London, Christmas Day 1905 A Christmas Party is in full swing (CHRISTMAS IS HERE) but further celebrations are cancelled after two men call to see father (who works for the Foreign Office). Mother tells the children (Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis) that Father has had to go away on business and that she does not know when he will be coming home again. Also they have to leave London to live in the country. They set off by train (TOGETHER) and arrive at the cottage in the dark.
The following morning they hear a train in the distance and discover that nearby is a railway line. They wave at a passing steam train with their handkerchiefs, asking that their love is taken to their father. A distinguished-looking gentleman waves back.
Following the line until they reach the station, they meet Mr Perks, the stationmaster. They share their enthusiasm for trains – ALL ON TIME. Mr Perks introduces the children to the villagers, including the grocer, the doctor, Lord Fleet, and the postmistress.
Mother becomes ill. Dr Forrest says that she requires a number of things to help her recover but the family cannot afford them. The children paint a large sign on an old bedsheet “LOOK OUT AT THE STATION” and wave it at the 9.15 the next day. When the train stops at the station, the note is passed to the Old Gentleman.
A hamper of supplies is duly delivered to the cottage and the children thank the Old Gentleman with a similar sign “She is nearly well, thank you”. But when Mother recovers and discovers how the provisions were acquired by what she considers to be begging, she is very cross.
We next meet Mr Perks’ children (and some other village children) who poke fun at the ways of Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis (POSH TALK). However, all the children eventually act out being upper class and by so doing become friends.
One day a man staggers off a train, asking for help in Russian. When it becomes apparent that he can speak French, Mother is called to interpret.
He is the Russian dissident Szczepansky, a writer of great books, who has escaped from prison in Siberia to England to find his family. Mother invites Szczepansky to convalesce at their home. He remembers his family and sings a song from his childhood (LULLABY). Mother suggests the children say a prayer “for all prisoners and captives”.
The children write again to their Old Gentleman on the train, asking if he would be able to help in finding Szczepansky’s wife and child (THE RAILWAY CHILDREN).
Mother asks the children why they don’t talk about Father any more, and they reply that when they did, Mother became upset, so they stopped. Mother remembers her husband and longs for the time he will return (TILL THE DAY).
One day, the children witness a landslide. Knowing they cannot possibly clear the line before the 11:29 passes through, the girls create warning flags out of their red bloomers. Bobbie stands firm between the rails, waving the red rags as the brakes are slammed on. The train comes to rest but only just in time.
A ceremony is held at the station to commemorate the children’s bravery (A ONCE IN A LIFETIME DAY). The Old Gentleman has succeeded in finding Mr Szczepansky’s family and so Mr Szczepansky leaves to be reunited with them.
Bobbie asks the Old Gentleman when her father will be coming home. The Old Gentleman replies that Bobbie must do everything she can to help her father (WHILE YOU’RE BUSY DREAMING) by making her dreams a reality.
A while later, the children watch grammar school boys hold a ‘fox and hounds’ paper chase. One of the hounds fails to emerge from the railway tunnel. Investigating, they find their ‘hound in a red jersey’ with a broken leg. The boy, Jim, is taken to their cottage.
Bobbie says that she will look after Jim (NOTHING TO FEAR). Dr Forrest asks the children to collect some medicine, but Bobbie notices a story in the newspaper in which the medicine was wrapped. It says that Father has been found guilty of spying and that he has been sent to prison for seven years.
Jim’s grandfather comes to visit – it is their Old Gentleman! Mother agrees to look after Jim until he is recovered.
Bobbie tells her mother what she has read in the paper. Mother explains that it appears that someone placed some incriminating papers in Father’s desk – but she cannot get anyone to listen. Bobbie remembers what the Old Gentleman said about making a difference rather than dreaming so she asks Mother to let her speak to the Old Gentleman about her father, and her Mother agrees.
He says that when he read of Father’s case in the newspaper, he had had his doubts about the verdict and that although he had not done as much as he would have liked, he had hopes that all would be well. He gives a quotation from a poem written by Szczepansky (ONE VOICE).
Bobbie and Mother go to London. The Old Gentleman has discovered that a clerk who worked for Father bore a grudge against him and that the man has been seen talking with known Russian spies. He says that now they must make people listen, and that the Government should be petitioned for the case to be reviewed (ONE VOICE part 2).
On retuning from London to the Cottage, Bobbie tells Jim that they have nearly 5,000 signatures on a petition which they would be submitting to Downing Street.
In London, a mob is reading the latest news – the information about the Russian spy at Father’s work is in the papers. The mob call for the spy to be punished by giving him a life sentence. (ONE VOICE part 3) Mother is appalled at the crowd’s behaviour and asks them to think of the man’s children and that their wanting to punish him will punish the children too. She persuades the crowd to change their mind, and join in her fight (ONE VOICE).
Jim is fully recovered and leaves. The children realise that they hardly ever visit the railway now and decide to wave at the train to send their love to Father by it.
The whole train waves back as if in celebration. Bobbie feels that something exciting is about to happen (NEARLY AUTUMN). The postmistress is on her way to deliver a telegram to Mother and tells Bobbie go to the station as quickly as she can. The whole village has gathered at the station because of news in the paper. (FINALE) A train halts and, as the steam clears, Bobbie sees a figure on the platform: “Daddy! Oh my Daddy!”.