Film provokes memories of a war nurse mother

Vera Brittain SUS-151002-101259001
Vera Brittain SUS-151002-101259001

I have just returned from seeing an excellently produced film Testament of Youth, based on the book by Vera Brittain, pictured.

I found it most moving especially as my mother, then Nancy Harington, aged 17 when the First World War began, seems to have taken much the same course in life.

My mother became a nurse, probably a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, and spent the war in Eastbourne where she was born.

Somewhere I have a photo of her in uniform with a group of her patients.

Many of the houses in Meads became hospitals linked to the hutted camp in what became Old Camp Road.

One of these was Kingsland at the junction of Carlisle and Granville Roads – now rebuilt as the former one was riddled with dry rot.

She left me a small note book with the signatures, army ranks and numbers and usually the regiments of at least 50 of her patients.

Their home addresses revealed they came from all over the United Kingdom.

Some drew illustration and wrote short poems and one wrote a short very proper letter. It was from a man from New York, USA, apologising for an incident for which he must have been ashamed. He wrote that he was about to sail home on the Mauritania from Southampton.

Her first signatures were all Belgian – about 10 of them.

When the war ended my mother was courted by my father, then Captain Leonard Stevens OBE of the locally recruited 229th Battery RFA, a territorial unit in which he served in India and Mesopotamia, now Iraq.

They married on August 5 1920 in St Anne’s Church, Upperton.

Soon after he founded Chelmsford Hall School on the opposite side of the same junction of roads where my mother had done her nursing.

During my service in the Army I was one of the Blue Boys in a military hospital. We wore blue serge uniforms, white shirts and red ties.

David Stevens, Granville Road.