November 11, 2005

Remembrance Day II

From Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain:
When the sound of victorious guns burst over London at 11 a.m. on November 11th, 1918, the men and women who looked incredulously into each other's faces did not cry jubilantly: "We've won the War!" They only said: "The War is over."...

Late that evening, when supper was over, a group of V.A.D.s [Volunteer Aid Detachment nurses] who were anxious to walk through Westminster and Whitehall to Buckingham Palace prevailed upon me to join them.... After the long, long blackness, it seemed like a fairy-tale to see the street lamps shining through the chill November gloom.

I detached myself from the others and walked slowly up Whitehall, with my heart sinking in a sudden cold dismay. Already this was a different world from the one that I had known during four life-long years, a world in which people would be light-hearted and forgetful, in which themselves and their careers and their amusements would blot out political ideals and great national issues. And in that brightly lit, alien world I should have no part. All those with whom I had really been intimate were gone; not one remained to share with me the heights and depths of my memories. As the years went by and youth departed and remembrance grew dim, a deeper and ever deeper darkness would cover the young men who were once my contemporaries.

For the first time I realised, with all that full realisation meant, how completely everything had hitherto made up my life had vanished with Edward and Roland, with Victor and Geoffrey. The War was over; a new age was beginning; but the dead were dead and would never return.

Edward was her brother, Roland Leighton her fiance, and Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow friends of brother and sister. In her will after death in 1970, Miss Brittain directed that her ashes be scattered on her brother's grave on the the Asiago Plateau because "for nearly 50 years much of my heart has been in that Italian village cemetery."

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