Prose & Poetry - Vera Brittain

Vera Brittain Vera Brittain, feminist, poet and novelist, was born in Newcastle under Lyme on 29 December 1893, and was raised in Macclesfield and Buxton.

Educated at St. Monica's School and Somerville College, Oxford (the latter under initial parental opposition), she left to serve as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse (VAD) during the war, being posted to France and Malta.  Brittain was one of the first female students to be granted leave by the college to assist in the war effort.

Brittain became engaged during the war, in 1915, to Roland Leighton.  He died of sniper wounds in France in December 1915.  Brittain also lost her brother Edward in 1918 and two close friends during the war.

Following the armistice Brittain returned to Somerville College to read history, and worked briefly as a teacher in Oxford before devoting her time to writing.  By now a committed pacifist, she was involved with the Peace Pledge Union until her death, and served as vice-president of the national Peace Council, campaigning for peace during the Second World War (her book Seed of Chaos, which attacked the British/US policy of saturation bombing of Germany, was rejected by publishers in Britain and the US in 1944).

Her first poetry was published in August 1919, Verses of a V.A.D, containing a poem dedicated to Edward, To My Brother.  Her first novel, The Dark Tide, was published in 1923.  A controversial novel of life (and sexism encountered) in Oxford, it was greeted with protest at Oxford University, where it was feared that the book would bring bad publicity.

Married in 1925 to political scientist George CG Catlin, the couple moved to the US and lived for a year in New York.  Returning to England, Brittain struck up a close friendship with the feminist academic Winifred Holtby, whom she first met in Oxford.  They took a flat together, both working as writers.  Holtby died in 1935.

Her famous memoir Testament of Youth was published in 1933, a story of 'the lost generation'.  The book also recounted her wartime experiences and her marriage to George CG Catlin.  It remains an important feminist text today.

Testament of Friendship, her memorial to Winifred Holtby, was published in 1940, and Testament of Experience, a follow-up to her earlier autobiography, was issued in 1957, covering the years 1925-50.  Her diaries were posthumously published in 1981 under the title Chronicle of Youth.

Vera Brittain died in Wimbledon on 29 March 1970.  Her ashes were sprinkled over her brother Edward's grave in Italy, where he died.

"Beachy Bill" was the name given to one of the Turkish guns which regularly shelled Anzac Cove.

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Prose & Poetry