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The Life of Vera Brittain

Vera’s most famous novel, Testament of Youth, has hit the big screen in a recently released film
She turned her back on society’s expectations

Vera Brittain was born in Newcastle-Under-Lyme on 29 December 1893. 

Her family owned a paper mill and were relatively well off. Vera herself was somewhat of a rebel from an early age. She disliked the idea that women were supposed to spend their lives in the home and she envied her younger brother Edward, who was able to leave home without having to get married.

In 1913, she made the decision to turn her back on society’s expectations and instead chose to study at Somerville college.

In the same year, she met and fell in love with one of her brother’s friends –Roland Leighton. But their relationship was to be short lived…

Just a year into her studies, the world suddenly found itself at war. Roland and Edward volunteered for the army while Vera decided to leave her studies and become a volunteer nurse.

She served in London and also on the front line in France and her recollections provided rich material for her writing later in life.

Sadly, both Edward and Roland were killed in action and the war left her, like many others, desperate for peace. She returned to Somerville to complete her studies and met a life-long friend and fellow writer Winifred Holtby. They encouraged each other’s writing and after university, Vera set about writing her first novel, The Dark Tide. It was published in 1923 to a mixed reception.

It was ten years later that Vera’s first instalment of her life story was published. It detailed her experiences of the war and how she came to terms with the death of her brother and fiancé immediately after. The book was widely read and remains an important text in the study of British history.  Although she wrote follow-ups to the book – Testament of Friendship and Testament of Experience, it is Testament of Youth that has stood the test of time. In its latest incarnation, Vera’s most famous novel has hit the big screen in a recently released film, directed by James Kent and written by Juliette Towhidi.

Vera was committed to the peace movement and campaigned for a peaceful resolution to the Nazi problem in the 1930s. When war broke out for a second time, Vera took up a pacifist role as a fire warden, still lending her hand to the war effort but not directly becoming involved in the conflict.

After the war she continued to write and give public talks. It was on the way to one of her talks in 1966 that she fell and her health took a deep decline from then onwards.

In 1970, she passed away in Wimbledon and although she feared her work would be forgotten, Testament of Youth is still in print and the latest big screen interpretation of her most famous novel has attracted a new generation of fans.

Testament of Youth is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms now, courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment.


Related Articles: Testament of Youth Film Review