Old Bert says he’s worried he’ll die before they finish filming. He then randomly swings to talking about Waterloo and ice cream and the general strike and what happened to his teacher.
Flash back to Eyre, standing in the classroom, looking serious and writing the date on the board: 2 February 1915. The postman’s out delivering official looking letters, and Prof Douchebag gets one, reads it, and then puts on an armband. Eyre comes into the room and Douchebag hands him his own letter.
Bert’s driving the milk to the train station in a cart pulled by a big horse, practicing his lessons as he goes. In the school, Douchebag practices a speech of his own. Still on the way to the station, Bert sees a man—I believe it’s the businessman, Hankin—leaving the home of the blonde girl who was supposed to be engaged to Joe’s best friend. She asks if she’ll see him that night. Hmmmm.
He goes outside to walk around and sulk a bit, and Grace comes looking for him but is then called back inside by the crying baby. John calls for him too, but Bert doesn’t respond until John calls him ‘son’ instead of ‘boy.’ Baby steps. John hunkers down to Bert’s eye level and explains that he didn’t want to sell the land, but they have to get some cash together if they’re going to make a fresh start. Bert seems to understand, so he and his dad move on to some boxing lessons. Before they can get properly started, though, two soldiers appear at the gate. John immediately asks if this is about Joe, but it’s not. They want the cart horse, Molly. John insists they need her to get the milk to the station. They urge him to think about selling her to the army and promise a fairly princely sum for her. They also lay on some patriotic guilt, just as a finishing touch.
At the general store, Hankin’s trying to get his lovely fiacee, the shopkeeper, to fool around a bit, but she insists he wait until they’re married.
Grace, meanwhile, drops her baby off with one of her friends, who happily tells her that her son, Joe’s best bud, wrote to her recently. Grace looks a bit sad and scared not to have any word from Joe, so her next stop’s at the general store, where the latest casualty lists are posted. There the Detective, whose name is Bairstow, by the way, not that they’re in any rush to share that information, finds her. She’s not happy to see him, considering all the upheaval he caused in her family recently, but he explains that he works for the council now. As what? It feels a bit contrived to keep this character around. It was a bit contrived even introducing him.
Grace goes to work, at Hankin’s boot factory, where the boss notes her slightly late arrival and fires her on the spot. Martha, of course, springs to her feet to interject and starts laying on the guilt about how Grace can’t feed her baby while she’s at the factory, and that’s agonizing. Seems, then, that he’d almost be doing her a favour by sending her home permanently. I don’t think you’re really helping her case, here, Martha. Edmund Allingham, who’s watching this, asks Hankin for a word. Hankin quietly tells him that he has to fire someone, because he doesn’t have the money to pay all these people. Edmund tips him off to a surprise inspection coming the following morning, so he’ll need all hands on deck. Hankin reluctantly sends Grace back to work.
At school, Prof Douchebag’s got all the kids assembled so he can tell them how great conscription is. Eyre tries not to vomit off to the side. When Prof D calls on him to agree that it’s an honour to be sent off to die, Eyre refuses. Bert distracts him by asking suddenly if he’s grown taller, which pisses Prof D off, but Eyre explains that the minimum height requirement has been reduced. I suddenly realised Eyre wrote the wrong date on the board at the beginning. If conscription’s started, it must be at least March 1916.
Inside, Prof D’s inspecting the kids’ shoes, I think, and helpfully explaining that his armband indicates that he’s not a shirker. Good to know. He takes a moment to comb a few of the kids’ hair, slicking it down with spit.
In the classroom, Eyre has the kids point out his mistake on the board. Only Bert seems to notice the month and year are wrong. It is, indeed, March 1916. As he’s correcting it, Prof D brings in Bairstow and tells the kids they’re to answer his questions. Bairstow notes one kid’s bare feet and asks him what he had for breakfast. Porridge, the kid replies. Bairstow asks Bert the same question, and Bert says he had the same. Bairstow asks if he had anything else, and Bert starts weaving an imaginary feast worthy of the opening act of Oliver!. Eyre, realizing what the kid’s doing, smiles, amused, but there’s practically steam coming out of Prof D’s ears, because we all know what he thinks of imagination and smart-aleck answers to stupid questions. Bairstow seems amused as well. What the hell is his job with the council, anyway? Nutrition coordinator?
Recess! Bert goes over to the Good Neighbour’s obnoxious kid and accuses him of telling the soldiers about Molly. The kid taunts him about losing the farm, piece by piece, which provokes Bert to start a fight, even though the kid’s a good head taller than little Bert. Eyre comes out and breaks it up and Bert, dazed, thinks his teacher’s Joe for a minute.
Eyre takes Bert out to the countryside to teach him how to use a camera. Bert doesn’t yet appreciate the point of capturing the area on film, because he doesn’t realise that in a few decades this lovely pond will be a carpark for a Tesco or an Ikea or something. In the course of their conversation, Eyre admits that he’s afraid of dying. They bond over grammar (swam vs swum) and Bert asks if Eyre would protect them if the Germans came. Eyre says of course he would.
At the Allingham manse, Edmund and George chill, as rich boys do, and discuss the war. Edmund, being a bit more forward thinking than most, is already rather cannily considering business opportunities in the area, figuring the war’s probably going to go on for quite a while. George realises Edmund has designs on Hankin’s boot factory.
At the Middletons’, Bert’s boxing lessons are continuing, and John suddenly realises Bert’s left handed. Unlike Prof Douchebag, John doesn’t care, just coaches the kid to lead with his right. How nice to see him acting like a good dad. I don’t know that I find his total 180 entirely credible (seriously, he confesses his past cheating to Martha and suddenly he’s all better? I don’t buy it), but it’s nice to see anyway.
Caroline’s had the baby, and it’s screaming in its crib. Wow, I’m surprised the family would have kept it around. In reality, war or no war, she would have been packed up and shipped off somewhere where nobody knows her, had the baby, adopted it out, and returned home. That’s what families of means did. They had reputations to protect, after all. Anyway, Caro picks the baby up and tries to feed him, just as her mother and Edmund come in.
Meanwhile, George is giving Martha a tour of their cow shed and explaining that one of the cows is having tar put on her udders to keep flies out of some cuts and grazes she has. Edmund joins them and embarrasses George by making him announce that one of the cows is named Martha. Dick move, Edmund.
Inside, Clem sits down with her boys and, after some goading from George, urges him not to get too serious with Martha too quickly. George gets sulky and says that he’s glad conscription’s finally come, presumably because it means he can get away from his family, and Clem snappishly asks what fighting will get him—better poems? Hey, lady, don’t knock it. Some great poems came out of the horrific carnage of World War I. George pouts his way out of the room and Clem observes that he thinks getting killed will impress Martha. She tells Edmund to sort out an exemption for George, whatever he has to do.
At the boot factory, Martha’s using a little blackmail to get the women time off to go feed their babies midday. She threatens a mass walkout right before the inspection if Hankin doesn’t agree. The poor man, who’s probably starting to rue the day he ever agreed to hire women, especially Martha-Norma Rae here, gives them 10 minutes.
The women all rush home, including Grace, but all thought of feeding her youngest is forgotten when she spots Joe walking down the street. She tearfully and tightly embraces him, and he holds her like she’s a life raft. She chatters about her friend getting a letter from her son, and Joe seems surprised she hasn’t received word that his friend’s dead.
Grace returns to the factory and gets back to work while the inspection gets underway.
Later, Hankin goes to the Allinghams and tells Edmund that the inspection failed. He’s in a panic, because he can’t pay the workers without the boot orders. A little too quickly, Edmund offers to cover the costs, in exchange for half the business. Hankin looks like he knows he’s being played, but he has no choice. Once he’s gone, Edmund joins the inspectors in the sitting room. Oh, Edmund, you sly dog. Clem busts in on them, and Edmund pulls her aside briefly to tell her that rising above won’t keep them in the black forever. She seems to rather quickly agree and joins the confab.
In town, Joe paces back and forth in front of his friend’s house, practicing breaking the tragic news over and over again. He finally gathers his courage and knocks on the door, but, excruciatingly, he’s made to sit with the mother and other kids while they wait for her husband to come home. One of the little girls goes over to Joe and asks ‘Paul?’ Joe gently tells her that he’s Joe. ‘Paul?’ she repeats. Joe tells her again that he’s not Paul. I think she knows that, Joe. She’s not a toddler. I’m guessing she’s trying to ask if this is about Paul. Finally, the father arrives, and Joe can break the news. He tells them that a sniper got their son, and that he died instantly.
His next stop is at the fiancée’s place (her name’s Agnes). He finds her with Martha and Hankin’s finacee, who’s showing off her wedding dress. Of course. Joe tells her the same story, while the other two girls listen from a distance. Martha gently tells the non-tragic bride-to-be that the wedding will mean more now. She swallows hard, nods, and looks sad for her friend. Joe stands and catches Martha’s eye. He waits for a little while with Agnes, and then someone knocks on the door. Instead of being a friend they were waiting for, it’s Bairstow, whose job is still a giant mystery but seems to mostly consist of wandering around town just asking random people questions to amuse himself. He immediately guesses who Joe is, even though it’s not as if Joe was the only young man from this village to march off to war. Seriously, he could have been anybody.
At the Middletons’, Bert’s rather hyperactively telling Joe all the newest things he’s learned, while scratching manically at his head. Apparently Prof D-bag’s comb had nits on it and now everyone’s got them. Of course this guy was infested with lice. Bert excitedly tells Joe about the cows having names now, and then drags him outside so he can meet them. As they go outside, a man from Glossops’, the milk place, shows up and tells John that their last batch had garlic in it (is Napoleon Dynamite their taster, by any chance?) and if the next day’s batch is similarly spoiled they won’t buy from them ever again. He goes, the family exchanges a look, and they all rush into the field and start digging up the wild garlic, the very stuff I now spend actual money on at the farmers’ market. Oh, how things change. They dig all night, although it seems like it would be a little late at this point. If the cows have already eaten it, it’ll be in their systems and will be in the next day’s milk, right? I guess not, because the following day they milk away and Bert hurries the milk into town just in time to catch the milk truck. The two soldiers who came by the Middleton farm earlier eye Molly and Bert glares at them.
At school, Eyre has the kids start reciting the English kings and queens while he goes out to meet with a tribunal that’ll decide whether or not to give him an exemption from conscription for being a conscientious objector. Wow, I was wrong about this character. Well, since I was right on both guesses regarding John’s guilty secret, I consider myself even. Edmund’s on the panel, naturally, and Eyre doesn’t help his case by calling the head guy out on his manners. Well, this should be a quick decision.
Bert’s escaped the school and sneaks into the tribunal, hiding in a cupboard so he can watch. Eyre isn’t trying to claim an exemption on religious grounds, because the Bible’s seriously blood-soaked, and Edmund points out that he’s not helping himself. Eyre doesn’t care—he wants to show them that he doesn’t have a strategy. The man in charge snaps that he doesn’t like Eyre’s smart answers and he thinks his godlessness and his shirking are related. Edmund steps in and asks Eyre what he would do if German soldiers walked into his classroom and threatened to kill his pupils. Eyre refuses to say if he’d use a revolver to protect them. Hypotheticals like this are such bullshit. At this point, Bert bursts out of his hiding place and tells the tribunal that Eyre told him he’d protect them. Poor Eyre. He’s told to report for service.
On his way out, he passes a woman who calls him a shirker. He heads into the Lamb and asks for a whisky, but the barman refuses to serve him. He turns, instead, to give Joe a free drink. Joe asks if Eyre’s ok and Eyre tells him he’s a shirker. Joe downs his drink, asks for another, and slides it Eyre’s way, telling him to drink up.
The next day, Bert goes into school to find Eyre writing ‘I judge people by what they might be, not are, nor will be’ on the board (From A Soul’s Tragedy by Robert Browning for anyone who’s interested). Eyre tells Bert that if he can manage to write that phrase, he’ll be ok. Bert asks Eyre if he’ll be with Joe in France, and instead of answering, Eyre gives him his camera, just barely managing to keep it together as he tells the kid to record what he sees truthfully.
At the Allinghams’, Clem goes riffling through Caro’s dressing table, pulling out scarves and other bits and sniffing them. She finally finds a piece of lace and takes it into the baby’s room, tucking it in with him.
Hankin and his girl have gotten married and are now partying with the whole village, including the Allinghams. Caro drifts around the edge of the celebrants while Martha tells Bert to save her the next dance. He beams and immediately starts fixing his hair. Aww. When the song ends, Caro suddenly begins to sing The Unquiet Grave, which, as the title suggests, is not a cheery song. It’s beautiful, though, and she has a really lovely voice. While she’s singing, Prof D-bag tells Joe that Caro has a child. Presumably, he did this just to stir shit up, because he’s a douchebag. Edmund quietly reassures his mother that it’ll just be a little while longer.
And what is that in reference to? At the house, Mrs H hands the baby over to some nice looking people who are, presumably, from an orphanage. They take the child and head out into the night.
Joe’s taking a smoke break outside the village hall and struggling to light his cigarette. Martha finds him out there and tells him he can feel free to talk to her. She urges him to tell her what it’s really like, so he tells her what his friend’s death was really like. Short version: horrible. He took a piece of shrapnel to his throat and basically drowned in his own blood. Martha looks horrified and can’t bring herself to stay. She turns to go back inside, and he grabs her and kisses her, until she pushes him away. He shouts that nobody understands and rushes off, just as George comes out. George quietly observes that there’s something wrong in Joe, adding that Caro has his child. For some reason, Martha starts slapping him, like it’s his fault she couldn’t stomach what Joe had to say, or his fault the war’s so bloody awful.
Caro goes home and immediately starts searching the house for her baby. She tearfully asks Mrs H where the baby is.
Bert and John come out of the hall and meet those two soldiers, one of whom smarmily asks him what he needs the horse for, if he doesn’t need her to take the milk to market. Oh, you dick.
George is packing to go off to war, and of course he’s packing like a rich kid, with letters and books and everything, when what he really needs is a raincoat and several pairs of really warm socks. Edmund comes in and hands him an official exemption on the grounds that he’s needed to help run the home farm. George is determined, but then Caro gets wind of it and wails like an infant and begs him to stay, telling him she’ll die if he goes.
Off to the church he heads, to ask Martha, in the whiniest way imaginable, what he should do. Martha, having seen firsthand what war can do to a man, tells him to stay.
Prof D-bag gets measured and is accepted into the army, at last. The soldier doing the accepting doesn’t look too pleased, but hey, a warm body’s a warm body, right?
The two dickish soldiers are sent off to fetch Eyre and tell him to put on a uniform. Eyre refuses, so they get ready to administer a whuppin’.
Apparently that did the trick, because when next we see Eyre he’s suited up and being marched through the town, on his way to join up whether he wants to or not. He sees Bert with the camera and asks the two soldiers to step away a bit, so he can walk proudly. They do so, and he marches towards Bert and the other students who join him, pausing so Bert can take his very first picture. Trying not to cry, Eyre manages a smile and marches on through the pint-sized crowd.
Waiting for him are Joe and Prof D-bag, who excitedly asks Joe what it’s like, the first time you shoot a Hun. Oh, you’ll find out soon enough, you idiot.
Bert returns home and finds the stable empty. He looks around the fields, sees that Molly isn’t there, and rushes to the Lamb, where he finds his father, surprisingly drinkless. He goes over to John, and John nods to the adjoining room, where Molly’s been stashed. Awwww! Father and son exchange a happy smile. AWWWWW! Thank you, Village, for finally giving us a brief glimpse of happiness! I realise that’s not what this show’s all about, and I appreciate that, but it’s nice to have a little break every now and then.