The year is 1899 and England is in turmoil over the Boer war taking place in South Africa; a serious threat to the integrity of the British Empire. The Shutes, a typical Victorian family, are being torn apart as their traditional way of life is threatened both by the war and the involvement of their two eldest daughters, Violet and Primrose, in the Suffragist movement.
George Shute, the eldest son, is a professor of languages at Worcester University and anxious to start a modern business school, but is thwarted by the appointment of his rival, professor Stoneworthy to the Chair of Languages.
Disappointed by this setback, George leaves the University and joins the Army to take part in the Boer War. Before he leaves for South Africa, Cecelia Adams, the girl whom he thought was lost to him forever, lets him know that she is in love with him. George, now a Captain in the British Army, arrives at the town of Ladysmith in Durban. Soon after, the Boer Army begins a siege of the town. As the bombardment intensifies George fears for his life. When he contracts enteric fever, he despairs of ever realizing his ambitions of gaining the Chair of Languages and of marrying Cecelia.
Arthur Shute, the youngest son, volunteers to join General Buller's forces at Ladysmith. But Arthur discovers that General Buller has experienced catastrophic reverses. The Boer army has superior weapons and superior tactics. England holds its breath as the casualties mount up. Meanwhile, the relief of Ladysmith and George's fate lay in the balance.