Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain is based on her diaries, telling of her life up to 1925, concentrating on the World War One years.
It is an absolutely fascinating account of the war and all its horror and sufferings, and very moving. Vera was a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) during the war, nursing casualties both in Britain and France. The conditions were appalling.
During the war her fiance, Roland Leighton, her brother, Edward, and two friends, Geoffrey Thurlow and Victor Richardson, were all killed. Roland was killed the day before he was due home on leave at Christmas 1915 and Edward was killed just a few months before the Armistice – all heart-breaking. Vera’s life was irrevocably changed – as were those of so many others.
For me, her account of the war years is the most outstanding in this book, the most personal and vivid. The preceding years are about her childhood and youth and bring to life the social conditions and her struggles for education. By the outbreak of war she was an undergraduate at Somerville College, Oxford. But I found the final section after the war to be more detached. It’s about her work as a speaker on the League of Nations and International Relations, about the development of the peace ideal. The language in this section is more formal and so does not come across as fresh and immediate as in those on her childhood and war years.
I read this book as a result of reading Climbing the Bookshelves by Shirley Williams, Vera’s daughter. It slots nicely into the War through the Generations Challenge – World War One.
- Paperback: 640 pages
- Publisher: Virago; New Edition with new cover edition (2004)
- Language English
- ISBN-10: 0860680355
- ISBN-13: 978-0860680352
- Source: borrowed from a friend – I’ve now bought the e-book version
- My rating 4/5 (it would have been 5/5 apart from the change in writing in the last section)