In a letter written to a friend, Winifred Holtby made her commitment to addressing the problems of international war and peace. She had just 11 years of life remaining. What she crammed into the ensuing decade are the writings, thoughts and opinions of a prolific journalist, described as the most brilliant in London. Her observations on world affairs and on the folly of war and the pursuit of world peace were chillingly prophetic. Her words are as relevant today as they were in the 1920s and 30s.

Aged 16 in 1914 when Britain declared war on Germany, Winifred witnessed the shelling of Scarborough by German gunboats. In 1917 she abandoned her studies at Oxford to serve for 14 months with the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs) stationed in London and in France. Although she saw none of the bloody horrors of the frontline, her later reflections fuelled her growing awareness of the devastation war causes to ordinary people and their loved ones.

Winifred lived, worked and engaged fully in the inter-war years of the 20th Century. She used a natural talent for storytelling and public speaking to educate and reform. In her 20s she began touring Europe and South Africa as a lecturer for peace, social justice and racial equality. She was convinced that human intelligence, not aggression or the stockpiling of arms, was the solution for international peace. If only men and women would work together to secure this.

It wasn’t to be. In 1935 Winifred, standing on the cliff tops at Hornsea on the East Coast, watched the planes in target bombing practice over the North Sea. She died a few months later, aged 37, as Germany amassed its armies for the Second World War.

Winifred Holtby pitched her voice with gusto where it would be heard most. We need voices like hers today more than ever.

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