16 Apr 20
Posted by: Robert Muddysley

Note: Your reviewer cannot be considered ‘woke’. This review uses words whose meanings have evolved and in some case been superseded, but are comprehensible within the context. No offence(s) are intended by what may already be archaic usages.

“…the horrible character of unnatural vice and its evil effects in sapping the moral fibre of those who indulge in it …” (Admiralty Fleet Order AFO 23/2103)

In much less than a generation the Armed Forces have moved from the view expressed above (which had the force of law) and which continued up until the 1980s, to the present day where members of the LGBTQ+ community are totally integrated. The Minister of Defence has recently apologised in parliament for the armed forces treatment of the LGBTQ community some twenty years after homosexuality ceased to be an offence in the military. Thus, while still noticed, as evidenced by ‘Gay Pride’ marches, it can only be a matter of time before it becomes totally unremarked upon.

It is worth looking at the issue in the round. Admiral Grace Hopper of the United States Navy (the acknowledged doyenne of computers) in her valedictory address on retirement (in her 70s) said that her most hated saying was ‘we’ve always done it that way’. As with computer science, so to with personnel policies, in our navy as well as hers. However, the failure to accept and integrate the LGBTQ+ was more than conservative resistance to change; the history of homosexuality in the Navy and the wider armed forces is of hypocrisy over many many years. The stated reason set out repeatedly was that homosexuals of any gender were held to be disruptive of discipline and fighting efficiency. Your reviewer’s mother was a 3/0 wrens in WW2 and was bemused by the events in the headquarters to which she was appointed in the lead up to D Day. It had a large contingent of wrens and the First Officer was, in the terminology of the time, a formidable character, and a significant number of the other wren officers were overtly lesbian. It was a heavily loaded and key headquarters before the invasion but whose role very rapidly diminished once the landings had taken place. At that point the First Officer and many of the others were fairly publicly sacked. My mother naively asked why and was told by a senior officer that such people destroyed discipline and operational efficiency, but they had had to be left alone until after the invasion because they had an important role. This attitude continued after the war, there was a redundancy round in the late 1940s widely believed to be a ‘clear out’ of homosexuals, effectively ‘services no longer required’ (the term was not used in this context) now there was no war to be fought. They had been fit to fight, but were, and at the same time, apparently destructive of discipline and fighting capability.

This book is made up of a series of individual stories told by the individual concerned. Some were forced out of their service, some continue to serve, but most tell of intolerant attitudes, including one by the narrator, as he admits covering up for himself by openly espousing anti-gay views. What is evident is in reality a blinding glimpse of the obvious; the Navy, and the other two services demeaned and threw away perfectly good people because of a flawed belief with no foundation in anything other than misconceived prejudice. The book is worth perusing; hopefully soon it will only be of historical interest.