Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

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)

8 thoughts on “Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain”

  1. Oh dear, we’ve both posted the same book on the same day! I agree with you about the post-war section – it is more formal, with a different ‘voice’. Personally I think the book would have had as much impact if it had finished at the end of the war. I don’t know if ‘enjoy’ is quite the right word, but it was fascinating, although found it a very harrowing read, but memories of WWI always are.

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  2. Thanks for the kind comment – you gave a much more concise overview of the whole book, which is what I intended to do originally,but I got carried away by the war and ended up as usual, being much too wordy.

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  3. Chris, thank you! I had intended to go into more detail but didn’t really know where to start – there are so many sections that stand out – hence my summary post.

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  4. I read this book years ago and loved it. It is a clear eyed portrait of the period. I would recommend Testament of Friendship too about her friendship with the writer Winifred Holtby. The is also a good book but in a different way – a pen portrait of a writer whose life was cut short.
    I would like to read the Shirley Williams book so thanks for reminding me about it.

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  5. I read this one and Testament of Experience after watching ‘Youth’ on TV and they sent me down the Holtby path too. In fact it kicked off an interest in The Great War which took me to some battlefields and cemeteries – unbearably sad. Thanks for the info on the Shirley Williams book.

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