Sunday, 27 July 2014

City Pride : Pink Lace


Yesterday Nottingham hosted Nottinghamshire Pride. After many years of being held in the Arboretum or Goose Fair site it has moved into the historic Lace Market and Hockley area of the city. It feels like a home-coming, because the first ever Pride-like event in Nottingham took place there in 1997. It was called Pink Lace. 

It also gave me an idea for a new mini-series of articles. Inspired also by my recent article on Toronto I thought I’d do a series on individual cities and towns when they held their Pride celebration and look at their lgbt heritage. I’ve called the series City Pride (which includes towns and other areas). 

As the Pink Lace Tour is the newest of my lgbt tours of Nottingham I thought I’d start there. Rather than give a review of the whole city I’ll restrict myself to the Lace market and Hockley area and the street leading up to it from the Market Square. These are just snapshots of Nottingham’s great wealth of lgbt heritage and I hope I’ve chosen a varied selection for your enjoyment. There are too many lgbt pubs, clubs and venues to mention them all. The map below shows you where things happened. 

1a) Zara – This fashion store is on the site a popular old pub that was here for several centuries until 1903. Here Lord Byron’s coffin was brought to rest overnight before being taken for burial in Hucknall several miles away. Thousands of people filed past the coffin to pay their respects to one of the very few parliamentarians to defend working people’s rights. Byron lived in the city centre as a child, for part of that time at 1b). 

2) J. M. Barrie – A large decorated wall plaque marks the location of the offices of a local newspaper on which Barrie worked. It is said that he got the idea for Peter Pan after watching children at play in a local park. 

3) Thurland Hall – A pub named after a huge stately home that once stood here (I’ve outlined the extent of the original Hall on the map). This old palace was the only building big enough to house the court when “Queen” James I came to Nottingham, which he did 6 times, each time without his wife but with his “toy-boys”. 

4) The Bodega Club – This was where the Scissor Sisters gave their first Nottingham performance to a crown of less than 100 in 2003. Their subsequent 3 appearances in the city attracted thousands. 

5) Outhouse Project – In 1998 the National Lottery gave £228,000 to help establish an lgbt centre in Nottingham. Although the plane never came to fruition, with several sites being considered, the office of the Outhouse Project was here. Nottingham still has no lgbt centre.

6) The Queen of Clubs – Formerly known as Omega, before that Rain, before that Ice, and before that Jacey’s. Jacey’s hit the headlines in 2001 when the council banned its weekly male stripper show. Jacey’s pointed out that the council-run Theatre Royal had hosted the Chippendales and was about to produce “The Full Monty”. The council cancelled Full Monty and banned ALL male strippers (the ban has not been officially lifted). My friend and former barista at Jacey’s, Rich Cowell, made front page of the tabloids in 2005 when he was a Royal Navy lieutenant. He had been voted Mr Gay Plymouth and the Navy considered disciplinary action. Rich came 2nd in the Mr Gay UK finals. 

7) Broadway Cinema – Nottingham’s leading independent cinema whose café-bar is my home from home. It has hosted several exhibitions and screening for LGBT History Month and Nottingham Pride and for many years hosted the British Film Institute’s touring LGBT Film Festival. For Pink Lace in 1997 it provided the entertainment and facilities. 

8) The Health Shop – A health clinic, the base of the Gay AIDS Initiative project (GAi) which was launched on 11 July 1994 with Sir Ian McKellen doing the official opening. The Health Shop also provided facilities for volunteers to put together thousands of free condom packs to be distributed around city venues. Several lgbt support groups held meetings here. In 1999 Channel 4 television followed Health Shop director Tim Franks for several weeks for their fly-on-the-wall series. 

9) The Masquerader In 1913 an eccentric local character was arrested for begging. It turned out that this cross-dressing astrologer was a Serbian war refugee. His home was on the site of this car park.

10) Pierrepont Hall – another huge stately home long since demolished (the extent of the property is marked on the map). It was the childhood home of Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu, who married her lover’s brother to avoid becoming Mrs. Clotworthy Skeffington. She introduced smallpox inoculation into England and popularised the Language of Flowers.

11) Short Hill – One of the surviving lace worker’s tenement buildings still stands. It was the home of Karl Wood before World War I. He became an art teacher and painter of windmills. In 1957 he was imprisoned for his homosexuality.

12) The Galleries of Justice – The old city court house and jail, now the National Museum of Law. In 2008 an exhibition commemorating Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment in Reading Jail came here. Wilde’s grandson, Merlin Holland, recreated Oscar’s trial in the old court itself. Part of the exhibition included the door from Oscar’s cell, and visitors reported hearing voices from behind it! During it’s working life as a court this building saw one of the biggest mass prosecutions of gay men before homosexuality was legalised – 23 men were put on trial in 1961.

If you’d like to see your own city featured in City Pride why not let me know. Or you could write your own article and be a guest blogger for the day. Just give me plenty of advance notice so I can schedule it in (I usually plan one month in advance of publication).

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Medal Quest : A (Common)Wealth of Athletes

The Commonwealth Games began last night with a spectacular opening ceremony (not as spectacular as originally planned after the demolition of 2 big city apartment blocks as part of the ceremony was dropped). 

I wasn’t expecting an Olympic-scale ceremony like we saw in Melbourne 2006 or the Bollywood spectacular of Delhi 2010, but Glasgow provided a modest ceremony with a surprisingly high visible lgbt content, right from the opening sequence with John Barrowman singing about the legacy of Scottish inventions and culture (complete with gay wedding and a gay kiss) all the way the entrance of the games flag, led by the recently out swimming superstar Ian Thorpe who received a huge cheer. Taking the Melbourne opening ceremony as inspiration the athlete's parade was split into continental sections, something the Olympic should think of to get rid of their interminably bland parade.

Unlike the London Olympics the BBC brought out a huge array for past sporting stars for the opening night’s coverage, including Ian Thorpe again in their pre-ceremony warm-up. It showed the Commonwealth that this may not be the Olympics but it still has the biggest stars in sport in the world. The likes of Usain Bolt, Tom Daley and Mo Farah, and many other Olympic medallists will compete, though one sad absentee, for obvious reasons, will be Oscar Pistorius. 

The Commonwealth Games offers athletes the chance to compete in an Olympic-style event and for those of us who live in a Commonwealth nation winning a Commonwealth Games medal is as big a prize as winning an Olympic one. Some athletes, though, are not fortunate enough to be able to compete at both games as some sports (e.g. squash, lawn bowls and netball) are not yet part of the Olympic programme. Many lgbt Olympians first got their taste of international medal glory at the Commonwealth Games and many may do so in Glasgow. 

Less than a week ago the governing body of the Commonwealth Games showed how outdated their rules on gender are. An Indian sprinter, Dutee Chand, the Indian 100 meter champion no less, was banned from competing because she had a naturally high level of testosterone which, they say, put her at an advantage over other female athletes. International sporting bodies, not just the Commonwealth Games, continue to dither and procrastinate over what to do about the inclusion of non-binary gender athletes. 

Here is a list of the lgbt athletes at the Commonwealth Games. The name of the athlete is followed by the nation and sport, then by the games and medals (if any). Athletes competing in the current games are also noted. It comes as no surprise that swimming superstar Ian Thorpe tops the Commonwealth lgbt medal list with a total of 11. It is also interesting to note that only one person on this list (Jack Laugher) has not won a medal, either Commonwealth or Olympic (so far). Perhaps he will this year.

Nicola Adams            England           boxing
2014 Glasgow (Sco.) 

Alyson Annan           Australia          hockey
1998 Kuala Lumpar (Mal.) 

Raelene Boyle           Australia          athletics
1970 Edinburgh (Sco.)            3 gold
1974 Christchurch (NZ)          3 gold
1978 Edmonton (Can.)           1 silver
1982 Brisbane (Aus.)              1 gold, 1 silver 

Kris Burley    Canada           gymnastics
1994 Victoria (Can.)                1 gold, 2 silver
1998 Kuala Lumpar (Mal.)      1 silver 

Scott Cranham          Canada           diving
1974 Christchurch (NZ)          1 silver, 1 bronze
1978 Edmonton (Can.)           1 silver, 1 bronze 

Tom Daley     England           diving
2010 Delhi (Ind.)         2 gold
2014 Glasgow (Sco.) 

Greg Duhaime           Canada           athletics
1982 Brisbane (Aus.)              1 bronze 

Terence Etherton      England           fencing
1978 Edmonton (Can.)           1 gold
(currently Lord Chief Justice of England)
 
Michelle Ferris          Australia          cycling
1994 Victoria (Can.)
1998 Kuala Lumpar (Mal.) 

Mathew Helm            Australia          diving
2002 Manchester (Eng.)
2006 Melbourne (Aus.)           2 gold 

Daniel Kowalski        Australia          swimming
1994 Victoria (Can.)                1 silver, 1 bronze
1998 Kuala Lumpar (Mal.)      1 gold, 2 bronze 

Jack Laugher             England           diving
2010 Delhi (Ind.)
2014 Glasgow (Scot.) 

Marion Lay     Canada           swimming
1966 Kingston (Jam.)             2 gold, 1 silver 

Matthew Mitcham     Australia          diving
2006 Melbourne (Aus.)
2010 Delhi (Ind.)                     4 silver
2014 Glasgow (Sco.) 

Helen Richardson-Walsh     England           hockey
2002 Manchester (Eng.)         1 silver
2006 Melbourne (Aus.)
2010 Delhi (Ind.)                     1 bronze

Kate Richardson-Walsh       England           hockey
2002 Manchester (Eng.)         1 silver
2006 Melbourne (Aus.)  
2010 Delhi (Ind.)                     1 bronze
2014 Glasgow (Sco.) 

Craig Rogerson        Australia          diving
1986 Edinburgh (Sco.)            1 gold, 1 bronze
1990 Auckland (NZ)               1 gold 

Beth Storry                England           hockey
2006 Melbourne (Aus.)
2010 Delhi (Ind.)                     1 bronze 

Mark Tewksbury       Canada           swimming
1986 Edinburgh (Sco.)            2 gold
1990 Auckland (NZ)               2 gold 

Ian Thorpe     Australia          swimming
1998 Kuala Lumpar (Mal.)      4 gold
2002 Melbourne (Aus.)           6 gold, 1 silver 

Lisa-Marie Vizaniari              Australia          athletics
1990 Auckland (NZ)               1 gold
1994 Victoria (Can.)                1 bronze
1998 Kuala Lumpar (Mal.)      1 silver

Monday, 21 July 2014

Out Of Their Trees : Digging Up The Judas Tree

The family tree I’m digging up today is that of the heavy metal band Judas Priest. Or, more accurately, its openly gay lead singer Rob Halford. As usual it’s a tale of varied fortunes. Along the way we’ll be putting on our boots, rolling out the barrel, and having a pint with the founder of California. And we even get to meet some real priests.

Rob Halford was born in 1951, the son of Barrie Halford and his wife Joan, née Elsden. Most of his recent ancestry is based in the West Midlands around Walsall. Rob is rightly proud of his working class background, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any money or influence in the family.

Up until the early part of the last century the Halfords were boot makers by trade, with Rob’s great-great-grandfather William becoming successful enough to set up a business as a boot manufacturer in Walsall employing 20 people and having several shops. But William Halford was not a native of Walsall. He came from Nottingham and he didn’t come from a boot-making family.

William’s father, another William, was a cooper with 2 shops in Nottingham. After William senior’s death in 1864 the business was taken over by his widow Elizabeth. William junior had moved to Walsall by then and had set up his boot business and was married.

There was enough money in the family for William senior to send his youngest son to the local grammar school. This son was an earlier Rob Halford, born in 1840, who was to become a leading civil figure in Nottingham. This earlier Rob – properly Robert Halford – became an estate agent and valuer, and later chairman of the Nottingham Banking Company. He also became a magistrate, and died in 1910.

The Halford Nottinghamshire roots go further back. Through William Halford senior’s wife, the aforementioned Elizabeth, we can go back to the Savage family. Records are pretty scant from this period, around 1700. It looks likely that Rob’s ancestry can be traced to some very real priests! There’s nothing to confirm this, but evidence suggests Rob is descended from father and son Rev. John and Rev. Thomas Savage, both Rectors of Sutton Bonington, south of Nottingham. Other evidence of them being descended from Sir Thomas Savage of Elmley Castle in Worcestershire is even harder to verify.

William junior’s son, Henry Wyatt Halford, married Elizabeth Flavell in 1893. Her grandfather founded California. Not California, USA, but California, a suburb of Birmingham in England.

Legend has it that Isaac Flavell (1792-1870) went to America to seek his fortune in the California Gold Rush. However, in 1842 he bought a farm near Birmingham. There’s no record of him in the USA and the Gold Rush didn’t begin until 1847, but he made his fortune quarrying red clay on his farm estate and setting up a brick making business. The Industrial Revolution was in full flow and many cities and towns were in desperate need of bricks to build factories and homes.

By 1851 Isaac was also owner of a brand new pub (maybe one built from his own bricks). The name of his pub was The California Inn. Perhaps he had spent time in America before the Gold Rush and (like my own grandfather and Newton Brook in Toronto) named his home after a place where he previously spent some time. This was probably before his rather late marriage at the age of 40 in Birmingham cathedral in 1833. Isaac got the beer for his pub from his brother-in-law Henry Chinn who had a barley farm near by and was a brewer. Henry took over running the pub when Isaac retired. The pub became so popular that the whole area was named after it. Which is why there’s still a California in Birmingham.

We’ll turn now to Rob’s mother’s family the Elsdens. Joan Elsden was the daughter of Arthur Augustus Elsden (1899-1937). In this centenary year of World War I it seems appropriate to mention Arthur. During the first months of the war many young men, like my other grandfather, rushed to sign up in the army. Rob Halford’s grandfather Arthur was another. Some were so eager to sign up that they lied about their age. Arthur Elsden was one of them. In 1915 he signed up in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and was sent for training on Bodmin Moor. He gave his age as 17. As you can see from the dates he was actually 16. The Ministry of Defence found out and, because he had been absent from several parades, Arthur was discharged. Perhaps he realised too late just how hard it was to be a soldier at such a young age. He didn’t re-apply and went to work as a railway fireman. The story has an unhappy ending. In 1937 Arthur caught meningitis and died at the age of 38 leaving a young family behind him.

Wartime tragedy touched the Eldsen family again less than 5 years later. Arthur’s son (Rob Halford’s uncle) Raymond Elseden, a sapper in the Royal Engineers, died in 1941 at the age of 18. Florence, Arthur’s widow, died in 1944 at the age of 40, and his father died in 1945.

I don’t want to end on a sad note so I’ll go back 2 more generations to Arthur Elsden’s widowed grandmother Emma, a laundress. Despite having a low-earning job and being from a working class background, on her death in 1922 she left an estate which today would be worth £30,000. Quite a legacy. I wonder where it went?

Friday, 18 July 2014

Beat Out That Rhythm

Perhaps the oldest musical instrument in world history, or at least the first to be used to beat out a rhythm, is the drum. Originally it would have just been a stone or log beaten with a stick. From those simple beginnings all percussion instruments evolved – drums, gongs, xylophones, cymbals, etc. 

The drum still figures large in culture and performance (where would Olympic opening ceremonies be without drums!). There are many musicians who have built a career on being a drummer and here are some from the lgbt community.
 
In the USA there are several lgbt drum troops. The most well-known is probably DC’s Different Drummers. Although primarily founded for the lgbt community this troop has always welcomed straight members. No doubt most cities around the world have at least one local drum troop in their annual Pride marches. Then there are marching bands, and orchestras. There are many of these specifically made up largely of lgbt musicians. 

But I suppose the first image to enter the mind when the word drummer is spoken is of a pop group. Two famous, and very different, groups of the 1980s who had lgbt drummers were Culture Club and the Beastie Boys. 

It’s a very significant time for Culture Club. Only last month the band announced their reunion and a new tour, and tomorrow night they’ll be performing at a special concert in Edinburgh Castle to celebrate the imminent start of the Commonwealth Games on Wednesday. The new slim-line Boy George, emerging like a confident butterfly after many years as an overweight drug-filled caterpillar, will perform the old familiar songs with the original band line-up, and perform new songs and produce a new album. 

When Culture Club first became famous Boy George was secretly dating the drummer Jon Moss. It was a tempestuous relationship which helped to fuel creative song-writing. At times the two came to blows and they tried to kill each other. It wasn’t a very good situation for the other band members to be caught in and they all split up in 1986 – both the band and the George/Jon relationship. 

John and Boy George have now reached the part in their lives when they can work together again with the other Culture Club members, Mikey Craig and Roy Hay. Many bands have reunited over the years. Some have been successful and achieved the fame they originally had. I’m sure Culture Club will as well. 

The Beastie Boys rose to fame at the same time as Culture Club but their drummer was something rarely seen at the time – a female drummer, Kate Schellenbach. She, too, has produced a new album, not with the Beastie Boys but her later band Luscious Jackson. In parallel with Culture Club Luscious Jackson split up (in 2000) and reformed in 2011. In the years in between Kate worked in the tv industry, including working as a producer on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” for a while. 

Kate may never have become a drummer had she not gone to a New York club as a teenager to see a band called Student Teachers who had a female drummer. Kate knew that she wanted to be a drummer as well. Several years later she was asked to join a band called The Young Aborigines. At the end of one rehearsal session the band let their hair down and played their songs as punk rock. They enjoyed it so much that they chose to play all their gigs like that. And that’s how the Beastie Boys was born. 

Female drummers are still relatively rare but they are not unknown in the past (Karen Carpenter started out as a drummer). All-female bands (jazz bands, big bands, etc.) have been around for decades. Before World War II there was an American band called the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, and one of their drummers was called Ruby Lucas. She later became an icon in Chicago’s lgbt community, and I’ll tell more of her story in October. 

Back to the present, and one of the most famous drummers in popular music is Phil Collins of Genesis. His son Simon is also a drummer and singer with his own band called Sound of Contact. To some extent he is still labelled as “the son of Phil Collins” rather than a performer in his own right. From his emergence as a performer in 2005 Simon has been quite open about his bisexuality and admits, like other lgbt songwriters, his sexuality has influenced some of his work. 

Away from popular music drummers are more often referred to as percussionists. There are even fewer openly lgbt percussionists than there are female drummers. One percussionist with a particularly unique take on drumming is the New Zealander Gareth Farr. 

Primarily a composer of strong percussion-based music, writing for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Royal New Zealand Ballet and the Sydney 2000 Olympic Organising Committee, among others, Gareth studied percussion performance at Auckland University. In 2006 he became one of the very few percussionists honoured by the Queen, who made him an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to music and entertainment. 

I said that Gareth had a particularly unique take on drumming. In fact, in some classical circles in New Zealand it has led to him being regarded as an enfant terrible. Why? Because in 1994 he created Lilith Lacroix, a drag percussionist. From her first appearance at the Club Marcella in Rochester, New York, Lilith has wowed audiences with her percussive skills, not to mention her outfits. In 1997 Gareth created a special show for Lilith based specifically around percussion called “Drumdrag”. 

And I can think of no better way to finish than to show you part of Lilith’s 2007 “Drumdrag” show in Toronto.
 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Medal Quest Goes On The Job

(25 days to the start of the Gay Games) If you ask an Olympic medallist like Tom Daley or Andy Murray what their job is they’ll say “diver” or “tennis player”. But if you ask a medallist at the Gay Games, Outgames, or any other lgbt sporting event what their job is most of them won't say anything which is sports related. They train as hard as professionals but don’t do it for a living. They’ve very much in the mould of the original Olympians of the modern era.

In my researches into lgbt sports I have come across many athletes whose professions are far removed from the sport in which they compete. It’s worth looking at some of them. What they all prove is that you don’t need to be a professional athlete to succeed in sports, and the job you do shouldn’t dictate what sport you play. 

Quite a few Gay Games athletes work in the sports industry – as coaches or personals trainers, etc. – and some are professional or retired athletes. I won’t mention them today. In order to present this list I chose one letter of the alphabet at random and went through my Gay Games database to find 30 medallists whose professions are quite different from their sport. A large proportion of them have also competed in the Outgames and the EuroGames. Although it’s a varied list it doesn’t include other professions I could mention if I chose another letter, like US Ambassador, priest, gay porn actor, or Emmy-winning casting director. 

The athlete’s name is followed by their main profession and then the sport in which they won their medal/s. 

Walter Baardemans – journalist - badminton
Eduardo Luis Bahamon – cytogeneticist - diving
Cara Balboni - clinical social worker - in-line skating
Lenora Barot – ex-Prof. of Plastic Surgery, now writer of lesbian romances - martial arts
Orlando Barsallo – make-up artist - bodybuilding
Jarrett Basedow – international aid worker - tennis
Lynn (Allwyn) Baskin – actor - figure skating
Alec Bates – chemistry professor - cycling
Sybille Bauriedl – political and environmental ecologist - table tennis
Kevin Batungbacal – real estate agent – beach volleyball
Alexandra Bayliss – archaeologist – dancesport
Terry Bean – political fundraiser and lgbt rights pioneer – golf
Elizabeth Bellinger – school teacher – swimming
Steven Berveling – barrister - cycling
George Birimisa – playwright and actor – bodybuilding
Roger Blenman – poet and spoken-word artist - wrestling
Reggie Blennerhasset – university Pro Vice-Chancellor – sailing
Bruce Bornfleth – doctor – swimming
Keith Boykin – White House aide to President Clinton - wrestling
Kevin Brauer – registered nurse – ice hockey
Carter Bravmann – architect – cycling
Emma Jane Brennan – photographer - swimming
Rosina Bruno – journalist - tennis
Salvador Burgaleta – architect - swimming
Kristopher Burrell – Assistant Professor of History - wrestling
Jana Burton – maths teacher - athletics
Wolfgang Busch – film-maker – table tennis
Toby Butterfield – law lecturer – squash
Todd Buttery – lgbt festival organiser - swimming 

Finally, and with a note of congratulations to double gold-winning marathon runner – Jake Bartholomy, a physical therapist. He and his husband, Dr. Justin Goodman, became the proud fathers of a son, Park Bartholomy Goodman, on 30th May.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

50,000 Thank Yous


If you’re reading this on the day it was posted you’ll notice something significant about the number of page views. I’ve now passed the 50,000 mark! This is a big deal for me as I never thought I’d even get past the 500 mark, and never thought I’d come up with enough ideas to get me beyond the first year. Thanks to you all I’ve been encouraged to continue for almost 3 years to bring you the lgbt heritage which interests me, and which I hope has interested you too. 

With such a milestone I’ve been thinking of some changes. Perhaps a new image? I’ve also been thinking about how to do more. One idea which I’m still working on is introducing my own YouTube videos. Another is a Facebook page where I can write about current research projects, links to other pages of interest, or just comment on news events. 

A third idea, and one which readers may not like, is of adding a donation button. I still can’t make my mind up about this as I feel uncomfortable asking people for money, even voluntary donations. 

I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from readers. In particular I want to thank Marc Naimark of the Federation of Gay Games for reposting some of my articles on the Gay Games website. A big thank you to him and Cyd Zeigler of Outsports for their continuing interest and support in my research into lgbt athletes. I also want to thank all those people I’ve mentioned in articles who have sent me messages, corrections, criticisms and advice. Some members of my family and friends also read my blog, so I thank you all collectively (it might be a while before I see you all personally). And I want to thank all of you who have spread the word about my blog. 

Throughout the whole of my blog I have often been surprised by where you readers live, especially during this past winter with all the controversy surrounding the Sochi Winter Olympics. Russia has often been in the top 5 daily visitors list, and overall is placed 4th behind the USA, UK and Germany. Interestingly, in view of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, the Ukraine is also a nation to appear regularly on the daily stats list. 

Anyway, it’s a reason for me to celebrate today (I’m sure I’ve got a bottle of champagne in the fridge). I hope you won’t mind if I don’t invite you all around to my place for a party. 

Before I go I must offer my congratulations to Cyd Zeigler who got married to his partner Dan last week.

Finally, to all my readers I want to say -

50,000 thank yous to you all.

Friday, 11 July 2014

More Sherwood Heroes


This is my second look at some of the lgbt war heroes with Nottinghamshire connections. 

My first hero is one who spent only a short time in the county but went from a poor working class background to become a university-educated scholar and novelist. His name was Dan Billany and he was born in Yorkshire in 1913. After serving in the Merchant Navy and working as a tram conductor Dan went to Hull University College, a campus of London University, and trained to be a teacher. He was always writing, whether for student magazines or novels, and continued to write throughout his life, even during active service and as a prisoner of war. Several of his novels were published. 

In 1940 Dan joined the army. His training took place in Sutton-in-Ashfield in central Nottinghamshire with the Royal Army Service Corps. He was commissioned into the East Yorkshire Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant. By April 1942 he was in Libya as platoon commander of the 4th Battalion. This was to be a decisive period in the North Africa campaign, part of the major victory over the Allies at Tobruk by the Nazi’s “Desert Fox”, Erwin Rommel. 

The Allies had set up a series of “boxes”, defensive posts manned by brigades and interspersed with minefields. The line of “boxes” was called the Gazala Line. Rommel attacked the Line on 28th May, using the minefields as defence from attack on one side. A vicious tank assault took the Gazala Line posts one by one. On 1st June Dan Billany and his battalion were defending the Line after what Rommel had taken many positions and what he himself described in his diaries as “the toughest British resistance imaginable”. Billany was captured and sent to a POW camp in Italy. The British withdrew from the Gazala Line and the route to Tobruk was clear. 

Dan filled his time as a prisoner of war by writing and contributing to the POW newsletter. It was as a POW that Dan admitted his attraction to a fellow prisoner called David Dowie, who was straight, yet their friendship continued to the end of the war.

With Victory in Europe declared the POWs were released and had to make their own way home. Dan, David, and 2 others made their way towards Allied troops over the Apennines, but it seems that they all succumbed to the bitter cold of the mountains and were never seen again. 

Moving back in time to World War I here are stories of 2 soldiers who survived the war and who, as openly gay men, had very different experiences of post-war Britain. 

The first is someone well-known in literary circles – Sir Osbert Sitwell. He belonged to an aristocratic family who lived not far from Nottingham in neighbouring Derbyshire. Like in most wealthy families at the time Osbert was expected to become an army officer and he joined the Sherwood Rangers, a cavalry regiment based in Nottingham. Unfortunately, Osbert didn’t get on very well with horses and kept falling off! He once quipped that he preferred giraffes! He left the Sherwoods to join the Grenadier Guards. 

In 1915 he and his regiment took part in the Battle of Loos. Osbert’s experiences made him very anti-war once the Armistice was declared. He expressed his respect for conscientious objectors who were branded as cowards. Another group for whom he said had the highest degree of courage (of particular significance to myself because my maternal grandfather was one) was to the stretcher bearers and ambulance drivers on the front line. 

Also in the trenches in France was Karl Wood, another Derbyshire lad. At the outbreak of war Karl had been living in Nottingham for ten years. He was already an active gay man. His biographer Tony Wood wrote “In spite of his lack of interest in physical activity (apart from cycling and sex) Wood wholeheartedly joined the First World War in late 1914”. Karl enlisted in the 3rd Seaforth Highlanders and spent the first part of his active service in Sheerness, Kent, acting as part of the coastal defences. 

In 1915 Karl was posted to France, but his active service was cut short by shrapnel in his ankle. After convalescing in military hospital in York he settled in Gainsborough, a market town on the Trent a few miles north of Nottingham. He became an artist and art teacher at the grammar school. One of his pupils was my father. During the holidays he would cycle all around England painting as many old buildings that took his fancy (often cruising any farm lad that took his fancy as well). He sold many of his paintings, and for many years sold them in a shop in Nottingham. Windmills were a special interest, and Karl painted thousands of them. For this reason he is often referred to as “Windmill Wood”. 

Sadly, Karl’s life followed the often-told fate of gay men in the UK in the 1950s. He was convicted of having gay sex and was imprisoned. On his release he moved to Scotland and joined the Benedictine Order. In a future article I will recount more of his life.