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Katie Wilson

My odd question

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Katie Wilson

This is a bit of an odd question but I am really intrigued as someone under the transgender brolly , are there any known cases of men in the war dressing as women ( and I’m not talking about the Scots in their kilts ) maybe as an escape from the hell of the front line 

I know it’s an odd question but as someone who finds myself in this situation I’d love to know and please if you wish to add some harmless banter I won’t be offended in the slightest 

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seaJane

There was a fair amount of cross-dressing for the purpose of amateur dramatics, but I don't know whether it's ever been possible to extract actual preferences from the real-life situations. Novelists can (and do) play with possibilities all they like, of course. This is an image I posted a while back:

 

As you will see from that, Kate Wills is probably your best source: she has a data base of concert parties and of entertainers:

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TEW

Apart from the numerous performers who dressed up as women 'strictly for your entertainment purposes only' of course. Just finished reading Sisters of the Somme which mentions a particular 'drag' act that astounded the mixed gender audience with looks & voice. I'd think this must have been something more than an orderly bunging on a frock.

TEW

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seaJane
Posted (edited)

I've been meaning to read Sisters of the Somme for a while for the medical side. I'm sure somebody else has told me it's good, so I'd better raid the piggy-bank :)

Edited by seaJane

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Katie Wilson

Ok cool thank you x

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Katie Wilson

British prisoners of war around 1915

8E85194B-CE7B-4C68-82D6-779DB0062610.jpeg

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SiegeGunner

On the German side, a few years before the war (1908), there was a scandal (the Harden-Eulenburg affair) involving allegations of homosexual activity between senior military figures.  Around the same time there was an unfortunate incident during a soirée in the course of a hunting trip, when a general (Dietrich von Hülsen-Häseler) danced in front of the Kaiser in a pink tutu, over-strained himself and dropped dead of a heart attack.

 

Instances of women 'dressing as men' may be difficult to identify (without other evidence) due to the existence of innumerable photographs of women wearing male or 'unisex' clothing (for example overalls) in connection with their wartime occupation.  

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TEW

I'm sure there will be many 100s of photos of men dressed up as women for performing troupe entertainment purposes. Is that the same as maybe as an escape from the hell of the front line?

 

Unearthing instances of 'non-entertainment purposes only' cross dressing would probably be impossible, certainly in any official censored documents. As to whether it ever happened is another matter.

 

I have found a Carte Postale of Pte. Blair dressed as 'Kitty' which I thought a little different to the usual troupe photos but still within the entertainment framework.

TEW

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Moonraker

Bulford. Military Camp Theatrical Group. ? Cross-Dressing

 

Not a bad price. (I'm not the vendor.)

 

George Gibson, in Maple Leaves in Flanders Fields (in which he fictionalizes the names of locations and individuals) told how the officers in one battalion of the First Canadian Contingent on  Salisbury Plain acted in melodramas:

 

"There were sordid dramas from real life ...  there was the poisoning act, when the foully wronged heroine, Lieutenant Lindsay, caught the villain, Lieutenant Montgomery, in the act of inserting No. 9 pills [laxatives] in her whisky-and-soda; and rushing to the windows, discovered the lights of her lover's (Lieutenant Madden's) motor-car coming up the drive. The car was a soap-box and the lights one candle. It acted quite well, as the lamps in the anteroom were all turned out to make this seem more realistic."

 

Moonraker

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PRC
18 hours ago, Katie Wilson said:

 are there any known cases of men in the war dressing as women ( and I’m not talking about the Scots in their kilts ) maybe as an escape from the hell of the front line

 

My first thought was how do you define "escape from the hell of the front line"?

 

Was it cross-dressing to release the stress of combat - surely a luxury most likely to be confined to the officer class

Was it cross-dressing for impromptu entertainment using humour to release the stress of combat.

Was it cross-dressing to gain a "safer" billet - say on an entertainment party, possibly because the mental stress of actual combat had "broken" the individual concerned. (Although it's a different conflict think of the war memoirs of Spike Milligan and the various troupe members he served with.) Some of them might have been placed in such a billet as a kindness when others realised how close they were to breaking. A variant on this is what went on in the PoW camps - witness the picture above.

Was it cross-dressing to prove mental ill-health and unfitness to serve - I doubt very much that Corporal Klinger from MASH was a scenario that occurred in the Great War.

 

Finally, (and I'm sure there are other scenario's that can be thought of), there is the ultimate "escape" - dressing as a woman to avoid service in the first place. I've posted this before in a thread about Norfolk in the Great War, but this newspaper report seems relevant here under that last category.

 

Eastern Daily Press Saturday September 8, 1917

 

ABSENTEE IN FEMALE ATTIRE

STRANGE CASE AT NORWICH……………………………………..

 

EIGHTEEN MONTHS IN HIDING

 

No little sensation was caused in Norwich Police-court yesterday when a young man, charged with failing to report for military service, stepped into the dock. He was described on the charge sheet as Arthur William Brown, aged 20 years and eight months, of no occupation, and living at 99a, Waddington Street. The charge was that being amenable to Section 15 of the Reserve Forces Act of 1882 he did absent himself between March 3rd, 1916 and September 6th, 1917, without leave lawfully granted when called out on permanent service.

 

When Inspector Doe called out the name of the accused, a dark young fellow, wearing a lady’s light mackintosh stepped into the dock. Under the outside coat he was wearing full women’s clothes, including two under-skirts, whilst the upper part of a bodice showed through the top portion of the mackintosh, which he held closed in front of him. In his hand he carried a cloth cap, and his legs were enclosed in buskins, whilst his boots were of the male variety. His face had an unhealthy appearance, evidently brought about by continued seclusion, whilst there was several days growth of hair on his upper lip and chin. The magistrates on the Bench were: Mr. R.J. Colman (chairman), Mr. C.T. Coller, Mr. George Cleverley, and Mr. F.J. Crotch.

 

Police-constable John Adcock at once went onto the witness-box and stated:

At 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, when in company with Police-constable Cordy, I saw the prisoner at 99a, Waddington Street. He was partly dressed in female attire, and I asked him why he had not reported himself under the Military Service Act, and he replied, “How can I report myself when I did not have any papers?” Witness added that he then arrested the accused for being an absentee since the 3rd of March, 1916.

 

The Chairman (to the prisoner) – Have you any questions to put to the witness? – None.

 

The Clerk – Do you plead guilty to absenting yourself on the third of March, 1916. You did not go and report? – I did not go and report.

Then you plead guilty.

 

Captain J.C. Blofield produced the Army papers in the case.

 

Police-constable Adcock – This man has not been registered.

 

The Clerk – When was he ordered to report himself? – He has been absent since the Proclamation, the 3rd of March, 1916.

 

The Clerk (to the prisoner) – The case is that you failed after the Proclamation to present yourself.

 

The Chairman – Have you anything to say why you did not present yourself?

 

Prisoner – I have not been well for a long time.

 

The magistrate inflicted a fine of 40s, and ordered the prisoner to be handed over to the military authorities.

 

Captain Blofield – I wish to express the thanks of the military to the police in this case for the excellent way in which they have obtained this man, and ascertained his whereabouts. I believe the Bench are allowed to grant them a gratuity, and I would in this case especially ask that the police who were concerned might be remunerated. I would also say that it is impossible for the military to ascertain these men who are in hiding. We know there are men in hiding, and if the public will only inform the police or the recruiting officers of any suspicious cases that they know. I want to clearly state in public that any information they give to the military authorities or the police will be kept absolutely private and confidential.

 

The Chairman hoped that that intimation would be given the widest publicity.

 

The Deputy Chief-Constable (Mr. Hodges) said the case had meant extra work, and required intelligence on the part of the policeman concerned.

 

The Chairman – The Bench are inclined to note what Captain Blofield has said, and will recommend that 10s be awarded the officers concerned for the diligence and intelligence shown.

 

We learn that the accused, who is an engineer by trade, has been in hiding for the past eighteen months, living with his sister and an old lady, who acted as his nurse years ago.

 

Cheers,

Peter

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TEW

Correction to my post #5. Not in Sisters of the Somme (still a good read) but from RAMC Wellcome library, original at AMS. RAMC/1590 page 16 of free download and probably online viewer as well. Reminiscences of Captain Harland 72 FA.

TEW

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PRC
Posted (edited)

And by sheer co-incidence I then went on to contribute to another thread by looking up the history of the 29th Division, ("The Story of the 29th Division: a record of gallant deeds" by Captain Stair Gillon, 1925)  and came across this on page 103 in a piece on the divisional entertainment party.

 

"Considerable strides were made whilst the troupe were at Proven, during which time the conversion of Private Threlfall from a smart R.A.M.C. orderly to a dainty and bewitching lady was commenced. And no member of the Diamond Troupe was put through half the work that "Queenie" had to do before she became the very perfect and clever artist who captivated London during January 1918. Diet for the complexion, and dentistry for the smile marked the first stage of her career. In addition to this, "Queenie" was made to make up her face every morning until she became perfect in the art. This did not take long, but the result was most marked. Her hair was then considered, and with new wigs her appearance was greatly improved. Last of all, new dresses were designed and made for her, and eventually her trousseau, both dresses and underclothing, were worthy of a real lady. Every conceivable thing was done to turn this boy into a girl, and the details to be thought of were considerable. Lace Hankerchiefs, silk stockings, scent, brooches, rings, bracelets, flowers, ribbons, and chocolates, necklaces, long kid gloves and satin shoes all played their part, and the amusement obtained and created during a shopping expedition to Dunkerque was considerable. Let it be said here that neither in the "Queenie" pieces nor in any other turn was there anything of coaresness, vulgarity, or broad jest. Dickens's "young person" would have been as safe as with a volume of Punch."

 

Bottom of page 104 / top of 105

 

"Probably the most difficult and trying of all the turns produced by the troupe was a duet entitled "Some Sort of Somebody, ", sung by Hill and "Queenie." But at the same time both the members of the troupe learnt more of acting than in any other piece. To show the work put into so small a turn, the rehearsals continued daily for a solid month, during which time "Queenie" learnt to walk and run as a lady, how to use her hands and feet, her hankerchief, how to arrange her frock and pat her hair into shape - such small and insignificant details that the audience would never dream that each separate action had had to be shown and practised diligently and continuously."

 

Page 105

 

"During the time that the division was preparing for the Cambrai battle the troupe was performing in a very fine wooden theatre in the camp, and there a scene from Faust was most ably produced by Major Gillam. Hill and Corporal Sykes, who had a very good tenor voice, took the parts of "Faust" and "Mephistopheles" respectively, and "Queenie" was the vision. And a beautiful vision she was."

 

(Anyone else getting General Melchett and Georgina vibes :-)

 

Cheers,

Peter

Edited by PRC
Typo

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SiegeGunner

As I suppose we might expect, it's proving easy to find instances of men who dressed as women very publicly, in concert parties, amateur dramatics and the like.  Throughout history, some men have 'cross-dressed' as a form of self-expression, and it seems a fair bet that some such men would have been attracted to the opportunities offered by public performance, but, without other evidence, we may never find them … and so never learn their motivations.   

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Ron Clifton
15 hours ago, PRC said:

Police-constable John Adcock at once went onto the witness-box and stated:

At 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, when in company with Police-constable Cordy, I saw the prisoner at 99a, Waddington Street. He was partly dressed in female attire, and I asked him why he had not reported himself under the Military Service Act, and he replied, “How can I report myself when I did not have any papers?” Witness added that he then arrested the accused for being an absentee since the 3rd of March, 1916.

He rather shot himself in the foot (metaphorically) with the statement I have highlighted. If he really was pretending to be a woman, he should have said "But I'm a woman - what papers do you say I should have been sent?"

 

Ron

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Kate Wills

Katie,

 

On active service abroad, soldiers were limited to their uniforms and equipment in their packs, with very little space for fripperies. Yes, some took musical instruments, favourite books, etc, but the first drawback to taking non-issue items was storage and transport. The second drawback for the situation you outline was that soldiers lived en masse, with hardly a solitary moment to themselves, even in the latrines.

 

I remember reading a memoir by a nurse in which she recalled receiving a wounded man who refused to have his uniform removed. When the nurses did manage to remove his trousers they found him to be wearing a pair of pink ladies bloomers, which he had found in an abandoned house. Soldiers of all sides helped themselves to abandoned goods, and his motivation for taking and using them was not clear, though in all likelihood it was to provide an extra warm layer, and a more luxurious underlayer than army issue undies.

 

Costumes for concert party drag acts were bought / acquired at the front, or supplied from home via theatrical costumiers or asking friends and families. Aside from the official exceptions of concerts and fancy dress parades, soldiers were expected to wear army-issue uniforms both on and off-duty while on active service abroad, so the opportunities to bend that rule would have been few, highly secretive, and probably undocumented even long after the war.

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Marilyne

Katie, you might want to read about Paul Grappe / Suzanne Landgard, a Poilu who deserted and spent the rest of the war years disguised as a woman.

The story is told in a great book called "La Garçonne et l'assassin" by Fabrice Virgili et Danièle Voldman. One notices when reading the book that what started as a simple way to escape the execution pole as a deserter had profound psychological conséquences for the man.

The story has been adapted as a graphic novel called "Mauvais Genre" by Chloé Cruchaudet in 2013.

I'm just afraid both books are only available in French.

There is also a movie about it "Nos Années Folles", that came out in September 2017. Haven't seen it though.

 

M.

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Dannyboy83

This book made for interesting reading and lightly touch on your question 👍

x

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