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"Testament of Youth" by Vera Brittain

Testament of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900 - 1925 - Vera Brittain

Testament of Youth was a best seller when it was first published in 1933, and became a bestseller once again in the 1970s. It is every bit as good as I'd remembered when I read it first about twenty years ago. Vera Brittain's lively intelligence, determination, bravery and passion all shine through. 

At the start of World War One, and despite finally getting into Oxford University after an incredible effort to overcome her parents' objections (of course it was accepted that the son would go there - but why would a woman bother?), she turned her back on that to take on arduous, and physically and emotionally demanding nursing work with the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment - women who volunteered to nurse the war-wounded) and which required incredible courage and endurance.

This is the third WW1 memoir I've read in 2014 (the other two being Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger, and Goodbye to All Thatby Robert Graves) and it was both interesting and refreshing to get a female perspective on the conflict. Vera Brittain arguably endured as much hardship and horror as the men in the trenches. Worse, she had to endure survivor's guilt after the war was over. 'Why couldn't I have died in the War with the others?' she lamented, and perhaps not surprisingly, as she lost four of the people she was closest to, including her brother and her partner. These deaths, and her war time experienced, turnedVera Brittain into a committed pacifist. 

After the war, she returned to study at Oxford where she became close friends with writer Winifred Holtby. Both young women shared a flat and became writers. Convinced she would never marry, Vera Brittain finally succumbed to the attentions of George Catlin, marrying him, and ensuring a happy ending to this excellent memoir.