Papers of R.F. Delderfield, 1970-1972

Scope and Content

This collection contains two groups of papers relating to Delderfield's last two novels, To Serve Them All My Days and the posthumously published Give Us This Day (1973) (the final part of the ambitious Adam Swann trilogy, God is an Englishman (1970), Theirs was the Kingdom (1971), and Give Us This Day). The papers ofTo Serve Them All My Days, form a particularly full archival record of composition, including four parts which demonstrate the development of the novel over three years, 1970 to 1972. These are an autograph and typed early version of the novel, a bundle of autograph and typescript working papers, a heavily annotated virtually complete typescript, and an uncorrected proof of the novel. The value of the papers lies both in their demonstration of Delderfield's working methods and in the significant changes of dedication between the novelist's working copies, which include a lengthy tribute to his friend the writer James Hilton (1900-1954), author of Goodbye Mr Chips (1934), and the final version for publication, which lacks Delderfield's tribute to Hilton.

The group of papers relating to Give Us This Day consist of an early draft of parts 4 and 5 of the novel, with associated working papers, dated c.1971-72; a complete typescript of the novel, with extensive autograph revisions, dated c.1971-72; a first edition of the novel in its original dust jacket; and a group of miscellaneous autograph and typescript papers mainly relating to God is an Englishman (1970).

Administrative / Biographical History

Ronald Frederick Delderfield (1912-1972), dramatist and novelist, was born in New Cross, London, on 12 February 1912. In 1923 his family moved to Exmouth, East Devon, where his father, William James Delderfield, became publisher of the Exmouth Chronicle. Delderfield attended Devon's West Buckland Public School, 1926-28, before completing a business course at Fulford's Business College in Exeter. In 1929 he joined the staff of the Exmouth Chronicle, and later assumed its editorship from his father. His brother, Eric Delderfield, was also a successful author, with many publications on Westcountry themes to his name. R.F. Delderfield's first play, Spark in Judea, was produced in London in 1936 and this marked the beginning of a prolific and successful writing career.

Following war-service in the RAF, Delderfield took up permanent residence in Devon, where he immersed himself in local associations and historical events. He ran an antiques business near Budleigh Salterton, partly, he explained, 'so that I keep in touch with ordinary types of people - my public'. He continued writing plays until 1956, when he decided to disengage from the theatre and pursue a career as a novelist. His first novel, The Adventures of Ben Gunn (1956), was a prequel to Treasure Island, and this was followed by the popular success of his historical sagas, largely on Napoleonic themes, and of his family sagas, mainly set in the war and inter-war years in his native South London and his adopted Devon. His national reputation was secured for later generations after his death by the televisation of two of his best known novels, A Horseman Riding By (1966) and To Serve Them All My Days (1972). R.F. Delderfield died at his house in Sidmouth, Devon on 24 June 1972.

To Serve Them All My Days employs familiar Delderfield themes, concerning the impact of war on the individual and community, and it has especial significance for the Devon region as the narrative takes place at the fictional school of Bamfylde, modelled on West Buckland Public School which Delderfield attended and of which he later became governor. In his autobiography Bird's Eye View (1954), he described looking back on the school with 'genuine pleasure', and of the novel it has been said that 'a great deal of [Delderfield] comes out of the page'. His own journey as a school boy to West Buckland, by train from Exeter via Dulverton, is undertaken on the opening pages by his protagonist, the shell-shocked school master David Powlett-Jones. Further, Delderfield has Powlett-Jones take his degree through the University College of the South West, which later became the University of Exeter.

Access Information

Usual EUL arrangements apply.


Description compiled 8 September 2003 and entered 9 September 2003 by Charlotte Berry, Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

Currently unlisted.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual EUL restrictions apply.

Custodial History

Purchased by the University Library at auction in July 2002 with the assistance of grants from Resource/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries.

Related Material

Papers of or relating to Delderfield are held at the following repositories: Sid Vale Heritage Centre, Sidmouth (Devon); BBC Written Archives; Guildhall Library and the Bodleian Library (Department of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts)