|CWGC Cemetery at Etaples, the largest in France with 10,773 WWI graves - copyright Melanie Wills|
Although the war is over when Book 3 of my Muskoka Novels, Under the Moon, begins, it lingers for many of my characters. It’s perhaps hard for us to imagine trying to rebuild lives shattered in trenches or aerial warfare, and to carry on without friends, husbands, and sweethearts when life is just supposed to be beginning. Little wonder that became known as the “lost generation”.
War veterans were reluctant to talk about their horrific experiences, especially to those who weren’t there and wouldn’t truly understand. Many couldn’t readjust to civilian life or were haunted by unforgettable experiences, including their own participation in the brutality. How does a young man, brought up to believe in the sanctity of life, reconcile that with his requirement to kill? Survivors often felt guilty that they didn’t lie alongside their comrades.
A few eventually wrote memoirs or thinly disguised fiction, possibly to help exorcise the demons, leaving us with valuable insight.
One of the most compelling is Vera Brittain’s classic, Testament of Youth. After her beloved younger brother, her fiancé, and their closest friends joined up, feisty Vera delayed her Oxford education to do “her bit” in the war by becoming a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse. Through her eyes, we witness the carnage of war and feel the profound sorrow of so many young lives shattered. She wanted to ensure that no one ever forgot that sacrifice.
A powerful, moving film adaptation of Testament of Youth was recently released. Here is one of the official trailers.
Vera’s memoir was an important part of my research, since my Muskoka Novels are told mostly from the viewpoint of women and their often unsung participation in the war, especially in Elusive Dawn. By sharing their experiences vicariously, we can perhaps have a deeper understanding. I shall certainly never forget.