Wednesday, September 30, 2009
To Serve Them All My Days by R. F. Delderfield
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.