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Victor Richardson and Vera Brittain

John Simkin

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Victor Richardson, whose ambition was to become a doctor, won a place at Cambridge University. Soon after the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 Richardson abandoned his studies to join the Royal Sussex Regiment. While training in Horsham in January 1915 he caught cerebrospinal meningitis and was sent to a hospital in Brighton.

After the death of her boyfriend, Roland Leighton, on 23rd December, 1915, Vera Brittain began visiting Victor. On 8th January 1916 Victor suggested a meeting with Vera. "May I come and see you on Wednesday afternoon? I suggest this next Wednesday, because I am on guard at one of the Arsenal entrances during the week, and as it is not an important position I could leave my coadjutor in charge for the afternoon, and disappear - without leave..... Of course if you do not feel inclined to see people I shall quite understand. If I do not hear from you I shall assume this to be the case." As she told her brother, Edward Brittain, Vera agreed to the meeting: "I had tea with Victor on Wednesday. Of course we talked of Roland the whole time.

In September 1916 Richardson transferred to the 9th King's Royal Rifles and was sent back to the Western Front. He wrote to Vera Brittain on 31st October, describing life in the front-line trenches: "It was very quiet and without much excitement. We did not get any heavy shells at all till the last day when a couple of 5.9s amused themselves at our expense for about half-an-hour, but without doing any damage. Whizz-Bangs - about which one has heard so much - are perfectly harmless in a trench, as the trajectory is so flat that it is nearly impossible for them to land in a trench. There is practically no rifle or machine gun fire and what there is appears to be unaimed - fixed rifles and swinging traverses for the most."

On 3rd April 1917, Vera told Edward Brittain about a letter she received from Richardson: "Victor too sends me a letter half cynical, half hopelessly resigned; apparently he was on the verge of an attack, for he spoke of perhaps never writing to me again... This too leaves me anxiously and very sadly wondering how long it will be before I hear any more of him and what it will be when I do."

Richardson was badly wounded during an attack at Arras on 9th April 1917. It was later reported that he "was leading his platoon was hit in the arm but took his coat off had the wound bandaged and went on; it was at the 2nd German line that he got the bullet through his head and the Colonel himself gave him morphia because he was in pain." His commanding officer wrote to his parents: "You have good reason to be proud of him... he did his best and it was a good best too. I have sent his name in for the Military Cross and I have no doubt that he will get it."

Vera Brittain wrote to her mother, Edith Brittain: "There really does not seem much point in writing anything until I hear further news of Victor, for I cannot think of anything else... I knew he was destined for some great action, even as I knew beforehand about Edward, for only about a week ago I had a most pathetic letter from him - a virtual farewell. It is dreadful to be so far away and all among strangers.... Poor Edward! What a bad time the Three Musketeers have had!"

Richardson was sent back to London where he received specialist treatment at a hospital in Chelsea. His friend, Edward Brittain, visited him in hospital, and then wrote to his sister, Vera, about his condition: "It is not known yet whether Victor will die or not, but his left eye was removed in France and the specialist who saw him thinks it is almost certain that the sight of the right eye has gone too... The bullet - probably from a machine-gun - went in just behind the left eye and went very slightly upwards but not I'm afraid enough to clear the right eye; the bullet is not yet out though very close to the right edge of the temple; it is expected that it will work through of its own accord... We are told that he may remain in his present condition for a week. I don't think he will die suddenly but of course the brain must be injured and it depends upon how bad the injury is. I am inclined to think it would be better that he should die; I would far rather die myself than lose all that we have most dearly loved, but I think we hardly bargained for this. Sight is really a more precious gift than life."

Vera Brittain decided to return home after the death of Geoffrey Thurlow and the serious injuries suffered by Victor. She told her brother: "As soon as the cable came saying that Geoffrey was killed, only a few hours after the one saying that Victor was hopelessly blind, I knew I must come home. It will be easier to explain when I see you, also - perhaps - to consult you about something I can't possibly discuss in a letter. Anyone could take my place here, but I know that nobody else could take the place that I could fill just now at home."

Edward Brittain went to visit Victor and on 7th May he told his sister: "He was told last Wednesday that he will probably never see again, but he is marvellously cheerful.... He is perfectly sensible in every way and I don't think there is the very least doubt that he will live. He said that the last few days had been rather bitter. He hasn't given up hope himself about his sight."

Vera arrived in London on 28th May 1917. The next ten days she spent at Victor's bedside. As Alan Bishop points out: "His mental faculties appeared to be in no way impaired. On 8 June, however, there was a sudden change in his condition. In the middle of the night he experienced a miniature explosion in the head, and subsequently became very distressed and disoriented. By the time his family reached the hospital Victor had become delirious."

Victor Richardson died of a cerebral abscess on 9th June, 1917 and is buried in Hove. He was awarded the Military Cross posthumously.


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