The war first makes its incursion into the atmosphere at Devon in small ways, "beginning almost humorously with announcements about maids and days spent at apple picking" (Ch.7). The winter session begins with the reestablishment of rigid discipline and precision. It is announced that "maids (have) disappeared 'for the Duration'", and of the returning faculty, Mr. Pike appears "in his Naval ensign's uniform", and it is discovered that "five of the younger teachers (are) missing, gone into the war" (Ch.6).
The war begins to touch the students' lives directly with the first snows, which approach "like noiseless invaders conquering because they (take) possession so gently". The boys are called to help with the local apple crops, which are "threatening to rot because the harvesters (have) all gone into the army or war factories". Then, when the railroads are paralyzed by heavy snow, "two hundred volunteers (are) solicited to spend the day shoveling...as part of the Emergency Usefulness Policy". The reality of the war is emphatically brought home when the students, who have just finished clearing the track, stand aside to greet the first incoming train. It is a troop train, populated by young soldiers not much older than the Devon boys, who, although they "are probably just recruits...(give) the impression of being an elite as they are carried past...drab ranks" (Ch.7).