Vera Brittain
Vera Mary Brittain was a British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 writer, feminist and pacifist, best remembered as the author of the best-selling 1933 memoir Testament of Youth
Testament of Youth
Testament of Youth is the first installment, covering 1900–1925, in the memoir of Vera Brittain . It was published in 1933. Brittain's memoir continues with Testament of Experience, published in 1957, and encompassing the years 1925–1950...

, recounting her experiences during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 and the beginning of her journey towards pacifism.


Born in Newcastle-under-Lyme
Newcastle-under-Lyme is a market town in Staffordshire, England, and is the principal town of the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme. It is part of The Potteries Urban Area and North Staffordshire. In the 2001 census the town had a population of 73,944...

, Brittain was the daughter of a well-to-do family who owned paper mills in Hanley and Cheddleton
Cheddleton, Staffordshire
Cheddleton is a large village in the Staffordshire Moorlands, near to the town of Leek. It is divided into two distinct communities - the traditional village and the modern Redrow development located at St...

. She had an uneventful childhood with her only brother her closest companion. At 18 months her family moved to Macclesfield
Macclesfield is a market town within the unitary authority of Cheshire East, the county palatine of Chester, also known as the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. The population of the Macclesfield urban sub-area at the time of the 2001 census was 50,688...

, Cheshire
Cheshire is a ceremonial county in North West England. Cheshire's county town is the city of Chester, although its largest town is Warrington. Other major towns include Widnes, Congleton, Crewe, Ellesmere Port, Runcorn, Macclesfield, Winsford, Northwich, and Wilmslow...

 and when she was 11 they moved again, to Buxton
Buxton is a spa town in Derbyshire, England. It has the highest elevation of any market town in England. Located close to the county boundary with Cheshire to the west and Staffordshire to the south, Buxton is described as "the gateway to the Peak District National Park"...

 in Derbyshire
Derbyshire is a county in the East Midlands of England. A substantial portion of the Peak District National Park lies within Derbyshire. The northern part of Derbyshire overlaps with the Pennines, a famous chain of hills and mountains. The county contains within its boundary of approx...

. From the age of thirteen she attended boarding school at St Monica's, Kingswood in Surrey where her aunt was principal. Studying English Literature at Somerville College, Oxford
Somerville College, Oxford
Somerville College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England, and was one of the first women's colleges to be founded there...

, she delayed her degree after one year in the summer of 1915 in order to work as a V.A.D.
Voluntary Aid Detachment
The Voluntary Aid Detachment was a voluntary organisation providing field nursing services, mainly in hospitals, in the United Kingdom and various other countries in the British Empire. The organisation's most important periods of operation were during World War I and World War II.The...

 nurse for much of the First World War. Her fiancé Roland Leighton
Roland Leighton
Roland Aubrey Leighton , was a British poet and soldier, immortalised in Vera Brittain's memoir, Testament of Youth....

, two other close friends Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow, and her brother Edward Brittain MC were all killed during the war. Their letters to each other are documented in the book Letters from a Lost Generation.

Returning to Oxford after the war to read History, Brittain found it difficult to adjust to life among the postwar generation. It was at this time she met Winifred Holtby
Winifred Holtby
Winifred Holtby was an English novelist and journalist, best known for her novel South Riding.-Life and writings:...

, and a close friendship developed with both aspiring to become established on the London literary scene. The bond lasted until Holtby's death in 1935.

In 1925 Brittain married George Catlin
George Catlin (political scientist)
Sir George Edward Gordon Catlin was an English political scientist and philosopher. A strong proponent of Anglo-America cooperation, he worked for many years as a professor at Cornell University and other universities and colleges in the United States and Canada. He preached the use of a natural...

, a political scientist
Political science
Political Science is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, government and politics. Aristotle defined it as the study of the state. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics, and the analysis of political systems and political behavior...

 and philosopher
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

. Their son, John Brittain-Catlin (1927–1987), was an artist painter, businessman, and the author of the autobiography Family Quartet, which appeared in 1987. Their daughter, born in 1930, is the former Labour
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 Cabinet Minister, now Liberal Democrat
Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats are a social liberal political party in the United Kingdom which supports constitutional and electoral reform, progressive taxation, wealth taxation, human rights laws, cultural liberalism, banking reform and civil liberties .The party was formed in 1988 by a merger of the...

 peer, Shirley Williams
Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby
Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby PC is a British politician and academic. Originally a Labour Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, she was one of the "Gang of Four" rebels who founded the Social Democratic Party in 1981...


Brittain's first published novel was The Dark Tide (1923). It was not until 1933 that she published Testament of Youth
Testament of Youth
Testament of Youth is the first installment, covering 1900–1925, in the memoir of Vera Brittain . It was published in 1933. Brittain's memoir continues with Testament of Experience, published in 1957, and encompassing the years 1925–1950...

, which was followed by the sequel
A sequel is a narrative, documental, or other work of literature, film, theatre, or music that continues the story of or expands upon issues presented in some previous work...

s, Testament of Friendship (1940) – her tribute to and biography of Winifred Holtby
Winifred Holtby
Winifred Holtby was an English novelist and journalist, best known for her novel South Riding.-Life and writings:...

 – and Testament of Experience (1957), the continuation of her own story, which spanned the years between 1925 and 1950. Vera Brittain wrote from the heart and based many of her novels on actual experiences and actual people. In this regard her novel Honourable Estate (1936) was in part more of a memoir
A memoir , is a literary genre, forming a subclass of autobiography – although the terms 'memoir' and 'autobiography' are almost interchangeable. Memoir is autobiographical writing, but not all autobiographical writing follows the criteria for memoir set out below...


In the 1920s she became a regular speaker on behalf of the League of Nations Union
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...

, but in June 1936 she was invited to speak at a peace rally in Dorchester, where she shared a platform with Dick Sheppard
Hugh Richard Lawrie Sheppard
Hugh Richard Lawrie "Dick" Sheppard was an English Anglican priest, Dean of Canterbury and pacifist....

, George Lansbury
George Lansbury
George Lansbury was a British politician, socialist, Christian pacifist and newspaper editor. He was a Member of Parliament from 1910 to 1912 and from 1922 to 1940, and leader of the Labour Party from 1932 to 1935....

, Laurence Housman
Laurence Housman
Laurence Housman was an English playwright, writer and illustrator.-Early life:Laurence Housman was born in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, one of seven children who included the poet A. E. Housman and writer Clemence Housman. In 1871 his mother died, and his father remarried, to a cousin...

 and Donald Soper
Donald Soper
Donald Oliver Soper, Baron Soper was a prominent Methodist minister, socialist and pacifist.Soper was born at 36 Knoll Road, Wandsworth, London, the first son and first child of the three children of Ernest Frankham Soper , an average adjuster in marine insurance, the son of a tailor, and his...

. Afterwards Sheppard invited her to join the Peace Pledge Union
Peace Pledge Union
The Peace Pledge Union is a British pacifist non-governmental organization. It is open to everyone who can sign the PPU pledge: "I renounce war, and am therefore determined not to support any kind of war...

, and following six months' careful reflection she replied in January 1937 to say she would. Later that year Brittain also joined the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
The Anglican Pacifist Fellowship is a body of people within the Anglican Communion who reject war as a means of solving international disputes, and believe that peace and justice should be sought through non-violent means .-Origins and early history:...

. Her newly found pacifism came to the fore during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, when she began the series of Letters to Peacelovers.

She was a practical pacifist in the sense that she helped the war effort by working as a fire warden
Civil Defence Service
The Civil Defence Service was a civilian volunteer organisation established in Great Britain by the Home Office in 1935. In 1941, during World War II, the use of Civil Defence replaced the pre-existing Air Raid Precautions...

 and by travelling around the country raising funds for the Peace Pledge Union
Peace Pledge Union
The Peace Pledge Union is a British pacifist non-governmental organization. It is open to everyone who can sign the PPU pledge: "I renounce war, and am therefore determined not to support any kind of war...

's food relief campaign. She was vilified for speaking out against saturation bombing
Area bombardment
In military aviation, area bombardment is aerial bombardment targeted indiscriminately at a large area, such as a city block or an entire city.Area bombing is a form of strategic bombing...

 of German cities through her 1944 booklet Massacre by Bombing. Her principled pacifist position was vindicated somewhat when, in 1945, the Nazis'
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 Black Book
The Black Book
The Black Book was the post-war name given to the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B. , the list of prominent British to be arrested in the case of a successful invasion of Britain by Nazi Germany in World War II.-Background:The list was similar to earlier lists prepared by SS like the Special Prosecution...

 of 2000 people to be immediately arrested in Britain after a German invasion was shown to include her name.

In November 1966 she suffered a fall in a badly lit London street while on the way to a speaking engagement. She fulfilled the engagement but afterwards found she had suffered a fractured left arm and broken little finger of her right hand. These injuries began a physical decline in which her mind became more confused and withdrawn.

Vera Brittain never fully got over the death of her brother Edward. When she died in Wimbledon
Wimbledon, London
Wimbledon is a district in the south west area of London, England, located south of Wandsworth, and east of Kingston upon Thames. It is situated within Greater London. It is home to the Wimbledon Tennis Championships and New Wimbledon Theatre, and contains Wimbledon Common, one of the largest areas...

 on 29 March 1970, aged 76, her will requested that her ashes be scattered on Edward's grave on the Asiago Plateau
Battle of Asiago
The Battle of Asiago ' or the Trentino Offensive , nicknamed Strafexpedition by the Austrians, was a counteroffensive launched by the Austro-Hungarians on the Italian Front on 15 May 1916, during World War I...

 in Italy – "...for nearly 50 years much of my heart has been in that Italian village cemetery". Her daughter honoured this request in September 1970.

Cultural legacy

She was portrayed by Cheryl Campbell
Cheryl Campbell
Cheryl Campbell is an English actor of stage, film and television.-Early years:Cheryl Campbell was educated at Francis Bacon Grammar School, St Albans; London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art...

 in the 1979 BBC2
BBC Two is the second television channel operated by the British Broadcasting Corporation in the United Kingdom. It covers a wide range of subject matter, but tending towards more 'highbrow' programmes than the more mainstream and popular BBC One. Like the BBC's other domestic TV and radio...

 television adaptation of Testament of Youth.

Songwriter and fellow Anglican Pacifist Fellowship member Sue Gilmurray wrote a song in Brittain's memory, titled "Vera".

In 1998 Brittain's First World War letters were edited by Alan Bishop and Mark Bostridge
Mark Bostridge
Mark Bostridge is a British writer and critic. He was born in 1960 and educated at the University of Oxford, where he was awarded the Gladstone Memorial Prize.His first book was Vera Brittain: A Life, co-written with Paul Berry and published in 1995...

 and published under the title Letters from a Lost Generation. They were also adapted by Bostridge for a Radio Four
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

 series starring Amanda Root
Amanda Root
Amanda Root is an English stage and screen actor and a former voice actor for children's programmes.Root known for her starring role in the 1995 BBC film adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion and the British TV comedy All About Me, as Miranda, alongside Richard Lumsden in 2004 and when she was a...

 and Rupert Graves
Rupert Graves
Rupert Graves is an English film, television and theatre actor. He is best known for his role as DI Lestrade in the critically acclaimed television series Sherlock.-Early life:...


Because You Died, a new selection of Brittain's First World War poetry and prose, edited by Mark Bostridge was published by Virago in 2008 to commemorate the ninetieth anniversary of the Armistice.

On 9 November 2008, BBC One broadcast an hour-length documentary on Brittain as part of its Remembrance Day programmes hosted by Jo Brand
Jo Brand
Josephine Grace "Jo" Brand is a BAFTA winning British comedian, writer, and actor.- Early life :Jo Brand was born 23 July 1957 in Wandsworth, London. Her mother was a social worker. Brand is the middle of three children, with two brothers...


In February 2009, it was reported that BBC Films
BBC Films
BBC Films is the feature film-making arm of the BBC. It has produced or co-produced some of the most successful British films of recent years, including An Education, StreetDance 3D, Fish Tank, Stage Beauty, A Cock and Bull Story, Nativity! and Match Point.It aims to make strong British films with...

 is to adapt Brittain's memoir, Testament of Youth, for the cinema.


  • Vera Brittain: A Life, by Paul Berry and Mark Bostridge, Chatto & Windus, 1995, Pimlico, 1996, Virago 2001, 2008 ISBN 1-86049-872-8.
  • Vera Brittain: A Feminist Life, by Deborah Gorham, University of Toronto Press
    University of Toronto Press
    University of Toronto Press is Canada's leading scholarly publisher and one of the largest university presses in North America. Founded in 1901, UTP has published over 6,500 books, with well over 3,500 of these still in print....

    , 2000. ISBN 0-8020-8339-0.

External links

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