‘Pinky Smith Looks Gorgeous!’ Female Impersonators and Male Bonding in Prisoner of War Camps for British Servicemen in Europe
Female impersonators were a familiar sight in prisoner of war (POW) camps, appearing in theatre productions, at dances, at tea parties as ‘waitresses’ and in auctions to raise money for welfare funds. This chapter explores British POWs’ reactions to them, as an insight into conceptions of sexuality and gender during the Second World War. Men in drag provided prisoners with a release from their single-sex society and POWs’ admiration for these ‘women’ enabled them to assert their collective male superiority. However, there were limits to this ‘safety valve’ interpretation of drag. Prisoners’ attitudes towards female impersonators also blurred the boundaries of male heterosexual desire, reflecting a fluidity in attitudes towards male sexuality, more generally, in British society during this era.
With thanks to the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum for allowing access to the collections and to each of the copyright holders. While every effort has been made to trace all copyright holders, the author and the Imperial War Museum would be grateful for any information which might help to trace the family of Captain Richard Angove, Major Edmund Booth, Warrant Officer Alexander East, Sergeant Navigator G. Hall, Wing Commander Noel Hyde, Commander Geoffrey Lambert, Sergeant David Nell, Corporal Jack White. Thanks also to Andrew McIrvine for supplying a copy of his father’s autobiography and to Jonathan Goodliffe, for his correspondence on his father’s performances. This chapter draws upon material from within Clare Makepeace (2017), Captives of War: British Prisoners of War in Europe in the Second World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), reproduced with permission.