It is thought that roughly quarter of a million gay and bisexual men alone, served in the British armed forces during World War II.
The military had a different attitude towards open sexuality just before the war and during.
At the time there was none of the later homophobic uproar about ‘gays’ undermining military discipline and effectiveness. With Britain seriously threatened by the Nazis, the forces weren’t fussy about who they accepted.
One of the more famous gay war time hero’s was Battle of Britain pilot Lieutenant Ian Gleed. In his memoirs published in 1942, still at the height of the war he was forced by his publisher to create a ‘fictional’ girlfriend called Pam. It wasn’t until an interview with Christopher Gotch, his lover that the truth really came out in the 1990’s. Sadly Gleed’s plane was shot down in 1943 and because of the climate at the time Gotch was unable to publically morn for his hero, friend and lover with openness.
Quentin Crisp (Denis Charles Pratt) was born on Christmas day 1908 and spent his early twenties working as a rent boy. He was one of a few rejected by the army on the grounds he was ‘suffering from sexual perversion’. However in his fantastic autobiography he recalls how he ‘enjoyed’ the war years. When the Americans came to Britain he wrote, very comically “Labelled ‘with love from Uncle Sam’ and packaged in uniforms so tight that in them their owners could fight for nothing but their honour, these ‘bundles for Britain’ leaned against the lamp-posts of Shaftesbury Avenue or lolled on the steps of thin-lipped statues of dead English statesmen.” Recalling his experiences with American serviceman later in his work he went on to say “Never in the history of sex was so much offered to so many by so few.”
After the war things soon changed, men faced being prosecuted for their sexuality.
The British public wanted to get back to ‘normal’. It was common for dawn raids on gay men’s homes during late forties and the fifties.
Some men found themselves subjected to a law that now is considered flawed and would be subject to prison, even if they had helped to win the war. In 1945 the Public Morality Council officer noted: “Police are again conducting a campaign against those engaged in this deplorable offence.”
Dudley Cave a World War II vetren and long time LGBT rights campaigner reflected, just before he died in 1999 “They used us when it suited them, and then victimised us when the country was no longer in danger. I am glad I served but I am angry that military homophobia was allowed to wreck so many lives for over 50 years after we gave our all for a freedom that gay people were denied.”
Peter Wildeblood received an eighteen month sentence in 1954, in Wormwood Scrubs for conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offences with male persons (Buggery Act 1533.). Peter was also in the airforce during the second world war. He later left UK and moved to Canada.
At the end of 1954 over 1000 men were convicted of ‘gross indecency’, the average age was 37, back in 1938 they would have been 21. The age they were forced to sign up.
In 2014 the House of Lords rejected an amendment to allow all convicted men that were deceased to have a pardon because of the amount of paper work. A man who served in the second world war would be roughly be in their eighties or nineties in 2014, very few would still be alive.
In 2014 Allan Turring who is credited for saving millions of lives received a posthumous pardon, after an Internet campaign.
Hardly seems fair others have not received the same treatment, considering the sacrifice these men had made in their life times.
If you have enjoyed this article take a look at