We are delighted to announce that Somerville has recently been given a portrait of Edward Brittain, along with the lapel badge that he is wearing in the portrait, by his niece Baroness Williams of Crosby (PPE, 1948).
It was Edward’s death in 1918 following on from the loss of three of his friends (including Vera’s fiancé), that impelled Baroness Williams’ mother, Vera Brittain (English, 1914), to write her personal and moving account of the First World War Testament of Youth.
On 10th of January, 2017, The One Show on BBC One featured the story of Edward Brittain, which is available to watch on the iPlayer, and includes photos from the Somerville archive. The story, beginning at the 20.38 minute mark, focuses on how Brittain’s death on the 15th of June 1918 may have been linked to revelations about his sexuality that surfaced after his personal letters were intercepted at the base. Homosexuality wasn’t decriminalised until the 1960s and would have been detrimental to the reputation of an army officer.
His commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hudson, was notified that Brittain would be court-martialed and, going against his orders, warned Brittain of the investigation. It is believed that following the exchange, Brittain put himself in harm’s way to avoid a prison sentence and the shame it would bring on his family. He was killed at Asiago leading a counter-offensive against the Austrians at age 22.