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.
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 whole 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.