‘Your battle wounds are scars upon my heart’, wrote Vera Brittain in a poem to her beloved brother, four days before he died in June 1918. The rediscovery of Testament of Youth has reminded a new generation of the bitter suffering of women as well as men in the terrible madness of the First World War. This, the first anthology of women war poets for over 60 years, will come as a surprise to many. It shows, for example, that women were writing protest poetry before Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, and that the view of ‘the women at home’, ignorant and idealistic, was quiet false.
Many of these poems come out of direct experiences of nursing the victims of trench warfare, or the pain of lovers, brothers, sons lost. Some of the poets are well known: Nancy Cunard, Rose Macaulay, Charlotte Mew, Alice Meynell, Edith Nesbit, Edith Sitwell, Marie Stopes, Katharine Tynan; others will be less familiar. But here, as elsewhere, ‘the poetry is in the pity’ – a moving record of women’s experience of war.