Woodruff's novel is about the fortunes of an Oxford University rowing eight, leading up to and during the Second World War. 1938: the Arnold College crew are a varied bunch, united only by the love of their sport and a sense that theirs is a generation which may have to fight for king and country. There's Charley Bradbury, a Scottish Communist and pacifist; David Evans, a chorister and super- boffin; Roger Blundell a witty dandy;Tony Markham, heir to a substantial estate and brother to four Mitford-type sisters; Pat Riley, charming somewhat mysterious Irishman; Alex Haverfield, handsome and a natural leader; Max Elsfield a dangerous self- destructive drinker and Bill Clark a naval cadet. As the war progresses they are gradually whittled away. Some, like Max Elsfield and David Evans, have been unhappy in love and have brought about their own destruction through reckless assaults on the enemy. Others like Charley Bradbury have had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time - torpedoed on a passenger vessel from Russia. Ultimately this - like the Nab End stories - is a book about common humanity: the importance of virtues such as faith, loyalty and self- sacrifice.
From his birth in 1916 until he ran away to London, William Woodruff lived in the heart of Blackburn's weaving community. He eventually went to Oxford University, is now 86 and lives in Florida.