Vera Brittain

Upon finishing our reading of Vera Brittain’s, Testament of Youth I was compelled to continue my thoughts about the sections that we read because of the dramatic effect the novel had on me.  I found it quite a challenge to find personal accounts online from people who have lost someone in the current Iraq war without feeling as if I was judging their own way or mourning. My plan is to elaborate on some of the details from Brittain’s novel and try to enhance my observations with real information from today’s current war in Iraq.

            The idea of youth in this novel was very interesting to me.  Often times I have pondered what it is about the military that makes young men, not yet wet behind the ears, want to get down on one knee and pop the question.  There are several factors that influence this idea but until reading Vera Brittain’s own recognition of her loss of innocence, I did not understand the intense pressure put on men in the military.  First, military personnel receive a higher salary for having a spouse because they must support two people. Also, there is the benefit of being able to be in the same location as the military member, and also receiving the same health and insurance benefits.  However, the idea of the military making a man or woman out of someone also makes me think that it promotes the idea of getting on with one’s life, or moving to the next chapter of life.  Many people join the military and realize that they want the person who gets them through the hard times to be the one that shares the same last name. The military forces people to grow up whether it be by learning to handle responsibility of one’s life, or seeing and experiencing mature subject matter.  It is a hard judgment to make about who is more mature, a 40 year-old man or woman who has suffered hardship throughout their life, or an 18 year-old kid who has seen death perish in the streets of war.  We do not teach elementary school-aged children about rape and suicide because their minds are not capable of internalizing these complicated topics.  A parallel could be drawn to the 18 year-old in Iraq witnessing death and possibly administering it.  Although death is viewed to most civilians as a subject that will always be difficult to deal with, military personnel learn to harden themselves to omit the emotions and continue doing their job.  This task is enough of an endeavor to make any person, young or old feel the stress of aging on their soul.  

            From Brittain’s writing, I pulled the following quote to express the transformation she is experiencing of completely losing hold of her innocence, and she did not even join the war.  But because she was involved with someone who was forced to grow up, and yet die without having a chance to live a long life, she has been strongly affected. The following it in a letter from Roland after Vera described her daily routine to him. Although he was away at war, feeling the forces of having to grow up, he was aware that his lover was experiencing the same thing.


       “It all seems such a waste of Youth, such a desiccation of all that is born for Poetry and Beauty. And if one does  

         not even get a letter occasionally from someone who, despite hit shortcomings, perhaps understands and     

         sympathizes it must make it all the worse…until one may possibly wonder whether it would not have been better

         never to have met him at all or at any rate until afterwards…Good night, Dear Child.”


I found an article from a nurse serving in a military hospital, similarly to how Vera Brittain did.

        “I looked at the lights twinkling on my newly decorated Christmas tree while thoughts and memories    

         filtered through my head. I suddenly realized that, as difficult as the last 180 days have been, I’ve been

         given wonderful gifts, ones with no monetary value, and yet priceless. So on the Eve of one of the most

         joyous days of the year, let me share with you my gifts.

         The beautiful young girl who trusted me enough to wrap her arms around me and sob against my    

         shoulder over the death of her father.  No new WIA’s in the past three weeks.  A soldier, shot in the head,

          prognosis poor upon his CONUS* arrival, and the absolutely awesome smile that appeared on his face

          when I walked into his room three months later. Airman, presented with his purple heart by the

          commander in chief, who when later asked who his favorite visitor was replied, “Clara.”


Although this nurse made no references to the loss of youth, i feel her positive comments and englightenment she finds in her job. Although Vera’s life changed as she was a nurse, she was forced to grow up, just as this nurse is, but there can always be glimpses of hope. Click here to read more from this nurse…





2 Responses to “Vera Brittain”

  1. 1 meg3212
    February 10, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your comparison of Vera and a young nurse who has a loved one in the military. I was also very impacted by Brittain’s testament. I found myself drawn to her strength and attitude. I also thought it was interesting how you compared the idea of youth and marriage and the military all together. You often hear of very young couples getting married, and sometimes it seems like it is just for the sake of him or her joining the military. However, I guess in some ways it does make sense, with the health insurance, government aid, and the fact that you feel a deeper connection with that person before they go off to war. Does, that however, steal the innocence away too soon? I agree with you, when you stated that Vera seemed to have lost her innocent and youthful way when she decided to join the army, as one way to get closer to Roland. Maybe, spouses or loved one’s of people in the military feel the need to sort of go through what the other is experiencing, even if it is in a very small way. That way, they can better relate to them. Or, maybe it is just the wat and casualties of the everyday life of the military that steals young people’s youth and innocence.

    I also really liked that you found a letter from a nurse who has a loved one in the military. I think that Vera and the nurse share the same mind set, in that they were both forced to grow up and assume responsibility.

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