CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 3 . . . . September 29, 2006
Originally published in the United Kingdom in 2002, Battle of Britain is the story of Harry Woods who, at age 18, joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in January, 1939, in order to fulfill his longstanding desire to learn how to fly. Following Britain's declaring war on Germany on September 3, 1940, Harry is called up to active service and becomes a fighter pilot, flying a Spitfire in one of the most significant and decisive events of World War II, the conflict for air supremacy which became known as the Battle of Britain.
Told via the immediacy of first person narration, the book does not span the entire war. Instead, readers remain on the ground and in the air with Harry for some two years as the German Luftwaffe initially tries to eradicate the RAF before switching to the mass bombing of British cities in retaliation for British air raids on Berlin. During this period, Harry, as a member of RAF fighter command, goes from being reviled by some of his fellow citizens for the RAF's not providing sufficient air cover for the troops being evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk to being one of what Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, heralded as the “few” who “turned the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion.”
In telling his own story, the fictional Harry does not romanticize war. The momentary adrenaline rushes Harry experiences during the confusion of aerial combat are contrasted with the extreme fatigue he experiences because of the constant stresses of life and death combat. Leaves home with his parents or to visit his sister, Edith, a nurse in London, provide Harry with respites as well as providing a device for the author to show how the war was impacting the civilian population. During the course of the book, Harry is twice shot down, with the second time marking the end of the book. While a wounded Harry survives, his coming face to face with a dying enemy pilot causes an unexpected emotional response. “...I did something I had never done in the whole course of the war. I began to cry...”. A statistical summary in an “Historical Note” indicates that 418 out of 2,543, or about one in six, aircrew of British nationality were killed during the Battle of Britain. If Harry Woods had been a real person, potentially he would have still faced another four years of war. (As an aside, 20 of 94 Canadian aircrew died during the same period.)
The book concludes with the aforementioned six-page “Historical Note” on the Battle of Britain, an annotated “Timeline” spanning July 30, 1936, to March, 1941, and five pages of black & white wartime photos. Although the photos will give readers some feeling for the period and will remind them of how young many of these pilots were, it is unfortunate that a photo of the ME109 was not included, given that it was the Spitfire's principal aerial opponent.
A worthy addition to the recreational reading sections of school and public libraries, the contents of Battle of Britain could be contrasted with Iain Lawrence's B for Buster.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and YA literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.