Military types and their camp followers

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The Independent Online
Well, do you think that homosexuals should be allowed to join the British armed services? I have received an enormous mailbag on the subject and bring you some of the best letters today.

From Major John "Terry" Terrier, retd.

Sir, I remember when I was in the desert in the war, we often got worried about one of our number called Sidney "Sidi" Biryani. It was quite common for us chaps to have photos of stars on our kit cupboard doors, but he had a portrait of General Rommel stuck to his. Now, Rommel was an OK guy as Nazis went, but most of us had Allied faces on our pin-ups and female faces at that, so one day we said to Sidi, "How come Rommel?" or words to that effect. And he said, "You want me to stick up a picture of Vera Lynn instead? What do you think I am? Some kind of pervert or something?" I often wonder what he meant by that.

Yours etc.

From Captain Frederick "Fred" Falmouth

Sir, I was in the Salvation Army for many years, rising to the rank of captain before I was invalided out in 1981 after being struck by a doughnut during the Totnes Christmas Women's Institute riots of that year, but that's another story, and I cannot remember anyone ever bothering about our sexual orientation. I remember once Colonel Thomas "Tambourine" Tintern saying to me, "You may hear people mock our uniform, Frieda, but General Booth knew what he was doing when he designed it. He knew that nobody would ever fancy anyone in a Salvation Army uniform and there would be no hanky panky. Care for a drink, dear?" And he was right and there never was any hanky panky, although the Salvation Army was integrated long before the British Army or the Church of England, come to that, so men and women were rubbing shoulders together in the Sally Army years ago, so to speak, and there was plenty of opportunity, as I well remember, but that's another story, and so is the reason that Tommy called me Frieda and not Freddy.

Yours etc.

From Major-General Arthur "Artie" Crutwell

Sir, I think everyone is asking the wrong question. They shouldn't be asking whether gays should be allowed in the Army and Navy. They should be asking whether heterosexuals should be allowed in. After all, it's the straights that cause all the trouble, all the Saturday night drinking and woman-chasing and whoring and fighting - and that's just peace-time! Who do you think declares all the actual wars and enjoys all the Rambo war stuff? Not gays, that's for sure. Gays have far too much taste to get mixed up in serious carnage. Carnage is not style, sweetie. In any case, if you ban gays from the services, who do you think is going to put on all the shows and bring a modicum of artistry to these otherwise dreadful institutions. Have you seen the Cenotaph? Heavens, what a mess. Have you looked at those uniforms? Too, too dreadful.

Yours etc.

From Mrs Ninette "Ninny" Carstairs

Sir, Incidentally, why do we always begin letters to the paper with the word "Sir"? What happens if the editor is a woman? Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!

But the reason I wrote was to say that I have no experience of Army life except through the world of art, and recently I was taken to see a revival of Privates on Parade, and well! All I can say is that if that is anything like the real Army, there weren't any heterosexuals in it at all - they were all "bumboys", to use the inelegant phrase tossed around by Peter Nichols's characters!

The play depicts Army life in Malaya in about 1948. Now, as I recall, homosexuality was illegal in England in those days, so every relationship portrayed on stage was against the law. Would it not be possible even now to prosecute Mr Nichols for portraying illegal acts and inciting young men to wish they had done the same in 1948?

PS. Why do we use the phrase "stick that in your pipe and smoke it"? It is a very male-oriented phrase. So stick that in your handbag and lose it!

Yours etc.

From General Sir Oscar Tango

Sir, I object to all the easy stereotypes depicted in these letters. Oh yes, it's all too easy to make the usual camp jokes, but we soldiers are just as much individuals as anyone else, and to dismiss us as butch, testosterone-filled macho killers is plain silly.

Got you there, didn't I? You thought I was going to talk about gay stereotypes, didn't you? Well, that proves my point. Whatever it was.

Yours etc.