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The Great War
Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Timeline Maps & Battles The Shaping of the 21st Century Historians
OverviewMutinyCollapseBrittain / KamaraDesagneaux / Borden
Voices of the Great War

Vera Brittain Vera Brittain
Vera Brittain, a young Oxford University student, watched helplessly as all her male friends went off to war, including her fiancé, Roland.

Play Audio"The war, we decided, came hardest of all upon us who were young. The middle-aged and the old had known their period of joy, whereas upon us catastrophe had descended just in time to deprive us of that youthful happiness of which we had believed ourselves entitled...
 
I knew now that death was the end and that I was quite alone. There was no hereafter, no Easter morning, no meeting again. I walked in a darkness, a dumbness, a silence, which no beloved voice would penetrate."
-- Vera Brittain, from her memoirs, Testament of Youth

Like many in Britain, Vera Brittain at first was excited by the news of war. She called it "The most thrilling day of her life," but soon reality set in when her brother Edward, fiancé Roland and their close friend Victor marched off to the battlefields.
 
Vera's brother, fiance, and friend
Vera's brother, fiancé, and friend
All three were killed in action and her memoirs remain among the most moving testaments to the lost generation of the Great War. She shared her pain to show that war was not "glamour or glory, but abysmal grief and purposeless waste."

Historian Commentary
Vera Brittain

Jay Winter, Historian
 
Vera Brittain was very much the daughter of an upper middle class family whose sons were recruited into the officer corps in the British army. The officer corps had a social composition that was not a cross-section of the population. And the way in which trench warfare operated was that the officers were at greater risk than the men that they led. If you want to see the heaviest incidence of loss in the First World War, you can look to social elites.
 
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Kande Kamara Kande Kamara
Kande Kamara, the son of a West African village chief, joined the Allied fight on the Western Front

Play Audio"...You couldn't hold your teeth because of all your trembling, because during those days everything was going boom! It was disgusting... In the white man's war... you fight and fight and fight until your heart tells you you're afraid.
 
It was terrible and hard... We were black and we were nothing. Because of the color of our skins, the Germans called us boots. This hurt every black man, because they actually underestimated us, and disgraced and dishonored us."
-- Kande Kamara, Interview, 1976

African soldiers
African soldiers
The Western Front was killing more men than Europe could supply. Britain and France required drafts from their various colonies. An African newspaper wrote: "The present war is a world war... Without you your white comrades cannot do anything." Tens of thousands of Africans were shipped off to Europe. Kamara survived the war and returned home, but his experiences in the battlefields of France made him question what western civilization had to offer.

 

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