the Brain
Part Four: Ave Et Cave
Part Five: Impasse
Part Six: Cut and Come Again
Part Seven: Island in a Torrent
Part Eight: Plenitude
Part Nine: Re-Run
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, bu...
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.
P. J. easily and quickly finds his place at Bamfylde and the job does, indeed, act as therapy. The story continues to follow him through two decades of service at Bamfylde, as he deals with the daily troubles of working with a variety of personalities, dealing with the loneliness, grief, excitement and fears that his students experience and his own ups and downs in the job and in his life. As the book closes, P. J. is reflecting on his time at Bamfylde. Hes happy in some ways and just a tad bitter in others. England has taken a battering in the second World War and many of the boys he saw grow up have already been killed in yet another frightful war.
The ending really is lovely as its beautifully concluded and yet not really an ending at all. Good times and bad have continued throughout his time at Bamfylde and its clear that more of the same will continue to occur until he retires; and, youre left with the sense that there are many more years of his work at Bamfylde ahead of him.
I absolutely loved this book and looked forward to spending a little time with P. J., each day. In fact, because I enjoyed the atmosphere so much, I admit to deliberately dragging out the reading and Im afraid Id go straight into withdrawal if not for the fact that I own a copy of the BBC series on DVD.
The only thing I disliked (apart from a few diatribes about British politics) was that P. J. occasionally was a bit prickly and had a slightly bad attitude toward women. His coworkers blamed P. J.s Welsh mining heritage for his occasional outbursts of temper. As to his feelings about women . . . this is something I noted in the protagonist of God is an Englishman, as well, and I suspect that the author was simply a product of his misogynistic times but it may also have been his way of portraying how men really felt during the time period. In To Serve Them All My Days, P. J. actually tells his depressed wife that she needs to "snap out of it" after her first child is stillborn. And, then he proceeds to tell her that being his wife should be challenge enough for her. Fortunately, P. J.s best friend and mentor steps in with a much better plan for helping his wife recover from tragedy and in that way the author redeemed himself.
5/5 - A beautifully-written, emotionally charged and complex tale of one mans life, tragedies, hope and healing, set at an English boarding school. Absolutely engrossing.
Cover thoughts: Even though playing marbles isnt something that was mentioned in the book, I just love the Sourcebooks cover of To Serve Them All My Days. It seems to speak well of the time and place, an atmosphere of joy and learning. The way an older man is crouched near the boy, you can easily imagine he is P. J. or one of the other teachers and get a feel for how they were not just people who dipped into the lives of their students during class time but were involved in every sense. Teaching, at least as described in this book, was not just a calling but a way of life.
My dream profession had always been teaching. I got my degree and then I did work as a teacher in Poland for a period of two years and even now, ten years later, I look back at it as my best times working. Somehow, life didn’t work out the way I wanted and while living here I gave up teaching and became a translator instead. But I still do look back with nostalgia and sentiment at the time when I felt most fulfilled spending time in a classroom with my students. Therefore, reading To Serve Them All My Days by R.F. Delderfield became a very personal and beautiful experience to me.
The novel gives us a story of David Powlett-Jones, a young man traumatized by three years fighting in WWI , who ends up getting a teaching position in Bamfylde, a public school for boys in England. P.J., as he is called by all who know him, applied for this job at the suggestion of his war doctor to heal his mental and emotional wounds acquired while fighting in this war meant to end all wars. David soon finds out that teaching is not merely a job but that it becomes a way of living and true healing. He makes dear friends among teachers and students alike and discovers that he was born to be a teacher, a guide for all the boys who change from children into adolescents right in front of his eyes and under his guidance. And miraculously, his own wounds do heal and the school prepares him for what’s to come in life just as much as it does those boys he teaches. It’s another wonderful saga by Delderfield spanning the years between the end of WWI and the beginning years of WWII in which there is a lot happening in England just as much as in all other parts of the world.
In my review of God Is An Englishman, I already expressed my great affection towards Delderfield’s writing talent. To Serve Them All My Days not only confirmed it but turned out to be actually better even though I didn’t think it possible. It is not an easy book to read in terms of the subject it deals with. There are many heartbreaking moments when I was reminded how much havoc WWI did wreak in lives of all people, especially the ones who survived. David, who as a boy went through the death of his father and his two older brothers who died buried in a collapsed coal mine, emerged from the three years spent on the battlefield shattered and without hopes for ever being able to deal with war experiences. Bamfylde’s headmaster, Algy, deals with the deaths of boys he came to treat as his sons, he raised to adulthood only to send them to their demise. Many times I cried because I was reminded how real all these war experiences were even to us, almost a century later. Not to mention, David’s commitment to his students and his life lived through his teaching, was something I could identify with to the point where I would stop and think that by giving up teaching myself, I defied my destiny somehow.
I truly adored this novel and I was sad to let it go. I wish there had been more of David and all others that came after him. R.F. Delderfield is now officially on the list of my favorite writers. The book is quite big, with 600 pages but once I started reading I didn’t notice the length at all. 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.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is an in depth look into the life of David Powlett-Jones, a history teacher at a British boarding school for boys named Bamfylde. David joined the school at the end of WW1 as a shell-shocked young man trying to regain some sense of his life. He finds purpose in his existence at the school, one that ultimately becomes an inseparable part of who he is and determines his lifes work.
Its difficult to sum up an amazing piece of literature that spans the period of British history from the end of WW1 to the beginning of WW2 all through Davids eyes. But the novel leaves no stone unturned. It delves into David finding love, molding the minds of impressionable youth, dealing with common room politics, and all the disappointments, joys, heartaches, and triumphs of a life fully lived. David is not perfect, but I found myself rooting for him every step of the way.
Those with an interest in the British political climate of the period will find this book fascinating. Some of it was a bit over my head, but it did not stifle the enjoyment of the book for me. I actually learned a lot while reading. There is some language used that is reflective of the time period and some terminology that is peculiar to British public (which really means private) schools. I got a kick out of it since a lot of it was the same language used when I attended high school in England in the 1990s, just proving the depth and importance of tradition to a school like Bamfylde.
I attended a school with a very similar history to Bamfylde. (Some of the girls I graduated from high school with were part of the first batch of girls to arrive when the school became co-educational in the 1980s.) While Im sure my own life experiences play into it some, I absolutely loved this book and would definitely recommend it. The writing was superb. At 600 pages, it is truly a book to savor and not to be rushed. I look forward to reading more books by R.F. Delderfield in the future and getting my hands on a copy of the 1980 BBC miniseries of this book!
After three years in the bloody trenches of World War I France, David Powlett-Jones is sent to an English hospital to recover from his injuries. He was born and raised in a Welsh mining town, where his father and two brothers were killed in a mining accident when he was a boy. He was accustomed to loss but nothing could have prepared him for the devastation he witnessed in the war. The injuries heal but the shell-shock requires a more creative treatment.
Davids doctor has a remedy. He sends him on a job interview for a position teaching history at Bamfylde School, a boys school in isolated Exmoor. At Bamfylde, David finds something special: a father figure, a surrogate family and a place to begin to forget the horrors of his war experiences.
And he does. The doctor has somehow hit on Davids calling. He is young for a teacher, at only twenty one, but he has a gift for it and a passion for teaching history. He earns his degree along the way and becomes part of the fabric of the Bamfylde world, indeed one of the most important pieces of it. In a saga that stretches over more than twenty years, Davids life has the same tragedies and triumphs as anyone else, but his are enriched by the students and the school that seem to cushion the bad times and magnify the joys of his life.
This is a rich and complex story. Though I found parts of it a little slow, there can be few books that describe so clearly the point of view of a dedicated teacher as they watch successive generations come and go. And Im glad that I read through until the end, because the author brings the story full circle in a charming way.
It is also a wonderful historical novel of England between the wars, the author does an excellent job relaying the shock and dismay of ordinary people watching yet another deadly conflict building. I enjoyed this novel and I think anyone interested in English history, teaching or historical fiction would enjoy it, too.
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. Davids happiness is short-lived, however, as Beth and one of the daughters are killed in a car accident. Following this, Davids 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 40s, 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 cant 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 mans 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.
To Serve Them All My Days, my second experience with R.F. Delderfield, was a mixed but pleasant one. The story and the setting were quite enjoyable but in reading two of his books so closely together, I also noticed his non-favorable portrayals of most women.
During World War I, Welshman David Powlett-Jones is injured and shell-shocked and has returned to England to recover. He has an unconventional doctor who decides that the best cure for "P.J." is to be immersed in a quiet, self-contained community with a strong sense of usefulness and responsibility. There is an opening for a history master at Bamfylde School, a small public school in Devon, and though he has no experience teaching and no degree, the headmaster Algy Herries sees something in young David that qualifies him for the position. Through the years, P.J. faces many trials and hurdles but finds that Bamfylde is in fact his salvation and his cure.
I feel that this book is foremost an ode to public schools. Bamfylde was modeled on West Buckland School which Delderfield attended for a few years after spending time in a string of poorer schools. Its obvious that he cherished his time at the school and that he strongly believed that these institutions, when properly run, could instill young men with character and integrity, qualities important to the future of England. To this end, Delderfield populated his novel with many beloved characters such as Headmaster Algy Herries and Powlett-Jones. Those dissonants who value test scores more than community never truly become a part of the Bamfylde family and they are removed from the story in many different ways.
Though Delderfield gives insight and intelligence to many of his male characters, he is not as generous with some of the female characters. I noticed the same shortcomings in God is An Englishman. In both of these books, the strongest female characters willingly give up their positions in business and politics to have families and seem somewhat satisfied to have the burden of thought and responsibility taken from their shoulders. They also tend to be overly willing to physically satisfy the protagonists with no expectations of commitment in other words, these ladies are cool with one-night stands. One character in this book is somewhat redeemed by receiving a position of authority at Bamfylde but instead of holding the opinion that this gives her a chance to exercise her mental faculties and use her education, she is said to love the job because of her connection with the children. She is praised for her intuition and kindness but only rarely for her brains. I know that this is a view that would be more acceptable in the early twentieth century but the novel was written in 1972 and could have been a bit more generous toward women.
The second purpose of this story is a criticism of Britains political and diplomatic decisions between WWI and WWII. The political portion of the story is less prominent but it is obvious that Delderfield felt that Britain made poor choices after World War I and missed opportunities to prevent the disaster of World War II. He seems to feel that there were certain lessons that should have been learned from historical events even before the first World War. Knowing very little about the options open to England during these twenty years, I cant say if Delderfields views are universal or if they belong to a certain political persuasion.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It is a well-formed story of one mans recovery and rebirth through the traditions of England. I really fell in love with David Powlett-Jones, cheering his successes and mourning his losses. The novel was occasionally confusing with the scores of nicknamed youths that passed through Bamfylde but Delderfield does a good job of reminding the reader of the previous role that each boy had in the story. Delderfields love of the boys and the teachers is contagious and provides a touching tribute to this time in British history.
Out of curiosity, has anyone seen the BBCs To Serve Them All My Days miniseries from 1980? Im deciding whether to watch it or not.
My views of British primary and secondary education are probably a little off. Like many of my peers I watched Pink Floyds the Wall a few too many times and had it in my head that all the teachers were like the "Stand still laddie" guy in this clip from the movie. Thanks to my infatuation with the Victorian period, Id gotten the sense that the public (private in the American sense) schools were factories for creating the foot soldiers of empire.
While Floyd made have overstated the case, the imperial duty awaiting the students is central to R.F. Delderfields To Serve Them All My Days. The main character, David Howlett-Jones, is invalided out of the British Army in the later years of World War One. As part of his recovery, he is sent to a small rural school to serve as a teacher. While he has little formal training, he has a background in history and soon finds himself deeply engaged in the role and in his students lives. He also finds himself at odds with some of his colleagues. David finds himself at odds with a jingoistic fellow teacher, who is all for the war, despite not serving himself. Some of the more conservative elements in the school also oppose his methods of teaching, which many label Bolshevik.
As in his other work, Delderfield takes his time in telling his story. His chapters are filled with details and asides although the various plots including Davids romance, marriage and eventual parenthood. As time passes, he becomes more and more senior at the school and becomes a central figure to the community.
Hanging over the later half of the book is the coming of the Second World War. The school is haunted by the large number of dead alumni from the first war and the threat of new losses becomes nearly unbearable. It is Davids quiet dignity that keeps it from becoming maudlin. The book concludes with an act that closes the circle opened at the books start.
So many books today are written for the short reading blocks. In thrillers in particular, the chapters are usually only 10 or 15 pages, just the right amount for your subway ride. This book is meant for longer, committed reading times where you can really sink into the book.
I didn’t quite know what to do with this book when I started it. It was huge and rather intimidating and even though Delderfield is familiar to me, his books aren’t. I have scene the miniseries but the book was a little bit scary to start with. I found that once I started the scared feeling faded away.
I love boarding school dramas. It was always a secret dream of mine to go away to boarding school. Sadly I was stuck in horrific catholic schools for the majority of my education. I have always been intrigued by boarding school politics and the inclusive atmosphere that forms when a group of people are forced to exist together for an extended period of time. The boarding school atmosphere of the books was the best part. The characters and situations kept me interested through the whole reading experience.
David was one of my favorite parts of this book. He was such an intelligent and interesting character. I loved watching him acclimate into Bamfylde School, fight with other teachers and headmasters and fall in love. I loved his conflicts with Carter. They were like two kids having a pushing match in the playground. My favorite character was Grace, David’s daughter. She was spunky and vivacious character. I wish there had been more of her in the book.
The language was lush and descriptive. A big attraction for me. It definitely made the book as good as it is. This may not work so well for other readers who like their books to have less description. I found that it did not overwhelm but it can definitely seem overwhelming but I quite enjoyed the descriptions.
Sourcebooks did a great job with this book. The covers for these Delderfield reissues are wonderful. They are they perfect mix of black and white with a splash of color and really reflect the atmosphere of the novel. I am definitely going to follow the rest of these reissues as they come out.
Length: 9 in
Width: 6 in
Weight: 22.00 oz
Page Count: 608 pages