Saturday, June 11, 2016

'I sat for an hour in a tree shadowed walk'

'I had been over to Newcastle-under-Lyme to visit the family dentist and afterwards I sat for an hour in a tree shadowed walk called The Brampton and meditated on the war.  It was one of those shimmering Autumn days when every leaf and flower seemed to scintillate with light and I found it very hard to believe that not far away men were being slain ruthlessley.  It is impossible, I concluded, to find any satisfaction in the destruction of men whether they be English, French, German or anything else, seems a crime to the whole march of civilisation.'
Vera Brittain 1914
from Testament of Youth pub 1933

The words above, from Vera Brittain's book Testament of Youth, were the inspiration for the statue, by local artist Andrew Edwards, which sits on a bench on The Brampton in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire.

 The statue although influenced by Vera Brittain's words isn't actually of the writer herself but more of a depiction of women of that time.

 In her hand she clutches a letter, her head slightly bent, as she reads the words

'The King commands me to assure you of the true sympathy of His Majesty and The Queen in your sorrow'
 Secretary of State for War

 The statue, which is slightly larger than life size, is meant to depict everywoman, all those mothers, daughters, wives and lovers left at home and who suffered loss during not only this war but others too.

The bench and the statue, which was unveiled on 11th November 2014, were placed close to a copper beech tree that had been planted a few years before by Vera Brittain's daughter Baroness Williams of Crosby who will always be remembered as Shirley Williams MP.

Vera Brittain was born just a short distance from The Brampton on a leafy, tree lined street.

Her father was an industrialist who owned paper mills in Hanley, now the city centre of Stoke on Trent,  and in Cheddleton, a village between Stoke-on-Trent and Leek.
The family eventally moved away from Newcastle-under-Lyme living first in Macclesfield in Cheshire and then Buxton in Derbyshire.

Vera Brittain lost her fiancee, Roland Leighton, her brother Edward and  two close friends Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow to the war and as a consequence became a feminist and pacifist as well as a writer.  Testament of Youth is probably her best known work.  She also wrote Testament of Friendship about her friendship with the novelist Winifred Holtby whom she met at Somerville College, Oxford, plus other works including a couple of novels. 

Here is more about the life of  Vera Brittain

32 comments:

  1. Hi Rosie, i would like to read this book. This piece is very touching and the statue beautiful!

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    1. Thank you, Sandra, the book is very moving:)

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  2. Such a poignant post Rosie. I love the stillness in the statue, where you can feel somehow for all those lost men. I feel a little more research on this lady. Many thanks. B xx

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    1. It is a great statue isn't it? Created by the same sculptor who made the new Beatles one in Liverpool which I hope to go and see soon:)

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  3. The statue is beautiful. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and photos.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Jean:)

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  4. It looks a very peaceful spot, all the better to remember those sad days of war and loss. :-)

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    1. It is quite peaceful, even though close to a day nursery and children's playground as well as the museum. I hope it gets used as a place of reflection:)

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  5. The statue is so beautifully poignant and really brings home how it must have been sitting in those peaceful surroundings contemplating what was happening on the other side of the channel. I read Testament of Youth many years ago, this post has made me want to go back and read it again to refresh my memory. xx

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    1. Yes, I would like to read it again plus some of her other books. I saw the film last year so I have the main story in my head but I'm sure there is much more to go back to:)

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  6. I think I would have like her. I had no idea that Shirley Williams had such a famous Mum! x

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    1. She does seem quite a likeable character doesn't she?:)

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  7. What an interesting post - so poignant and moving. The statue is a beautiful piece of work. Your post has certainly inspired me to learn more about Vera Brittain (thanks for the link) and encouraged me to read Testament of Youth - so sad that she lost so many loved ones. Thank you for such a touching post.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post. It is hard to think that people of her age, born when she was, lived through not one world war but two, they must have thought, after the first one, that it couldn't possibly happen again:)

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  8. That was a very interesting read!

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  9. Very interesting post Rosie, I really like the statue. I had no idea that Vera Brittain had lived in Macclesfield which is my home town. I wonder whereabouts their house was, must do some investigating!

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  10. I've discovered that she lived on Chester Road which is what I suspected as that was quite definitely the nicest part of the town at that time.

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    1. Ah, thanks for that. We occasionaly go to Macclesfield but haven't been for some time:)

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  11. That is interesting to read about The Brampton and Vera Brittain. I read Testament of Youth years ago and it is a superb book. There are lines in it that I've re-read since many times because I think they're so moving. Did you see the recent film 'Testament of Youth' starring Kit Harington (of Game of Thrones fame)? I also (just about) remember the TV series in the late 1970s.

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    1. Yes, we saw the film last year whilst on holiday. It was very moving. Haven't seen any Game of Thrones but I sort of knew he was in it from the papers and etc. I remember the old TV series too with Cheryl Campbell as Vera which got me interested in reading the book:)

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  12. Very moving, thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed the post:)

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  13. I love the title of this post Rosie - I wish I had thought of those words before Vera did. She sounds like a remarkable lady I will have to find the book.

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    1. She has a way with words. I hope you enjoy the book:)

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  14. What an amazing woman. Very interesting to read. Thank you!

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    1. She was wasn't she? Glad you enjoyed reading the post, Amy:)

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  15. It's beautiful, and sadly so relevant, even today.

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    1. I'm afraid it is still very relevant today. I find it beautiful too:)

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  16. Hello Rosie, thank you for such an interesting post. I am waiting for an opportunity to see the film version of A Testament of Youth. I haven't read any of Vera Brittain's work, but I will certainly look out for her books. Marie x

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    1. The film is very good, I hope you get the chance to see it. Glad you enjoyed the post Marie:)

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