Vera Brittain VAD

Vera Brittain (1893 – 1970) was born to a middle class family and was unusually well-educated for a woman of her time. In 1915 she left her Oxford studies and joined the Voluntary Aid Detachments (known as the VAD’s), an auxiliary whose members assisted nurses in wartime hospitals.  After postings to England and Malta, she was sent to General Hospital No. 24 in Etaples, France, where she served from August 3rd, 1917 to April 29th, 1918. You can read more about Vera, her brother Edward and her friends here.

33rd Division at Le Hamel

In this famous passage from Brittain’s 1933 memoir Testament of Youth, she recalled her first glimpse of their new allies, probably from the 131st or 132nd Infantry, 33rd Division (Illinois National Guard):

‘… I had to wait to let a large contingent of troops march past me…Though the sight of soldiers marching was now too familiar to arouse curiosity, an unusual quality of bold vigour in their swift stride caused me to stare at them with puzzled interest.

They looked larger than ordinary men; their tall straight figures were in vivid contrast to the undersized armies of pale recruits to which we were grown accustomed…Had yet another regiment been conjured out of our depleted Dominions? Then I heard an excited exclamation…”Look! Look! Here are the Americans!”

… These were our deliverers at last, marching up the road to Camiers in the spring sunshine!…The coming of relief made me realize all at once how long and how intolerable had been the tension, and with the knowledge that we were not, after all, defeated, I found myself beginning to cry.’

You can read more about Vera’s VAD service here: https://simonjoneshistorian.com/2015/01/08/where-did-vera-brittain-serve-in-france-during-the-first-world-war/

James (“Jim”) Patton BS BA MPA is a retired state official living in Shawnee, Kansas and a frequent contributor to several WW1 e-publications, including "Roads to the Great War," "St. Mihiel Tripwire," "Over the Top" and "Medicine in the First World War." He has spent many hours walking the WW1 battlefields, and is also an authority on British regiments and a collector of their badges. An Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, he does work for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission and has memberships in the WW1 Historical Association, the Western Front Association, the Indian Military Historical Society and the Salonika Campaign Society.