Obituary: Dudley Cave

ANTI-FASCIST, SOLDIER, prisoner of war, advocate of peace and reconciliation, gay rights pioneer, Dudley Cave was above all a humanitarian.

An early career with Odeon cinemas was interrupted by the Second World War. Cave was initially inclined to register as a conscientious objector, but revelations about the horrors of the Third Reich changed his mind, "I was basically a pacifist, but I thought the Nazi persecution of the Jews made it a just war."

Cave joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, in 1941, aged 20. "Homosexual soldiers were more or less accepted," he said. "There was never any disciplinary action taken against them." Despite gossip that he was a "nancy boy", Cave said the worst prejudice he ever experienced in the Army was being chided for "holding a broom like a woman".

Instead of fighting the Nazis, as he expected, Cave was posted to the Far East. During the fall of Singapore in 1942, he was captured by the Japanese. Marched north in a prisoner-of-war labour detachment, his unit was put to work on the Thai- Burma railway, 10 miles beyond the bridge on the River Kwai. Three-quarters of Cave's comrades in H force perished. He was lucky. After he suffered a bad bout of malaria, the Japanese declared him unproductive and ordered his incarceration in Changi Prison, Singapore.

It was in Changi that Cave began to accept his homosexuality. A British army medical officer gave him a copy of Havelock Ellis's "enlightened, eye-opening" 1920 book Sexual Inversion. It made him feel "much better about being gay".

Changi was, nevertheless, a nightmare of physical deprivation. When liberated in 1945, he was near death from malnutrition, down from 12 stone to less than eight. "If the war had gone on another month," he said, "I don't think I would have survived."

After risking his life to defend what Winston Churchill called the "freedom- loving nations", Cave returned to a country where freedom was still denied to gay people. Not only were homosexual relationships illegal, homophobic discrimination was rife. In 1954, Cave was dismissed as manager of the Majestic Cinema in Wembley after it was discovered he was gay. "They asked me to resign," recalled Cave. "I refused, so they sacked me."

Fortunately, that same year, Cave met the man who became his life partner, Bernard Williams, an RAF veteran and schoolteacher. At the time, Williams was married. As with many gay men then, the marriage was an attempt to overcome his homosexuality. But the wedding "cure" did not work. Williams's wife, June, realised this. She encouraged the relationship with Cave. All three became lifelong friends and ended up living together in a Bloomsbury- style domestic arrangement in Golders Green. Cave and Williams remained side by side as lovers and gay rights champions for 40 years, until Williams's death in 1994.

In 1971, Cave joined the Unitarian Church, attracted to its ideals of freedom, peace and tolerance. He played a key role in securing - during the early 1970s - the ordination of lesbians and gay men, the blessing of same-sex relationships, and the Church's advocacy of homosexual human rights.

When the information and advice service Gay Switchboard was launched in 1974, Cave was one of the original committee members. The first daily helpline run by and for gay people, Switchboard was (and still is) a vital support for lesbians and gays suffering isolation and victimisation. Cave remained a volunteer - answering the phone lines - right up until his death.

Working for Switchboard made Cave aware that bereaved gay partners are often left to grieve alone, without support from their family, and are refused legal recognition as next-of-kin (which can result in eviction from what was their joint home, denial of inheritance, and exclusion from their lover's funeral). To tackle these problems, he set up the Lesbian and Gay Bereavement Project in 1980. As well as counselling the bereaved and giving legal advice, the project successfully encouraged many same- sex couples to make wills to ensure that their relationship and wishes are recognised when they die.

Cave was proud that the Bereavement Project was the first organisation with the word gay in its title to win charitable status. That victory did not come easily. The Charity Commissioners initially demanded that it drop the "offensive" word gay from its title.

From the early 1980s onwards, Cave turned his attention to "unfinished business" arising from his wartime experiences. Furious at the ban on lesbians and gays in the armed forces, he accused military chiefs of cynically enlisting homosexuals when they were needed to defeat Nazism, and then witch- hunting them as soon as the war was over. "They treated gay people like cannon-fodder," he complained.

Despite his own wartime suffering, Cave was a leading figure in the promotion of peace and reconciliation with Japan. This provoked denunciation and rejection by many former comrades. "I will never forget what the Japanese did to us, but the time has come for forgiveness," he wrote to a friend. He was involved with the Peace Temple near the River Kwai, and lectured extensively on the need for rapprochement between former adversaries.

For 20 years, Cave battled against the Royal British Legion's refusal to acknowledge that lesbian and gay people served and died in wars defending Britain. He also challenged the Legion over its opposition to the participation of gay organisations in Remembrance Day ceremonies.

He was incensed in the early 1980s when the Legion's Assistant Secretary, Gp Capt D.J. Mountford, condemned moves to promote the acceptance of gay people as an attempt to "weaken our society", and declared that homosexuals had no right to complain about being ostracised by Legion members.

One of Dudley Cave's final public acts was last November, when he was the keynote speaker at OutRage!'s Queer Remembrance Day vigil at the Cenotaph. After laying a pink triangle wreath honouring gay people who died fighting Nazism and in the concentration camps, Cave deplored the fact that gay ceremonies of remembrance are still - in the late 1990s - being condemned by the British Legion as "distasteful" and "offensive".

Peter Tatchell

Dudley Scott Cave, soldier and gay rights campaigner: born London 19 February 1921; died London 19 May 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate