British Soldiers Put on a Drag Show in WWII. Then the Nazis Showed Up
They shall fight on the beaches, they shall fight on the landing grounds, they shall fight in the fields… and in drag.
It was Christmastime in 1940 when photographer John Topham snapped a set of cheeky photos of the Royal Artillery Coastal Defence Battery at Shornemead Fort, Kent — dressed head to toe in women’s clothing — in preparation for a holiday charity performance.
During Topham’s time with the troops, a coastal alert went off, leaving the troops to scramble to their battle stations while still in full drag to confront the approaching Luftwaffe bombers.
A caption accompanying the photographs, from one of Topham’s many scrapbooks, reads: “They were in the middle of a rehearsal when an Alert sounded. ‘Jerry’, like Time, waits for no one so the rehearsal was called off while contact was made with the battery.”
So the soldiers frantically scurried up the steps to their action stations to confront the Nazi threat, their dresses flapping in the wind behind them, and began to man a BL 6-inch MK VII naval gun — all while the photographer snapped away.
The images were promptly banned from being published.
There’s a long history of artistic expression in militaries: For millennia, awaiting soldiers have creatively kept boredom at bay, from Roman soldiers drawing phallic symbols into Hadrian’s Wall, to zingers by bored Greek soldiers who inscribed rock projectiles with inscriptions such as “Bite it in vain” (the ancient equivalent of “this is a hard nut to crack”).
But there’s also a long history of suppression.
According to The Telegraph, Topham’s photos sent the British Ministry of Information into a tizzy, fearing that “these particular images could undermine morale by giving the impression that British soldiers were not quite as manly as the public might want.”
They also feared that the Nazis would have a propaganda field day should the photos leak.
It wasn’t until 2018 that the photographs were rediscovered and, thanks to social media, the photographs have been making the rounds ever since:
Priceless pics, from 1941, when RAF intelligence photographer, John Topham, was on-hand as a gun drill interrupted a pantomime rehearsal, and saw the gunners man their coastal defence battery in full slap and drag. pic.twitter.com/ZsQFHuzFli
-- Lost Glasgow (@LostGlasgow) May 15, 2021
Because there’s nothing like shooting down Nazis in drag… on Christmas.
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