Vera Brittain … For King and Country

I don’t consider myself a particularly squeamish person. I can watch gory movies and not bat an eye. Sweeney Todd? No problem, just give me a bucket of popcorn and a coke and I’m ready for a good night in front of the TV. Heck, as a historical writer with many stories set during the world wars, I even write gory scenes from time to time. But watching and writing are very different than witnessing first hand. That, I have a little doubt about.V-Brittain

1914. Ideas, weapons, and countries collided in the fields and woods of Europe in what would be known as the Great War, and later WWI. The call came for boys and men to take up arms for king and country. But what of the women? Roll bandages, serve soup, knit mittens, send care packages. All noble and much needed jobs for such a horrific time. But Vera Brittain wasn’t content to sit home and darn socks. “The disadvantages of being a woman have eaten like iron in my soul.” So with that sentiment in mind, she left her studies behind in dear old Oxford, and joined up for the voluntary aid detachment, otherwise known as VAD, and went to France and Malta to nurse wounded soldiers.

But a mere three weeks into nursing life quickly dimmed the noble and romantic ideas she had had of war. “It was very hard to believe that not far away men were being slain ruthlessly … The destruction of men, as though beasts, whether they be English, French, German or anything else, seems a crime to the vera and edwardwhole march of civilization.” Losing her beloved brother and fiancé cemented her to a lifetime of advocating for peace.

A Testament of Youth records her experiences from an innocent girl at school to the tragedy of war-torn Europe, and the beginning of her journey to pacifism. It is perhaps the best  and most powerful first-hand account of what that horrible time truly did to ordinary people. I have a well-worn copy of the book on my bookshelf that I put to use during my WWI research. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an eye opening view on the subjects.

testament of youth

 


A to Z blog hop at Patterings.

 

11 Comments

  1. Tom Threadgill

    I can write semi-gory stuff, but watch it? No thanks. WWI was so brutal (not that every war since hasn’t been also). Thanks for sharing, J’nell!

    Reply
    1. J'nell (Post author)

      Gory isn’t for everybody. When writing a war story I think it’s important to show the horrors these brave people went through, but there’s definitely a point when it can get to be too much.

      Reply
  2. Karla Akins

    Wow, what a strong woman! Thanks so much for sharing her with us. I’m definitely adding this book to my resource shelf!

    Reply
    1. J'nell (Post author)

      Wasn’t she though? I’m always happy to add great books to people’s shelves.

      Reply
  3. Kathleen Rouser

    Well, the goriest thing I’ve seen close up is oral surgery as I assisted or observed. However, I don’t think I would have the stomach for the horrors of war. I admire someone those who would leave their comfy life behind to care for the wounded near the front.

    Reply
    1. J'nell (Post author)

      Oral surgery. Shivers! I’ve had a few of those and they were horrible. I consider you brave for participating.

      Reply
  4. April Gardner

    J’nell this is the very book I need to read. The heroin 1918 novel I’m plotting is a nurse on the home front, but she nursed the wounded through the Halifax Explosion (book 1 of the series). Because of that experience, she becomes a pacifist. So you see, this is THE book I need to read to complete my research. I’m off to look for it now…

    Thank you!

    Reply
    1. J'nell (Post author)

      I’m so so glad to recommend this book for your research. The other one I would highly recommend, maybe even more than Testament is The Roses of No Man’s Land by Lyn MacDonald. Fabulous book filled nurses and doctors first and accounts of the war. This was my go-to book for my WWI research.

      Reply
      1. April Gardner

        I’ve put “The Roses…” in my Amazon shopping cart. Thanks, J’nell! Looking forward to reading them both. :-)

        Reply
  5. Joanne Sher

    The name Vera Brittain, and the title “Testament of Youth,” sound so INCREDIBLY familiar to me – but even after reading your post, I am not 100% sure why. I MAY have read the book for a college literature class (more than half my lifetime ago – so excuse my Swiss cheese brain LOL). I seem to have a vague memory of taking a course about the literature of war – or maybe it was even WWI – obviously, it made a huge impression on me LOL.

    I am NOT good with ick, but have grown better with having kids. You gotta! :)

    Reply
    1. J'nell (Post author)

      Don’t even get me started on ick with kids. It’s amazing what you’ll find yourself doing as a parent. I can absolutely see this book being used in lit class. She wrote a few more after this one so maybe you read one of those…?

      Reply

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