orld War II had been a gruesome period that can only be remembered in black and white. However, through the blood and ashes that commemorate this war, there are some rainbows that don’t lead to a pot of gold, but to the hope portrayed by humanity such as a squad of British soldiers posing as drag queens during 1940.
John Topham was a Fleet Street photographer who used to take photos of the army for officials as well as newspapers. From the accounts of many veterans, these air raids were like hell as you never knew when a bomb would bring your inevitable death. Despite how much firepower these coastal defenses set up by the British brought, some of the bombers would always manage to go past them and bomb civilians.
This demoralized the troops and they were trying to do anything to make the other soldiers smile, such as drag shows. This brought a lot of fun to the soldiers stuck on the coastal defense and most importantly raised their morale which is vital for them to keep fighting.
Why were these photos censored?
The photos presented in this article have been hidden for over 80 years by the British Ministry of Information. The drag shows were not a secret from army officials, they actually enjoyed them too, but there was another problem. John Topham visited the base of the Royal Artillery Coastal Defence Battery at Shornemead Fort, near Gravesend, in Kent. His plan was to photograph the defensive capabilities of the base, but he was also interested in the drag queens.
Whilst some of the soldiers were rehearsing for another drag show, the air raid alarm was set off and they were all sent to take arms in their defensive positions. Luftwaffe bombers flying across the Channel to mount raids over southern England was almost a daily problem for them and quite a deadly one. Whilst still wearing their dresses, the soldiers rushed over to their designated stations, and Topham took pictures.
The soldiers were even photographed whilst prepared to shoot at the enemy. These photos were great for showing the British population the efforts their soldiers were putting towards defending the country, but the problem was that soldiers in dresses didn’t transmit confidence in the population.
If these photos were to be presented in newspapers, it would have led to a mass demoralization of the nation. Not only that, but if the photos were to be shown around the world, it would make the British army look like a weak enemy and a joke to their allies. Of course, none of these people would have understood the real motive behind the dresses.
This is why the Ministry of Information banned the photographs from ever being published, however, they were kept in their war archive and only recently have been discovered. However, based on my extensive knowledge of World War II and the amount of research that I have done, I can assure you that there are many other censored photos rotting somewhere in old archives. Photos show the brighter side of World War, and also probably the much darker side that humanity would not want to see.
I presume that to all people it looks like a joke, but when you are surrounded by death 24/7, you need things to make you laugh otherwise you lose sight of any reason to live. Any war despite how bleak needs a bit of colour and the best way to present this would be through a colourized version of these drag soldiers preparing to fire at the enemy.
Some say that history should be left in the past and the dark days should be forgotten. I say that it is only by seeing the unimaginable photos taken in World War II, despite how mentally disturbing they may be, we will learn the true acts of humanity and hopefully understand our dark capabilities despite hopes for a better future. This could be something to protect us. Most of the life lessons I have learned came from history, but it takes a certain mindset to understand such lessons.