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To Serve Them All My Days (1972)

by R. F. Delderfield

Series: To Serve Them All My Days (Omnibus 1 & 2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8281922,256 (4.17)142
Miner's son David Powlett-Jones returns from the carnage of the Western Front in 1918, shell-shocked and bitterly hardened by the violence of war. He begins life again as a master at a remote Devon school, controlling the destiny of boys barely his junior. As the years pass David becomes a teacher of rare talent, begins to find peace, and is able to adjust to the changes which are overwhelming society. But soon he will have to face up to the prospect of another terrible war...… (more)
  1. 10
    Winter in Madrid by C. J. Sansom (Anonymous user)
  2. 00
    Tom Brown's School Days by Thomas Hughes (charlie68)
    charlie68: Similar themes and setting.
  3. 00
    Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton (charlie68)
    charlie68: Similar themes.
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» See also 142 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
(28) Oh dear - I loved this book . . . just loved from the first page to the last. It checks all the boxes for me - long and twisty with the passage of time; strong sense of place; historical backdrop; erudite yet whimsical at the same time - none of the ponderous pretension of postmodernism - just excellent story-telling and dialogue. A shell-shocked young Welshman, survivor of trench warfare is sent to a remote public school in the north of England to be a schoolmaster. Perhaps a sense of purpose away from everything can help him recover in some meaningful way. David Powlett-Jones is a fish out of water but with the help of the jovial Headmaster, and some crusty friends, he earns the trust of the boys who are balm to his wounds. He finds he is a damn good teacher and mentor and Bamfylde - the school - becomes his universe. And the readers too, for several weeks as this is a 600 page book with closely-spaced type on big pages! I was lost in it and looked forward to reading it everyday.

I loved Howarth and Towser, and the interlude with Alcock as Head and the tense exchanges between he and PJ - so well done. I couldn't believe Beth and the twins; and never really warmed up to Chris. I am now watching the BBC miniseries on You-tube and think it would make a great re-make for HBO/Netflix. Anyway, I digress. I think this is a tremendous testament to living a life defined by meaningful work. however that is defined by you. You stay with it; through the ups and the down; sometimes just showing up is all you can do; and then sometimes you are inspired and you move forward in great leaps and bounds. It resonated for me in the medical profession where so many of us are experiencing burn-out and looking to jump ship. Some days are Carters, and Alcocks, and tedium, and the smell of the piggeries. And some days are frost on the moor; Boyer, the Kassavas; and Scotch with an old friend.

This novel is great entertainment and great solace. It has much to say about duty, honor, paying it forward, recompense for hard work; generational tension; generosity. It reminds me a bit of 'The Cazalet Chronicles, by Elizabeth Jane Howard, of a 'A Separate Peace' by John Knowles. Both very different but impactful books that gave me the same glow after reading as this fabulous novel. Put it on your summer reading list! ( )
  jhowell | Jun 6, 2022 |
This is a peculiarly old fashioned thing. Set between 1917 and 1941 I suspect it would have appeared to be looking back at the life of a school master through rose tinted glasses even when first published. David Powlett-Jones was wounded in WW1 and we first meet him as he approaches a private boys school to be interviewed as a school master. He has no degree, no qualifications in teaching, he's been suggested that he try it by the medical officer at the army hospital as a remedy for his shell shock. After this slightly unusual introduction to education, it turns out that he actually has a bit of a flair for teaching and history is his subject. Through the new boy we meet the existing staff, the rather eccentric head master, the various boys of all ages. You don't meet all of them, just ones that will re-appear multiple times as the book follows him over the next 20 years or so. Along the way he acquires a wife & twins, then tragedy strikes and his life is in almost as big a mess as it was in the beginning.
By the time you reach the ending, the appeal of the various escapades that have taken place along the way have started to pall slightly. David is engaging enough, although his dealings with women cause me to shake my head at him - this is a man married to the school. The cynic in me is uncertain that schools were ever this good - certainly we don't meet enough of the masters that must be needed to teach 400 boys, so what are the other like? We seem to meet the good ones, or the ones that are good but have a character flaw of some description. Thinking back I can remember a few really good teachers, but the majority were mostly going through the motions. - and I think we knew that even then. His longevity might be surprising, except that I was taught by a teacher who had previously taught my mother at the same school, so while unusual, it's not impossible, although probably increasingly unlikely. It is also unrelentingly male, the few women that appear are David's love life, the matron and the occasional female teacher.
The ending is bittersweet. Having fought in one war, David is recording the names of old boys who have died in a second. There is then the death of a long standing teacher and the birth of a child to balance the account. The arrival of a invalided soldier as a new teacher sees the beginning in the end, although you suspect a rather different story will be played out in the next 20 or so years. ( )
  Helenliz | Jan 5, 2022 |
So I'm apparently the last person on earth to read this one but that oversight is finally over. And what a book! David Powlett-Jones returns from WWI, damaged both physically and mentally and is directed to try his hand teaching at Bamfylde, a boys' boarding school near Devon. No degree or experience but he seems to have found the place to heal his soul, among the boys and colleagues, all so vividly portrayed by a master storyteller.

The book is long, over 600 pages, but the time just flew by as I was reading because it was so very engaging. And compelling. Complex characters, especially his characterization of the female characters, which is particularly impressive considering the book was written in the early 70s and depicts the years between the wars. Someone described it as sentimental. Maybe so but also compassionate, funny, endearing and just wonderful all the way around. This book was enhanced for me by the Backlisted podcast which I listened to earlier today. I found the BBC mini-series on YouTube and will have to watch that, because of course I will. ( )
  brenzi | Nov 17, 2021 |
I was surprised how hard I found to put this book down when I was reading it—David's life drew me into the life at Bamfylde and I was eager to find out how things evolved over time. Only the last couple of chapters felt a bit rushed, even if they were drawing the book to a full circle. ( )
  mari_reads | Sep 7, 2019 |
Wonderful story of courage, humanity and compassion. It shows how a hero can be just as important in a local and quiet setting as in a public and dramatic one.
  rosiezbanks | Feb 19, 2018 |
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Epigraph
How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stolen on his wing my three and twentieth year!
My hasting days fly on with full career,
But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th.
--John Milton
Dedication
Dedicated to my friend and colleague
of the book world
ROBIN
DENNISTON
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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.
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Miner's son David Powlett-Jones returns from the carnage of the Western Front in 1918, shell-shocked and bitterly hardened by the violence of war. He begins life again as a master at a remote Devon school, controlling the destiny of boys barely his junior. As the years pass David becomes a teacher of rare talent, begins to find peace, and is able to adjust to the changes which are overwhelming society. But soon he will have to face up to the prospect of another terrible war...

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