Let Him Go
Too late we thought to question more, to ask, to probe, the whys and wherefores of this war.
Loved ones leave and don’t return. Unscathed by battle, I am scarred by war.
Creating the Centena
It was always a given for me that I would write from a female perspective. Principally, because as a woman and mother myself, I imagined I could more readily relate to the experience and feelings of women than men.
I live in a small Victorian village on the east coast of Northern Ireland and initially, I wanted to write about someone from here. I’d thought it might be one of the female inhabitants of my house at that time was, but I struggled to uncover more than their names and ages at the time of the 1911 census. A local historian helped me unearth details of local women who had served in the VAD, WL or WRAF. One shared my middle name, Florence, and had lived just doors from me, making me certain (for a day or two) that she was the one. But it turned out to be someone further from home whose voice I heard most clearly.
My husband is a history buff, so we have a respectable library of First World War books at home. One of these, ‘Letters from a Lost Generation’ captured my interest. It tells in letters from the time, the story of the writer Vera Brittain, her brother, a fiancé and two friends who all died during the course of the First World War, aiding her slow dawning realisation of war’s futility.
Her own writings documented her story in a detailed way and I found no contradictory accounts in anything I read, therefore I didn’t feel the need to consult with a research partner. Had I chosen a local subject, I would doubtless have needed more support, but information on a well-known writer like Brittain was easily enough accessed for what I wanted.
Having settled on Brittain, I embroiled myself in her books and even watched the movie version of ‘Testament of Youth’. To ensure other voices were informing my understanding of the impact of the First World War on people I read Sebastian Faulks’ A Broken World – Letters, Diaries and Memories of the Great War’. I consulted the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website, both about Vera Brittain and her friends and also about other women who contributed to the War effort in their various ways.
In the end, three words kept swimming in my head – Vera Brittain’s plea to her father to let her brother go off to join the War effort and do the ‘honourable’ thing – ‘Let him go’. Oh how she must have regretted that plea in later years when first her fiancé, then friends Geoffrey Thurlow and Victor Richardson and finally her brother Edward all perished in or as a result of battles at the Front.
I wanted to capture the disillusion and loss of innocence Vera and her youthful contemporaries all felt as the War played out and they realised how unnecessary it had all been. I hope I did her justice.
LIVES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR
You can find out more about Vera Brittain here at Lives of the First World War
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