Harry's War

by D. Edward Bradley
ISBN: 1929148224

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A Review of: Harry's War
by M. Wayne Cunningham

To the accumulated tradition of British boarding school literature initiated by Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's Schooldays, and perfected by James Hiltons's, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, add Kingston Ontario author, D. Edward Bradley's, first-class, auto-biographical novel, Harry's War.
It's England of 1941 to 1945, and teenaged school boy, Harry Lockwood, with his father soldiering in North Africa and his mother toiling in a munitions factory, has two wars to survive. One is the overarching Battle of Britain, which forces him to dodge explosions from the dreaded German buzz bombs and ballistic missiles, V1 and V2 rockets. The second battle is for survival within his boarding school's hierarchical system, where bullying sadists rule, spot beatings are commonplace, and housemasters and headmasters turn a blind eye.
For North American readers, Bradley's compelling story poses various challenges. One is the English schoolboy slang, another is the compunction to christen friends and enemies with nicknames like "Pansy", "Beastly", "the Captain", "Weatherby Wet". Harry's own alias is "Woody". Yet another difficulty is the rigidity of an educational system that permits "fagging"m whereby junior students ("fags") act as servants to seniors or suffer the direst consequences-physical, often truly vicious, beatings with swagger sticks for the merest of transgressions. Once past these hurdles, however, readers, young adult to seniors, will find an insightful depiction of a coming-of-age story in which a likeable young man loses his mother to a sudden heart attack, and copes with the stress of seldom hearing from a battlefront father. Otherwise, this young survivor saves a school chum cut down by an enemy fighter plane's bullets, falls into and out of an infatuation with the school nurse, finds love with a girl from the neighbouring school, and manfully faces up to all manner of lies, deceit and physical abuse from his prefect, an individual readers will easily grow to hate. Other boys suffer as well, including Harry's friend who is sexually abused by the prefect of his study.
Growing through the adversities of WWII and of Markham College, Harry develops from a 13-year-old "facing the prospect of his first term at a prestigious English public school with mixed feelings" in 1941 to a confident, mature young man of 17 in 1945, ready to tackle a still uncertain future. His girlfriend, Jenny, is as sure as he is they can succeed. Perhaps there's a sequel in the offing to determine whether or not they did. And if it's as good as this book is it will be well worth reading.

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