At the outbreak of the First World War, Samuel Singleton, a farmer’s son, enlists in the army, when only seventeen, together with his friend and neighbour, Richard Lewis. They are sent to the Western Front. Sam serves in the trenches and the Royal Flying Corps. After being shot down and severely wounded, he is awarded the Military Cross.
Mary Davies went to school with Sam and fell in love with him the first time they met. She writes to him during the war years and he learns that his family farm was devastated by Foot and Mouth and that the horses were conscripted by the army. After the war, Sam goes with Richard to buy horses in an army remount depot: by a thousand-to-one chance, he finds his beloved mare, Bella.
Mary expects that they will marry and is heartbroken when he leaves to start a new life in Malaya as a rubber planter. He promises to send for her as soon as possible.
Ruth Birley has just come down from Oxford and is returning to Singapore where her father is Chief Health Officer. She meets Sam on the sea voyage and is very attracted to him. Although torn by his conscience, Sam is fascinated by the glamorous Ruth, and they marry.
Mary has not told Sam that she is pregnant, and when she learns that he is getting married to Ruth Birley, she attempts suicide by jumping off a bridge on Sam’s mare, Bella, but is saved by Richard Lewis. Mary and the unborn child survive and she agrees to marry Richard. They bring up the child, Andrew, as their own.
Ruth becomes bored with plantation life and has an affair with the young doctor on the rubber estate, John Griffiths. She has a child, Stephanie, who is sent to school in England.
When the Japanese invade Malaya in 1941, Sam joins the guerrillas, but is captured and interned in Changi prison camp. Ruth is evacuated to Australia, where she finds fulfilment in a lesbian relationship. At the end of the Second World War, Sam joins Ruth in Australia, but returns to England when he hears that the Lewis’ farm is for sale after Richard was killed in an accident.
While Stephanie is training to be a nurse at a London teaching hospital, she meets a medical student, Andrew Lewis, and discovers that they are neighbours. They fall in love and Stephanie becomes pregnant. When they tell Sam’s parents that they are planning to marry, they decide they must tell Sam that Mary’s son, Andrew, is his son and therefore Stephanie’s half brother, and that Stephanie and Andrew must end their relationship. Stephanie overhears and tries to emulate Mary’s suicide but Ruth now confesses that John Griffiths, not Sam, was Stephanie’s father, and that Andrew and Stephanie are therefore not related and can marry.
Realising that her own marriage has finally ended, Ruth returns to Australia.
There may be a future together for Sam and Mary.
Genre Literary Fiction