As All Creatures Great & Small opens in Episode 5, Helen and James have only two days left together before he leaves for the RAF after months of waiting for his call-up papers. Helen turns off the radio when Churchill announces the Battle of Britain, happening now in the skies above, is Britain’s finest hour. James, concerned that Siegfried will not be able to cope alone, is trying to leave the practice in as best shape as possible and has a substantial list of tasks to work on, the most important of which is teaching Richard Carmody to drive, a vital skill for a veterinarian in Yorkshire. Naturally, Richard has been reading a book on the subject but can’t translate text to action, and they are running out of time.
Helen: “If this war’s taught us anything, it’s to grab on to the things you love, and try and cherish every moment.”
Richard and James are visiting Mrs. Pumphrey to inspect Tricki Woo’s rash. Mrs. Pumphrey claims it’s anxiety prompted by Uncle Herriot’s departure and sends Richard into the garden to look for her adopted dog Cedric. She tells James she does not want Richard to be her dogs’ veterinarian and will only let Siegfried attend them. This worries James, who is afraid that Siegfried will be unable to cope alone or with such a demand. James tells Richard off for not humoring Mrs. Humphrey to keep the peace and points out it’s unlikely he will be promoted to Uncle status with her dogs.
Mrs. Hall is thrilled that Gerald has returned home from visiting his sick sister in the Lake District, and he has invited her to his house for dinner. The conversation does not flow, and they resort to brandy for a difficult conversation. Gerald, in particular, is nervous and starts by saying his time with Mrs. Hall has been the happiest of his life. But his sister Lilian is sicker than he knew and struggling, having trouble with her breathing and finding everyday tasks difficult. He has decided he must take care of her, but he can’t ask Mrs. Hall to come with him. It seems like the relationship is about to end, as it does so frequently.
Poor Richard’s attempts at learning to drive are so bad that even level-headed James starts to lose his cool and is only too happy to fob him off onto Siegfried the next day. Exasperated at his timidity, Siegfried instructs Richard to speed up and stay in the center of the road even though another car is approaching them. The oncoming car does not yield, and both vehicles are forced off the road. To Siegfried and Richard’s embarrassment, the other car is Mrs. Pumphrey’s weekend vehicle, which is why they don’t recognize it.
But Francois finds a badly injured cat on the verge, the victim (they all think, particularly Richard, who is very upset) of both cars’ erratic driving. Richard and Siegfried take the cat back to Skeldale, where James and Helen are packing a hamper for a picnic on their last day together, but they drop their plans to help with the medical emergency. Siegfried’s recommendation is to put the cat to sleep and volunteers Richard for the task. The cat is badly injured with a shattered leg, which will require surgery and a long recovery period. They don’t even know who owns him.
But Helen notices that the cat, as badly injured as he is, is purring and suggests she take care of him after his surgery. Siegfried also notices the claws are undamaged, which suggests Richard did not run him down since a cat faced with a speeding car will dig its claws into the road surface. Helen gets to work cutting up a box to make a cat bed, and making broth for him, while James asks Siegfried what he’ll do if he has another case where two veterinarians are required to perform a surgery. He also reminds Siegfried that he fired James himself within 24 hours as being incompetent on his first day, and urges that Richard must be kept on. Meanwhile, Helen’s maternal instincts are in full swing, determined to keep Oscar the cat alive.
Siegfried is determined to fix his current problems––keeping Richard, teaching him to drive, and getting Mrs. Pumphrey to see sense––all in a morning’s work. She has summoned him again, and, he takes her aside to explain his worry that the practice may not survive if Richard leaves. He also reminds her that Richard’s name is Carmody, not Cardomy. Richard examines Tricki Woo and praises his condition. Demonstrating the good sense that lies beneath her whimsical silliness, Mrs. Pumphrey changes her attitude.
In addition, she decides that she, Tricki Woo, and Francois will teach Richard to drive, and she is a little more friendly toward him. Siegfried drives off, leaving Richard to the Pumphrey household plan and the responsibility of driving a very expensive car. With Francois and Mrs. Pumphrey in the back seat, Tricki rides shotgun, and Richard is instructed to describe the scenery, grazing animals, and geology to the dog, a tactic that removes his worry about driving. Mrs. Pumphrey reports favorably to Siegfried on Richard. Siegfried interprets Richard’s performance as “not inadequate,” progress of a sort. Richard also agrees to stay on and help.
Helen and James’s picnic now takes place upstairs, and she encourages him to share his feelings about going away. James admits his feelings about signing up have changed, and he now regrets leaving her to cope with pregnancy alone. But she doesn’t feel abandoned--she glows with pride that he’s going to fight. Meanwhile, Mrs. Hall and Gerald have had yet another change of plan and change of heart. She has decided that she wants to be with him and will move to the Lake District, although it’s a wrench for her to leave Skeldale House, and she’s not certain how that will come about, or when. Gerald, always conscious of proprieties, agrees that with the divorce underway, they can become engaged.
On his last night in Skeldale House, James can’t sleep and goes downstairs, where Siegfried is drinking whiskey, almost certainly thinking of the day he had to leave his loved ones to go to war. They reminisce about James’s early days in the practice, and Siegfried assures James he’ll look after Helen. But enough of the sentimentality; it’s their duty to empty the whiskey bottle! All too soon, it’s time for James to leave. His backpack stands ready in the hall, and after saying goodbye to Richard, he, Siegfried, and Mrs. Hall leave the house for the bus stop.
Helen doesn’t want to come with them, fearing she’ll become over-emotional. They have said their goodbyes, in a brief, heartbreaking scene, and he reassures her that he’ll only be five counties away, and he’ll phone when he can. As the bus leaves, James gazes at his wedding photograph and remembers the Robert Burns poem he associates with Helen: My love is like a red, red rose ...
Helen finds a box under the bed which contains a wooden toy plane James has carved for the baby. She hangs the wooden plane over their bed, a token of love, resilience, and hope for the future.