Some years ago Shirley Williams had arranged to give a lecture for the Movement for the Abolition of War, and I was aware that her mother was Vera Brittain, author of Testament of Youth and other books, and a strong anti-war campaigner. I read Testament of Youth and it inspired this song Vera, which I later sang at the lecture in the Imperial War Museum.
Vera volunteered as a nurse during World War One, saw many of its horrors for herself, and experienced the deaths of her fiance, her brother and two of her best friends. Thereafter she campaigned against war consistently, even when it was unpopular. In her later years she was a counsellor for the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship.
It seems a good idea to use the song again this year, as it marks the centenary of the Armistice, and is also a year in which women are insisting on having their voices heard and taken seriously. The score of the choral arrangement is available on the website www.abolishwar.org.uk
and I hope it will be used by choirs wishing to commemorate the centenary of 1918.
‘”t is quite impossible to understand,’ I commented afterwards, ‘how we can be such strong individualists, so insistent on the rights and claims of every human soul, and yet at the same time countenance (and if we are English, even take quite calmly) this wholesale murder, which if it were applied to animals or birds or indeed anything except men would fill us with a sickness and repulsion greater than we could endure.”
Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth
Sue Gilmurray spent most of her working life as a university librarian, and is now retired and living in Exeter. She has been a keen singer and writer of songs and hymns since schooldays, and for the last 20 years much of her work has been concerned with issues of war and peace.
She has recorded CDs for the APF and Movement for the Abolition of War. Her song The ones who said No
has been sung on International Conscientious Objectors’ Day every year since 2000. Her collection of 18 peace songs arranged for choral singing, of which Vera
is the final song, is still available on the MAW website www.abolishwar.org.uk
She is also featured in Janet Wootton’s book on women hymn-writers This is our song (Epworth 2010) and Stainer & Bell’s Hymns of hope and healing (2017)
Disclaimer: This blog is intended to provide a space for people associated with APF to express their own personal views and opinions in order to promote discussion of issues relating to peacemaking and pacifism It is not necessarily a place where the official views of APF are expressed.