The events set in motion by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 changed many lives irrevocably. For Vera Brittain, an Oxford undergraduate who left her studies to volunteer as a nurse in military hospitals in England and France, the war was a shattering experience; she not only witnessed the horrors inflicted by combat through her work, but she lost the four men closest to her at that time--her fiancé Roland Leighton, brother Edward, and two close friends, Geoffrey Thurlow and Victor Nicholson, who all died on the battlefields.
Letters from a Lost Generation, a collection of previously unpublished correspondence between Brittain and these young men--all public schoolboys at the start of the war--chronicles her relationship with them, and reveals "the old lie"--the idealised glory of patriotic duty which was soon overtaken by the grim reality of the Flanders trenches. The letters are lively, dramatic, immediate and, despite the awfulness of war, curiously optimistic: "..somehow I feel the end is not destined to be here and now. We have not fulfilled ourselves--and someday we shall live our roseate poem through" wrote Vera to in one of her last letters to Roland in December 1915, just days before he was killed by a sniper's bullet. Following his death, and later those of their mutual friends Victor and Geoffrey, Vera's letters take on a new, raw intensity as she concentrates all her emotions on her brother--a hero awarded the Military Cross--until his death on the Italian Front in June 1918.
These letters formed the basis of Vera Brittain's remarkable autobiography, Testament of Youth and vividly bring to life the voices of the "lost generation" whose words threaten to be lost forever as the First World War recedes even further from living memory. --Catherine Taylor