Shirley Williams, politician

Letters from a Lost Generation by Vera Brittain
There’s no war before or since that evoked so many voices from the arts as did the first world war. Until then the great empires had shaped the world and the ruling classes were close to each other. There was a sense of order. Then came huge social, as well as artistic, change.

Vera Brittain circa 1918.
Vera Brittain circa 1918. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

If you look at later wars, there’s a great inclination from the children of the rich and famous not to be involved at all. I think Al Gore was the only son of a senator who served on a front in the Vietnam War. All the others were given study extensions – bluntly, to stop them being killed. In WW1 the suffering and death was universal; you had a sense of colossal loss. My mother’s book Letters from a Lost Generation reflects the sense of this generation being destroyed.

Some of the great military contributors were artists in regiments who painted the fronts. Works done on the Asiago front, where my uncle was killed, include some of the first ever drawings of planes; the biplane, in particular, emerged in that campaign because it was fought in the mountains. That use of technology was strikingly different from traditional warfare, and those paintings capture it. Read more