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"It was like standing on a cliff with just your heels touching, leaning out, fear holding you back, Death pulling you on—and we looked over that cliff every day. Every day. Maybe it was only luck that saved you from falling. And maybe my luck was running out."
Harry Woods[3]

Battle of Britain: The Story of Harry Woods is a book written by Chris Priestley; his only in the series. It is the fourth book in My Story to feature a male protagonist and the twelfth overall. The book was first published in April 2002 by Scholastic UK with Civil War, Trafalgar, and The Trenches. It was reissued three times in May 2008, July 2013, and November 2016.

Eighteen-year-old Harry Woods serves as a pilot for the Royal Air Force during the World War II campaign known as the Battle of Britain.


"For my sister, Bonny"

Book description[]

"October 1940
I was out, free of my aircraft, tumbling wildly in the air. I pulled the ripcord. I was jerked back by the parachute as air punched into it and I swung there like a puppet, winded and gasping for breath. I looked down at my leg. It felt like a bear was gnawing on it but it was still in one piece. For now, anyway. Then I heard it–right behind me. An Me109 diving towards me, guns blazing. There was nothing I could do. Nowhere I could go. Shells whistled past me on either side. I just thought, OK then. If this is it, OK. Maybe my turn had finally come...

"It's 1939 and Harry Woods is a Spitfire pilot in the RAF. When his friend Lenny loses his leg in a dogfight with the Luftwaffe, Harry is determined to fight on.
That is, until his plane is hit and he finds himself tumbling through the air high above the English Channel...

"It's 1939, and Harry Woods is a spitfire pilot in the RAF. When his friend Lenny loses his leg in a dogfight with the Luftwaffe, Harry is determined to fight on.
That is, until his plane is hit and he finds himself tumbling through the air high above the English Channel...

""I'm fighting for my family, I suppose," I said. "I can't say I think about anything much beyond that."
It's 1939, and Harry Woods is a spitfire pilot in the RAF, where every day is a struggle for survival. When his friend Lenny loses his leg in a sky battle with the Luftwaffe, Harry is determined to fight on. That is, until his plane is hit and he finds himself tumbling through the air high above the English Channel...


In 1941, Harry Woods looks back on the start of the war and how he became a pilot. At the beginning of 1939, Harry joins the RAF Volunteer Reserve to fulfill his childhood dream of flying airplanes. That September, Prime Minister Winston Churchill announces that England is at war with Germany. Harry is called into active service for the Royal Air Force and begins training to be a fighter pilot. In May 1940, he visits his parents in the countryside before reporting at base. He is placed in 11 Group, which covers South East England. Harry immediately gets off on the wrong foot with fellow pilot Mike "Lenny" Leonard. However, after making a mistake on his first flight, Lenny cheers up Harry and they become friends.

Harry and his fellow pilots participate in the Dunkirk evacuation that June. Soldiers report that they did not see the RAF there, leading to a negative public reception. Harry witnesses it himself when he visits his sister Edith in London. By July, Harry has grown use to the daily routine of taking off, fighting the German Luftwaffe, and then returning to base. One day, he experiences his first bale out when his Spitfire is hit. He luckily lands in the English countryside. The following month, the RAF are now popular and Harry convinces Lenny to go to a dance. On their way home, the two dive for cover after mistaking a tractor's noise for an enemy plane. The farmer then helps them return to base.

In mid-August, Harry shoots down his first German plane. Once he lands, the enemy drops a bomb on the base which causes Harry and the other pilots to scramble back into their planes. Harry shoots at the enemy but misses and returns to base. A few days later, he meets Lenny at the hospital. They talk without mentioning Lenny's missing leg. Harry later shoots down an enemy plane, saying to himself "This one is for Lenny." On 7 September, he witnesses the Germans bomb London for the first time. Harry's parents later take in an evacuee, Peter. The child repeats some of his father's fascist beliefs, which disturbs Harry. After speaking to his parents, he remembers that Peter is just a child.

Harry is chatting with Harriet from the Women's Auxiliary Air Force in October, when they see a British plane crash land nearby. Farmers in the Home Guard mistake the pilot as being German so Harry and Harriet step in to help. Later on, the pilot, named Waldemar Gorka, tells Harry about how he came here from Poland. Towards the end of the month, Harry's plane is hit and he bales out over the ocean. He is soon joined by a German pilot. A fishing boat comes by, but refuses to help the German until Harry insists. On the boat, all of the men start talking and realize that they were all at Dunkirk. After a few minutes of silence, Harry looks over and sees that the German has died. For the first time during the war, he cries.


Harry has his wounds treated from his plane being shot down and soon returns to work. In April 1941, he receives a government pamphlet about the Battle of Britain in the mail. He looks at the photos of the pilots and wonders how many are "still alive." Harry is unable to read it, feeling that it made it all "look so clean and simple" instead of reflecting the realities of what he remembered. His parents write and say that he is a "part of history now." He writes back saying "so were they," along with his sister and his friends. To himself, Harry finally admits that "we Few" had "made a difference" after all.

Historical Note[]

The Battle of Britain was officially fought between 8 August and 30 October 1940. Led by Hugh Dowding, the RAF Fighter Command was divided into four groups. 11 Group was the first line of defence as it was closest to Nazi occupied France. Despite its problems, Radar became a "secret weapon" for the British as it helped plot out the locations of the Germans' Luftwaffe aircraft. After failing to take it out, the Germans began bombing cities instead. Over 13,000 civilians in London were killed by the end of 1940 and a further 18,000 injured. The RAF loss around 120 pilots a week by late August 1940. A table of the aircrew listed by nationality and fatalities is included.

There is also a short note on the Home Guard, which was formed due to the fear of a possible invasion. Over one million men had volunteered after the government made an appeal. The timeline included begins with the formation of the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1936 and focuses on the events of the Battle of Britain. Seven photographs of the RAF conclude the section.


Main article: List of Battle of Britain characters


Main article: Chris Priestley

Chris Priestley is an author of children's literature. He began his career as an illustrator and then transitioned to a cartoonist, before becoming a children's author in 2000. For Battle of Britain, Priestley went to the Imperial War Museum for research. He based the main character Harry on "dozens of real pilots" he read about "through the archive of diaries, letters and combat records."[4]



"All photographs reproduced by the kind permission of the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum, London.
The author would like to thank RAF Duxford, the Imperial War Museum Sound, Film and Video, Photography and Document archives and Time Collier of the RAF for their generous assistance.


  • The second edition of Battle of Britain has at least two different covers; both were illustrated by Richard Jones.[12] There is also a third cover, possibly scrapped, used in a "Book Talk" document.
  • The third edition of the book was illustrated by Sam R. Kennedy.


See also[]

File:Battle of Britain Book Talk.pdf

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