Frustrating the Collective and Generational War Experience
“The generation of 1914” often refers to those who came of age during WWI, and because of the war were robbed of their youth. While this term is a useful expression of a collective experience of universal sacrifice and suffering during the war, the term “generation” fails to recognize the unique experiences of the different genders, races, and classes. Women, soldiers, both officers and enlisted, and colonial forces, like Senegalese soldiers, experienced and remembered the war differently from each other. Therefore, using a broad, general term like “ the generation of 1914,” discounts these individual and minority group experiences, which obscures a collective memory of WWI.
Although there were many different individual and group experiences during and after the war, “the generation of 1914” may be used to collectively regard the suffering and sacrifice that all participants of this “generation” endured. Both Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth and Robert Graves’s Good-bye to All That express a common theme of suffering, sacrifice, and the betrayal of their generation. Brittain wrote extensively about her generation’s loss and endurance of so many physical and mental hardships. Parents sacrificed sons, wives sacrificed husbands, and soldiers sacrificed their lives. Much of Europe had to endure under a constant atmosphere of death, loss, and other hardships, like food shortages, and military occupations. This suffering was an important element in Brittain’s definition of her generation. She wrote that if her fiancé had been of the postwar generation she could not have married him, because “a gulf wider than any decade divides those who experienced the War as adults” and those “who grew up immediately afterwards.”1
Another common theme that bound “the generation of 1914” together was that the lasting ramifications of the war and a lingering feeling of betrayal. As the British population and government were trying to move forward it seemed to Brittain that her “four years in the Army seem quite forgotten by everyone except [her]self.”2 Additionally, she “understood that the results of the war would last longer than [herself].”3 Graves, too, wrote about the lingering effects of the war on those who experienced it, although he did not go into great detail about the long term effects in his post war life. He said, “It has taken some ten years for my blood to recover.”4 For “the generation of 1914” the consequences and memories of the war lasted a lifetime.
Additionally, both Brittain and Graves question the purpose of the war. Graves wrote that the war’s “continuance seemed merely a sacrifice of the idealistic younger generation to the stupidity and self-protective alarm of the elder.”5 Brittain, also, echoed this sentiment of betrayal by the older generation. The war was fought by “Great Powers and little nations. . .at the mercy of the wealthy and strong” and men were...