Rare Photographs Reveal British Soldiers Manning Anti-Aircraft Guns in Full Drag in World War II
This set of photographs, taken by John Topham while working in RAF intelligence, was censored by the British Ministry of Information when they were taken during the Second World War. The images were captured during a visit to the base of the Royal Artillery Coastal Defence Battery at Shornemead Fort, near Gravesend, in Kent.
Taken in 1940, these pictures show the gunners going about their business in dresses, complete with their usual helmets. Others show the men applying makeup to each other, running up steps as their dresses blow in the wind and showing off their undergarments on stage. The troops had been rehearsing in drag for one of the shows they often staged to keep themselves entertained.
However during one of Topham’s visits, the men were called to attention in order to deal with the approach of Luftwaffe bombers, going over the Channel to southern England. As there was no time to change back into their uniforms they had no choice but to return to their battle stations still dressed in drag.
After the war, Topham revealed that the Ministry of Information was concerned that these specific pictures could undermine morale. It was feared that it would give the impression that British troops were not quite as masculine as the public believed. There may have also been concern that Nazi propaganda chiefs would use the images of the troops in drag shooting anti-aircraft guns to ridicule Allies.