Posted by: alison-cullingford | November 18, 2010

Testament of War: Vera Brittain’s Letter

Just catalogued!  Vera Brittain’s letter to peace-lovers, a fortnightly subscription newsletter published from 1939 to 1946.  Best-known for her heart-rending memoir of the First World War, Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain thereafter used her considerable literary and campaigning skills to promote peace.  This Peace Pledge Union web page is an excellent introduction to her life, and explains the significance of these letters.

The Letter appears to be very rare.   The run at Bradford spans the entire period of publication, though there are several gaps in coverage of the early years.   At Bradford, it was originally treated as part of a Peace Pledge Union archive, which turned out to be a miscellany of mainly printed material with some connection with that organisation.  Gradually such collections are being sorted and catalogued more effectively.  The Letter will now be part of the Commonweal Rare Books collection in Special Collections.  Our copies are often fragile, on poor quality wartime paper, and bear marks of damage from ringbinders, sellotape, and handling.  We will be rehousing them in archival quality materials to minimise future harm.

I located and catalogued the Letter in response to an enquiry from a student wishing to use it.  It was a great opportunity to become familiar with such a significant and rare publication, particularly after just completing the Priestley’s Finest Hour exhibit.  In this, I explored J.B. Priestley’s Postscripts week by week as broadcast, 70 years on.  A similar exercise reproducing or reflecting on the Letter would be a wonderful insight into pacifist ideas during the Second World War (not, I hasten to add, a task for Special Collections at Bradford, as we have little other VB material or expertise, but I will certainly use the Letter in future work).


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