August 1914, London. Britain has just declared war on Germany, and the whole country seems to be in uproar. Flora, Hilda and Will, who grew up together in St Boniface orphanage sit in the sunshine in Hyde Park on a rare day off, discussing the impending war and the changes it will bring to their lives. Will means to go off to fight, Hilda hopes to better her current lot in life as a maid at the charitable institute Hailing House, but Flora is content with her job as assistant to the Isle of Dogs' kindly Doctor Tapper.
Winter 1919, two months after the Armistice that ended the Great War, and life in London's East End is returning to normal. But for Birdie Connor the battle is only just beginning. Frank, Birdie's older brother, has been sent to prison for deserting his army post whilst fighting in Belgium. Wilfred, Birdie's widowed father, has disowned Frank and vows that he will never set eyes on his son again, but Birdie cannot believe her brother is guilty.
Lizzie Flowers has had a hard life, but she is still full of true East End grit. In the bleak years after World War I, her family faced desperate times, and deep tensions split them apart, but when barrow-boy Danny Flowers asked her to leave for a better life in Australia, she stayed true to her family's roots. She married Danny's brother, Frank, instead, a decision she came to bitterly regret.