In the trenches of the Western Front, two young soldiers sit leaning against each other. They are cold, tired, but most of all frightened. The enemy is right on top of them. Grenades(sp) are exploding all around. Joe turns to Thomas and tells him that he is like his brother, and he loves him. The two men embrace. Joe sees a grenade headed towards them. He throws himself on top of Thomas.
The air gets still, and a terrified Thomas emerges cautiously from the trench. The battle is over. Thinking everyone was dead, the enemy has advanced. Thomas finds the homing pigeons, luckily one has survived the attack He sends it off and waits for rescue
Thomas is home in bed. He is tossing and turning. He can’t escape the image of his best friend sacrificing his life for him. At the breakfast table he tells his parents that he must find Joe’s parents and tell them the story of Joe’s death. He packs and boards a train.
In a small farmhouse, an elderly dressed in black women sits rocking under a portrait covered in a black veil. A sad, tired woman also in black, stands over the hot stove. There is a knock at the door.
The door opens to Thomas. Joe’s mother invites him in and he tells his story next to the potbelly stove. As he is telling his story , Joe’s father comes in and sits silently listening. Father invites Thomas to stay with them for the holidays. Mother is so heartbroken over the loss of her only son, that father believes it will be good for her to have Thomas there to share stories of her son.
Sunday comes and Thomas attends church with Joe’s family. As he is concentrating on his hymnal, he hears a bright and beautiful voice singing. He looks up to see Gwen, the pastor’s daughter. As the family walks out of church. They are greeted by the pastor and his and daughter. Thomas finds out the Gwen was engaged to Joe. The pastor invites Joe’s family and Thomas to dine with them. Gwen also wants to hear stories of Joe. Thomas finds himself falling in love with the warm, vivacious Gwen.
The coming days, find Thomas looking for any excuse to visit the parsonage. Delivering homemade jam, helping the pastor with a chore, etc. Thomas and Gwen grow closer. There is an undeniable, almost visible spark between them. They are both hesitant to admit their feelings, after all Joe has been gone less than a year.
Thanksgiving and Christmas pass, New Years Eve is upon them. Thomas has gotten up the courage to ask Gwen’s father for her hand in marriage. As the clock strikes 12 , we see Thomas rise from his knee, and the newly betrothed couple embraces.
The next morning is the start of the new year. Grandmother nods at the veiled portrait and the veil is pulled off. Mother, Father and Grandmother, say a prayer while Thomas stares, look of horror on his face. The portrait is not his Joe.
What is he to do? He’s fallen in love with Gwen, her parents, Joe’s family, and their small village. If he tells them, he loses everything. If he tells them, they lose all of the closure and peace that his visit brought. Weighing the risk of being caught against the harm the news could do to the frail mother, Thomas decides to keep quite.
Spring comes and there is a wedding. You see a lone figure walking up to the door of the church. Thomas and Gwen are about to say I do, when the door opens and everyone turns.
Joe’s mother faints and the congregation murmurs. Gwen whispers Joe, and runs to him embracing him. Thomas stands petrified. What can he say? What can he do? Gwen’s father pulls him into the study and he tells his story. He never set out to deceive them. When he found out it was too late, and he thought he was doing the best thing for everyone. The pastor understands and invites Thomas, Joe and Gwen to a counseling session. Thomas agrees to step back and let Joe and Gwen figure out if they still want to be together. Heartbroken, Thomas leaves to search for his Joe. He loves Gwen too much to stay and influence her decision.
The search for his Joe will be nearly impossible. He doesn’t even know his name. Thomas starts with the local recruitment office. Corporal Dearey, the recruiting officer is young and brand new to the job. He explains to Thomas that raising the number of recruits from 127,000 to almost 2 million, things fell through the cracks. He has a strong need to make sure that all fallen heroes find their way home, and agrees to help Thomas find his lost compatriot.
Thomas and Corp Dearey search through hundreds of files, looking for clues. It had to be someone who knew Joe. They find files on two soldiers named Joseph Ingalls. All of the information virtually identical, except for the fact that one has a bird shaped birthmark on his left shoulder. Thomas knows that is his Joe.
Knowing that it had to be someone who knew “Joe”, Thomas starts with a list of boys from the village that haven’t come home. He goes to their homes one by one, searching for “Joe’s” family.
He has checked every family off his list. No one is missing as a son with a bird shaped birthmark. Despondent, Thomas slowly walks home. He has been on such a mission, that he never noticed the country side. He spots a house up a hill. The sign says Pierson’s House for Boys. Thomas climbs the hill and rings the bell. He speaks in soft whispers to the matron. Yes, there was a boy with a bird shaped birthmark. He ran away, and we’ve haven’t seen him. His Joe was an orphan called Michael. He has finally completed his task, and is ready to return to Gwen and Joe and the family.
Meanwhile, Gwen and Joe are attempting to rekindle their romance. They soon realize that while they love each other,their relationship has been little more than a friendship, there is no passion.
As Thomas walks up the lane to the farmhouse, he sees a figure running towards him. It’s Gwen. She throws herself into his arms. Thomas looks at Joe and his family waving from the porch, and knows he’s home.