Life and career
His parents, Robert Leighton and Marie Connor, were both writers. He was brought up initially in North London, and later at "Heather Cliff" a Victorian detached house sited above the beach at Lowestoft. Leighton was a prizewinning pupil at Uppingham School, where he became a close friend of Vera's brother, Edward Brittain and Victor Richardson. Leaving Uppingham in July 1914, Roland was awarded the Classical Postmastership at Merton College, Oxford, but when the War broke out he chose to seek a place in the Royal Navy, but after being turned down due to short-sightedness he elected to seek a commission in the Norfolk Regiment and later served with the Worcestershire Regiment in France. He died of wounds on 23 December 1915 at the age of twenty (although his gravestone incorrectly states that he was nineteen), having been shot by a sniper, and sustained a catastrophic abdominal and spinal injury, while inspecting wire in front of a trench. He is buried in the military cemetery at Louvencourt, near Doullens, France. Brittain's biographer Mark Bostridge has reported that Leighton's grave is often covered by violets in tribute to a poem he wrote for her. He converted to Roman Catholicism while at the Front in 1915, a course he had been considering before the war.
Although Leighton never took up his place at Merton College, his name is on the war memorial there, in addition to his entry on the Uppingham School war memorial within the school chapel.
Vera Brittain, who had accepted his proposal of marriage four months before his death, was to immortalise him in her writing at the time, and later in Testament of Youth. Many of Leighton's letters are included in Letters from a Lost Generation, a compilation of her wartime letters, edited by Alan Bishop and Mark Bostridge, published in 1998. His mother anonymously published a memoir of him called Boy of My Heart in 1916. Brittain's Chronicle of Youth, which contains her diaries 1913–1917, includes entries about Roland Leighton and their relationship and excerpts from his letters from the battlefield, and his poetry.
In the 1979 TV adaptation of Testament of Youth Roland was played by Peter Woodward. The role was taken by Rupert Graves in the 1998 BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Letters from a Lost Generation and by Christian Brassington in BBC 1's documentary Vera Brittain: A Woman in Love and War in 2008. In the 2014 feature film of Testament of Youth Leighton was played by Kit Harington, alongside Alicia Vikander as Vera Brittain.
Roland's younger sister was Clare Leighton, who went on to become a talented woodcut artist and emigrated to the United States. She wrote a biography of her mother, Tempestuous Petticoat.
- Marie Leighton, Boy of My Heart (1916).
- Paul Berry and Mark Bostridge, Vera Brittain: A Life (1995)
- Alan Bishop and Mark Bostridge (eds), Letters from a Lost Generation (1998)
- Vera Brittain, Chronicle of Youth (1981)
- The Roland Leighton Collection in The First World War Poetry Digital Archive by Oxford University contains images of all Leighton's's War poetry manuscripts, letters to Vera Brittain, plus a searchable text corpora.
- Biography including some of his poetry on the Western Front Association website
- Leighton’s gravestone at Peace Pledge Union website
- Notes about their relationship by Nancy Huntting
- Image of Leighton