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Queen and country

Queen and country: Same–sex desire in the British Armed Forces, 1939–45

Emma Vickers
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 208
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    Queen and country
    Book Description:

    Queen and country examines the complex intersection between same-sex desire and the British Armed Forces during the Second World War. It illuminates how men and women lived, loved and survived in an institution which, at least publicly, was unequivocally hostile towards same-sex activity within its ranks. Queen and country also tells a story of selective remembrance and the politics of memory, exploring specifically why same-sex desire continues to be absent from the historical record of the war. In examining this absence, and the more intimate minutiae of cohesion, homosociability and desire, this study pushes far beyond traditional military history in order to cast new light on one of the most widely discussed conflicts of the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-5261-0337-6
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of figures (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of tables (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgements (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Abbreviations (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Introduction (pp. 1-23)

    1967 marked a watershed in English law. Twenty-two years after the end of the Second World War, the Sexual Offences Act decriminalized same-sex acts between men in England and Wales.¹ Before the introduction of the new legislation, the hero of Alamein, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, urged the House of Lords not to sanction it.

    Our task is to build a bulwark which will defy the evil influences seeking to undermine the very foundations of our national character. I know it is said this is allowed in France and some other countries. We are not French, we are not from other...

  8. 1 Inclusion (pp. 24-49)

    When Jimmy Jacques was twenty, he was summoned to a recruitment centre on Walworth Road in south-east London to undergo a medical inspection.¹ It was 1940, and Britain was attempting to conscript as many functional bodies into the armed forces as possible. In church halls and inspection centres across the country, a vast assortment of physiques queued and stripped in the name of national emergency. Over the course of the Second World War, some 7,100,409 men and women were quantified and classified by medical boards organised by the Ministry of Labour.² These examinations were a chaotic synthesis of military necessity,...

  9. 2 Keeping up appearances (pp. 50-74)

    In 1944, John Brierly, then a twenty-two-year-old engineer from Sheffield, joined the Royal Signal Corps. Most of John’s peers had joined the armed forces in their late teens but a period of reserved service in the armaments industry temporarily put paid to John’s desire to do the same. In 1944, John’s father allowed him to choose between the continued safety of his reserved occupation or a period of service in the Army. John chose the latter. His story begins at Catterick, a busy training camp where he quickly discovered that his survival as a queer man was dependent on fitting...

  10. 3 Playing away (pp. 75-103)

    The recollections of John Alcock, a queer man born and raised in Birmingham, begin this chapter. His experiences provide a crucial point of departure for mapping and exploring the arenas in which servicemen and women could play away. In 1945 John visited London for the very first time. Upon entering Leicester Square he experienced something of an epiphany; there, among a crowd of revellers, he saw ‘ young Air Force boys wearing make-up’.¹ It was a sight that encouraged him to move to the city permanently, a city that promised sexual freedom, ambiguity and possibility.

    It is in this clash...

  11. 4 Make do and mend: military law and same-sex desire (pp. 104-150)

    Attempting to map out how homosex was regulated between 1939 and 1945 is a hugely complex task. Publicly, some veterans have made it clear that the criminality of same-sex expression meant that Britain would never have conscripted queer men into its ranks and certainly would not have retained them. Their attitude is summed up by John Clarke who, as we saw in the introduction, defiantly asserted that he did not serve with queer soldiers because it was illegal and un-British.¹ Clarke’s reductionist assessment may be hugely misleading but it nonetheless highlights one of the central tenets of the King’s Regulations;...

  12. Conclusion (pp. 151-161)

    As the Second World War continues on an unstoppable trajectory from memory to history, the obligation of historians to capture the memories of those who bore witness to the conflict becomes ever more urgent. In part,Queen and Countryrepresents a response to this sense of urgency. It has told a story about a group of people marginalised and criminalised by the historical record, yet who served and, in some instances, died protecting their country. At its heart lie the experiences of service personnel, such as Jimmy, Frank, Dennis, Richard, Albert, Francis and John. Their stories of love, hope, tenacity...

  13. Epilogue (pp. 162-164)

    In 2000, the ban on queer personnel serving in the armed forces was finally lifted. Three servicemen and a former nurse took the Ministry of Defence to the European Court of Human Rights. They had been dismissed for being queer, and alleged that the investigations into their private lives and subsequent dismissal violated their human rights. It was subsequently ruled that the bar on entry into the armed forces was illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights, given that the professional skills required of queer service personnel were no different from those expected of heterosexual servicemen and women.¹ In...

  14. Biographies of Interviewees (pp. 165-166)
  15. Bibliography (pp. 167-194)
  16. Index (pp. 195-202)