The second book in a series that started with “The Soldier's Return” follows Sam Richardson and his family in the seven years between 1947 and 1954. On his return from the World War II in Burma, Sam found that he and his wife, Ellen, had grown apart. The book ended with Sam's near departure from the small town of Wigton to Australia. Now, in 1947, they move carefully, each knowing that a misstep could destroy their marriage. The focus in “A Son of War” shifts gradually from Sam to his son, Joe.
The family is living on Water Street, one of the poorest in this poor industrial town. Sam is working in a factory, still chafing at his lack of education and prospects for advancement. As the story opens, Sam presents Joe with a set of boxing gloves and begins to teach him to defend himself against the gangs of older boys who torment him.
Joe grows up and gaining the respect of Speed, a gang leader. He has his first crush on Mary, the daughter of a family of squatters in the courtyard shared by the Richardsons and several other families. He has his first experience of heartbreak when Mary's father returns from the Army in Germany and they move away.
Meanwhile the Richardsons move, too. Water Street will be falling to slum clearance, and the family is placed in a Council house in the new suburb of Greenacres.
While his father is teaching him to box, Joe's mother has enrolled him in piano lessons. She wants him to learn to dance, but that doesn't take. Joe, meanwhile, is teaching Sam the joy of reading – starting with the P.G. Wodehouse and moving on to more serious novels.
A complication, in the form of Ellen's half brother Colin, again threatens the stability of the family. Ellen is perhaps the only person who can't see that Colin is a loser and a sponge
The family moves to the new suburb of Greenacres in 1948, but they don't stay long. Sam, still smarting with what he feels is the failure of his life, buys the lease on a pub in the center of Wigton. His intelligence and work ethic build the pub into a successful business over the next few years.
In 1952 Joe is a member of his school's swim team and an outstanding student The beginning of a nameless fear – an anxiety disorder – is beginning. It will grow in his early adolescence. The anxiety grows worse when a school bully beats him up over a girl in the school.
Sam, painfully aware of the result of his own lack of education, hopes that Joe will go further than he did. While most boys in the working-class town of Wigton drop out of school after the “O-levels,” or tenth grade, Sam encourages Joe to go on to the “A-levels” if he scores well in the earlier tests. Joe would be the first in Sam's family to go all the way through high school if he can make it.
This report prepared by David Gordon