Lillias Irma Valerie Arkell-Smith (1895–1960 as Valerie Barker) was a transgender man who, as Victor Barker married a woman. She was an officer of the National Fascisti and a convicted criminal.
Life prior to crossdressing
Valerie Barker was born on 27 August 1895 in St Clement on the Channel Island of Jersey, the daughter of Thomas William Barker, farmer and architect, and his wife, Lillias Adelaide Hill. The family moved to Surrey in 1899.
She expressed desire about being born a boy and had a love for horses and cars. She enlisted in a Voluntary Aid Detachment in 1914 and later joined the fledgling Women's Royal Air Force. In April 1918, in Milford, Surrey she married Australian Lieutenant Harold Arkell Smith. The marriage lasted only a short period and the husband returned to Australia early in the following year. She soon moved in with Ernest Pearce-Crouch, also an officer with the Australian Imperial Force. The couple had a boy and a girl. After they had moved to a farm near Littlehampton, West Sussex, Arkell-Smith started to dress in a more masculine way.
In Sussex, Arkell-Smith met Elfrida Emma Haward. By then, Arkell-Smith had begun to dress as a man. She left her husband in 1923 and began a relationship with Haward. Haward believed Arkell-Smith was a man. The couple began living at the Grand Hotel, in Brighton. By then, Valerie Arkell-Smith had begun to use the name Sir Victor Barker. On 14 November at St Peter's Church, Brighton, Arkell-Smith and Haward "wed", in what was ultimately exposed as an illegal marriage.
In 1926 whilst living in London she accidentally received a letter inviting her to join the National Fascisti which had been addressed to a different Colonel Barker. Arkell-Smith replied to the misdirected letter with the missive "why not", reasoning that membership of what the group would help her pose as a man. She lived at the group's Earl's Court headquarters building where she worked as secretary for the group's leader Henry Rippon Seymour, whilst also involving herself in training young members in boxing and fencing, two activities regularly practised by National Fascisti members. Arkell-Smith involved herself in the kind of rough-housing that became the hallmark of the group and later recalled that "I used to go out with the boys to Hyde Park and we had many rows with the Reds." Thhat she was actually a woman was never picked up on by her fellow members.
In 1927 she was brought before the Old Bailey on charges of possessing a forged firearms certificate after Rippon Seymour had pulled her gun on another member, Charles Eyres, in a dispute over party funding. "Colonel Barker" was found not guilty and she left the group soon after this trial.
As Leslie Ivor Victor Gauntlett Bligh Barker, restaurant proprietor, she was made bankrupt in 1928.
Prison and later life
In 1929, "Victor Barker" was arrested for failing to appear in court with relation to the bankruptcy. While she was being held in Brixton prison her sex was identified and she was transferred to a woman's prison, Holloway.
She was ultimately charged with, and convicted of, making a false statement on a marriage certificate. The judge, Ernest Wild, sentenced her to 9 months imprisonment for perjury. Upon learning of her relationship with Haward, Wild said from the bench that Arkell-Smith had "profaned the house of God". After being released from Holloway, Arkell-Smith moved to Henfield, where she lived as John Hill. While there, she was arrested again 1934, this time for theft. In 1937 she pleaded guilty to theft when employed as a manservant in London.
Later, she wrote about her life three times in popular newspapers and magazines. As Colonel Barker, she also became the subject of a sideshow in the 1930s on Blackpool seafront.
The story of the many lives of Arkell-Smith/Barker is told in Colonel Barker's Monstrous Regiment by Rose Collis, Virago 2001.
D. H. Lawrence, in the essay "A Propos of Lady Chatterley's Lover," cited Colonel Barker (namely the fact that "his" wife believed for years that she was married to a man) as an example of the culture's profound and pervasive ignorance about sex.
- Martin Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts: Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars, Pimlico, 2006, p. 54
- Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts, p. 69
- The London Gazette: . 2 November 1928. Retrieved 25 January 2015.; this was later corrected to "Lillias Irma Valerie Arkell-Smith ... commonly known as Leslie Ivor Victor Gauntlett Bligh Barker" The London Gazette: . 15 March 1929. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
- Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts, p. 55
- "'Colonel Barker's' Masquerades" Western Gazette 26 March 1937
- Culture24; LGBT History Month At Brighton Museum and History Centre