As a result of the outbreak of World War 2, a young boy named Willie Beech, who has been abused by his mother, ends up staying at the home of elderly widower Tom Oakley. The damaged young boy and the reclusive widower gradually become close and do each other a world of good. Willie experiences stability for the first time in his life, and Tom rediscovers what it is like to have an emotional connection with another person. Willie also discovers friendship by becoming close to his Jewish classmate, Zach.
Following a stint back home with his mother later on, Willie is once again rescued by Tom, who followed his instincts that all was not well and went to London in search of Willie. He finds Willie locked in a cupboard with his infant sister, who has died from malnutrition. Later, following Willie's mother's suicide, Tom is allowed to adopt Willie, who then has to deal with the trauma of Zach's death.