Vera Brittain

Great Lives, Series 26 Episode 8 of 9
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The pacifist Vera Brittain - whose Testament of Youth conveys the toll of the First World War on her generation - is discussed by her daughter Baroness Shirley Williams and Dr Clare Gerada.

Matthew Parris chairs a fascinating and insightful exploration of what it was like to be brought up by Vera Brittain, a mother who was effectively worldwide public property, and so in many ways was simply unavailable to the young Shirley. Vera, who as a teenage feminist was desperate for an education, turned her back on her studies at Oxford in 1914, because she felt compelled to serve as a nurse, wanting to join her brother and his friends in the Trenches as far as she could.

The rest of Vera Brittain's life was shaped by the grief that followed the loss of her fiance, her own brother and two good friends. Candidly conveying all this in her best selling book, 'Testament of Youth', won her a lifelong audience.

Shirley Williams explains that as a result of these experiences her mother became a passionately committed pacifist and feminist, who in 1944 denounced Bomber Command's blanket bombing of Germany at a time when it was deeply unpopular to do so. Brittain was vindicated in the eyes of the press when it was revealed that she and her husband George Catlin were the only married couple to feature in the Gestapo's notorious Black Book, listing those who would have been executed, had the German invasion of the UK been successful.

Dr Clare Gerada, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, nominates a fascinating life in a programme that reflects on two influential women - mother and daughter - who have played key public roles across the entire twentieth century.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

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30 minutes

Last on

Fri 27 Jan 2012 23:00

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