David Powlett-Jones, the son of a Welsh miner, is invalided out of World War I after suffering from shell-shock. The doctor who is supervising his convalescence advises him to take up teaching. Somewhat sceptical, he applies to teach history at Bamfylde, a boys' boarding school in north Devon. Before long, he finds himself immersed in the spartan life and quaint traditions of the school, and becomes a much-respected teacher and house-master. His close involvement with the school helps him cope with the tragic loss of his young wife and his twin daughters in a car crash. As World War II looms, he eventually becomes headmaster, after a heated and long-running dispute with his ruthless predecessor.