1952. Bill Rowan is 18, dreaming his life away at the family’s riverside home, waiting to be called up for two years conscription in the Army. He swims each morning and yearns for a pretty girl who cycles past at that time on the tow path across the river. This idyll is shattered by the harsh realities of boot camp. He meets Percy, an amoral prankster, and together they plot the downfall of Sergeant Yeomans, their rigid tormentor. Percy and Bill are rivals and antagonists, but gradually forge a deep friendship. After basic training many conscripts are shipped out to fight the Chinese in the Korean War, but Bill and Percy are assigned to the claustrophobia of a closed, prison-like training camp where they act as instructors. The pressure is briefly relieved by excursions into the outside world where Bill falls in love with the wrong girl, but finds the right one in the end. Bill’s older sister returns from Canada with her two children and the hard-headed Percy falls head over heels for her. Finally, Bill is confronted with the shattered lives of wounded boys returning from Korea.