The epic tale of Harry Clifton's life begins in 1920, with the words "I was told that my father was killed in the war." A dock worker in Bristol, Harry never knew his father, but he learns about life on the docks from his uncle, who expects Harry to join him at the shipyard once he's left school. But then an unexpected gift wins him a scholarship to an exclusive boys' school, and his life will never be the same again. As he enters into adulthood, Harry finally learns how his father really died, but the awful truth only leads him to question, was he even his father? Is he the son of Arthur Clifton, a stevedore who spent his whole life on the docks, or the firstborn son of a scion of West Country society, whose family owns a shipping line?