I write this on the morn of the day that will almost certainly set in train the high probability of SSM in Australia. How could I be churlish about a book that portrays a deeply felt love story between two men who meet as young’uns in WWII allied air forces and culminates in 1967 with British decriminalisation and even has a ‘Dear Mum and Dad’ letter in the manner of that of Armistead Maupin? The pair even celebrate with their friends what they call their common law’ marriage – I will at least try to be honest.
This book has a great deal of merit. Its starting point is January 1944 a period of huge emotional turmoil for a generation of young men and women in all probability going to their deaths. Some commentators, in the past, were stupid enough to say that there was no homosexuality in ‘their’ war and they have been proven wrong again and again. How could it not be natural for young men and women at that time to find comfort with one another and for some of these liaisons to progress to genuine heartfelt love? That is the case with Brit Tom and Yank Jim (as represented on the cover) each working for their respective Air Forces.
This is a story of their finding one another (very romantically) and how they manage their rapidly deepening emotional engagement. Despite being separated and demobbed, they manage to be reunited in post-war London and encounter the problems of living in that damaged world with the overlay of being sexual outlaws. This process is exacerbated by the 1950s which saw anti-homosexual progroms in the UK, the US, and Australia. They remain together and build their lives with parallel family developments that vary from supportive to the downright dangerously vicious – there is a lot of family content in this tale and a lot built around the constant theme of dancing.
Things culminate with some downright persecution and punishment but the physically wounded but undaunted pair being together to decriminalisation. The reader cannot but help trying to put oneself in the shoes of such a pair today with the prospect of today. Probably one of the most keenly felt elements is that the need to lie and dissimulate in order to survive together – at what price?
And now, to carp. I found the book to be a little to ‘soft’ for my taste with affected its believability. There was realism in what happened to these two men and their circle of friends and good variety of interest. But I found it all unfolded a bit to easily and conveniently for me. I would have preferred something of a harder edge at times. That doesn’t detract from the fact that this is a competent and well-researched book with the capability of educating the unknowing of a critical war period and the long slog of those who looked for their rights in its aftermath.