Vera Brittain was born December 29, 1893, in Newcastle-under-Lyme, England. She is best known for her 1933 memoir Testament to Youth which talks about her wartime experiences. Brittain also was a pacifist who wrote poetry and 28 other books.
Brittain was born into a wealthy family that moved twice during her childhood. Her brother Edward was her only friend.
As a teenager, she studied at a boarding school. Highly educated for a woman of her day, Brittain was attending a college at Oxford when World War I began.
World War I
Brittain felt a call to help the war effort. She asked for and received leave from college to become an Volunteer Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse. She served on the Western Front, in Malta and in London.
The horrors she would witness as a VAD were beyond anything she could have imagined. The sight of wounds made her sick to her stomach. In addition, she slowly became disillusioned by nationalist fervor after discovering both sides were responsible for atrocities.
The war took from her every man she had ever loved. Her fiancé Roland Leighton died December 23, 1915, from injuries he sustained the previous day. On June 15, 1917, her brother Edward was killed in action. Her friends Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow also were killed.
Her experiences made the adjustment to civilian life after the war difficult.
“Already this was a different world,” Brittain said about Armistice Day. “The war was over; a new age was beginning; but the dead were dead and would never return.”
Brittain would eventually marry and have children. She died March 29, 1970.
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Updated: 23 October 2020
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